Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The consequence of ideas

Last night I saw the movie “Luther” for the first time. I was very surprised at how good it was. From what I could tell, the movie was pretty true to history. I’m sure the real Luther buffs will be able to point out where it went wrong, but beyond expecting long quotations from Galatians in his sermons it was what I would expect Luther really was like. In the movie, Luther is portrayed as being afflicted and depressed in mind, by whom he thinks is Satan, constantly. In the grand scheme of things, it would seem arrogant to think that Satan himself was concerned with a single man, but perhaps history can argue differently. Luther’s ideas had far reaching consequences. He brought the Bible to the common people. The idea of absolute truth from God himself is the foundation of liberty without chaos. The majority opinion can rule until it comes into conflict with the absolute truth. This brings us societies with real laws and yet not tyranny. I can see the argument that Satan would personally torment the one whom God had chosen to bring these ideas to light though.

There were two scenes that really showed the good consequences of ideas (there were some that showed the bad too, but I won’t comment on them here). Both scenes involve a mother and her handicapped daughter. Under the previous Catholic priest, she had to hide her daughter because it was unacceptable and shameful in the priest’s eyes. Right before Luther is called to renounce his writings the first time, there is a scene with the young girl trying to walk with crutches right outside the church. Luther tries to encourage her to keep trying to walk. Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think that the liberating gospel truths Luther preached were having real effect. Life was valued now because it is a gift of God. Life is not valued by how useful a person is to anyone, but simply because it is valued in God. Ideas do have consequences. The second scene was with the same mother, and she is showing Luther the indulgence she has purchased from Tetzel. You can see in her eyes that she believes this money spent “on her daughter” is worth it. Luther quietly tells her it is nothing but a piece of paper and that she should save her money to buy food for her daughter. He then hands her a coin to make up for what she lost. Not only did he point her to the one who actually saves, but he backed it up with real physical goods. Ideals really do have consequences.

“Here I stand. I can do no other!”

Friday, May 27, 2005

In my most bitter moments

In my most bitter moments, I end up reading Nietzsche. This is because of all the philosophers, Nietzsche has the most direct attack on God. Deep down I know that it is always with God I must deal. He brings frustration to my life and he takes it away. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? I’m sure it doesn’t come through in the text, but those are very hard words to write right now. Every fiber of my flesh wants to agree with Nietzsche and say God is dead and he doesn’t hear anymore. I want to raise my fist and curse God and say “Why have you brought this upon me?!?!” Then I read Lamentations 3 and I can’t help but be touched. “Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”

Compare the two views below:

Friedrich Nietzsche:
"And what is the saint doing in the forest?" asked Zarathustra.
The saint answered: "I make songs and sing them; and when I make songs, I laugh, cry, and hum: thus I praise God. With singing, crying, laughing, and humming, I praise the god who is my god. But what do you bring us as a gift?"
When Zarathustra had heard these words he bade the saint farewell and said: "What could I have to give you? But let me go quickly lest I take something from you!" And thus they separated, the old one and the man, laughing as two boys laugh.
But when Zarathustra was alone he spoke thus to his heart: "Could it be possible? This old saint in the forest has not yet heard anything of this, that God is dead!"

1I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.
2He has led me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
3Surely He has turned His hand against me
Time and time again throughout the day.
4He has aged my flesh and my skin,
And broken my bones.
5He has besieged me
And surrounded me with bitterness and woe.
6He has set me in dark places
Like the dead of long ago.
7He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out;
He has made my chain heavy.
8Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer.
9He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
10He has been to me a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in ambush.
11He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces;
He has made me desolate.
12He has bent His bow
And set me up as a target for the arrow.
13He has caused the arrows of His quiver
To pierce my loins.
14I have become the ridicule of all my people--
Their taunting song all the day.
15He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drink wormwood.
16He has also broken my teeth with gravel,
And covered me with ashes.
17You have moved my soul far from peace;
I have forgotten prosperity.
18And I said, "My strength and my hope
Have perished from the LORD."
19Remember my affliction and roaming,
The wormwood and the gall.
20My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
21This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
22Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"Therefore I hope in Him!"
25The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
26It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the LORD.
27It is good for a man to bear
The yoke in his youth.
28Let him sit alone and keep silent,
Because God has laid it on him;
29Let him put his mouth in the dust--
There may yet be hope.
30Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him,
And be full of reproach.
31For the Lord will not cast off forever.
32Though He causes grief,
Yet He will show compassion
According to the multitude of His mercies.
33For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
34To crush under one's feet
All the prisoners of the earth,
35To turn aside the justice due a man
Before the face of the Most High,
36Or subvert a man in his cause--
The Lord does not approve.(NKJV)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Son of David, have mercy on me!

Those who trust in the Lord are commonly called to suffer in this world. They are not the ones that sit in the King’s palace or have so much money they don’t know what to do with it. No, you will find those who trust in the Lord in much lowlier places. They might not be living under a bridge, but their life is probably going to be rather dull. They get up and go to work every day, and then at night they come home and tend to their families. On Sundays, you’ll usually find them sitting in a rather uncomfortable pew listening to one man speak from a very old and outdated book. They probably don’t live a super exciting life, and almost all abnormal things are going to be some trial for them.

When trials come upon us, we ought to earnestly and without ceasing cry out to the Lord. This of course will never be easy. It is when things look the most hopeless that we should cry the loudest to the one who is able to help. The highest expression of faith is to be able to say with Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Daniel’s friends had this type of attitude when faced with execution.
Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."
Although we know that they were saved from the fire, many Christians throughout history were not. They testified with their blood to the truth. To these martyrs, we owe a great debt of respect for they were not willing to exchange the truth of God for a lie. I am thankful that I don’t live in a country were I am constantly in danger of having to testify to the truth this way.

Even so, there are a great many things to beseech God for today. Perhaps it is for a job, or sick loved one, or a wife, or a place of worship. God delights in his children asking for things in faith. If God is merciful to the Canannite woman and the blind man, how much more so will he be merciful if we beseech him with our requests?
Matthew 15:21-28 Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Luke 18:35-43 Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, "What do you want Me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." Then Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

These two beseeched Christ with faith. They didn’t let the initial road block stop them either. They continued to cry out to the Son of David. We should do the same today; come to God consistently in prayer for what we seek. Has not Christ said that those who ask shall receive?
Matthew 7:7-11 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

If earthly fathers give good gifts to their children, how much more so our Heavenly Father? Let us bring our petitions before God, as the only one who is able to work all things to our good.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The cattle on a thousand hills

Men need to worship something greater than themselves. This is because man is made in the image of God and yet he is not autonomous—he isn’t self-existent. In this, Biblical Christianity stands staunchly against Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”). And yet, a good deal of the world begins the same way Descartes did; they begin with themselves. Man would try to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and elevate himself to the status of God. Of course, if he has any brains at all, he’ll eventually realize that he doesn’t have absolute control over everything that happens. His flesh is weak and he can be killed by a myriad of diseases and other men. Timothy McVeigh expressed this well in his last words from the English poet William Ernest Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstances
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of change
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the year
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Make no mistake Christian brothers and sisters, as my Pastor once wrote this poem “is packed with arrogance and blasphemy.” This is not a free soul, but one that is in bondage to sin. Paul tells us: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” Only the truth sets people free, but these people are looking for a different kind of freedom. They want the freedom to be the master of their own fate, to be the captain of their own soul. This is freedom in the absolute sense; freedom without bounds. Only God has this kind of freedom, as creatures we never will. The sooner we get over this the better. As the creations of God we can enjoy real freedom, but it is not absolute. There is real liberty—it isn’t not total because the liberty to swing ends when it hits another’s face.

Christians on the other hand are called to worship the true and living God who has absolute freedom. We are not the captain of even our own soul; we are not the masters of our own fate—but we know who is! Psalm 50 expresses what the living God requires of us in worship quite well.
9I will not take a bull from your house,
Nor goats out of your folds.
10For every beast of the forest is Mine,
And the cattle on a thousand hills.
11I know all the birds of the mountains,
And the wild beasts of the field are Mine.
12"If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.
13Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
Or drink the blood of goats?
14Offer to God thanksgiving,
And pay your vows to the Most High.
15Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."

As creatures made in the image of God, we are capable and required to give God the worship due to him. This is not an irrational, confusing thing though. We are to be thankful to God in prayer and pay our vows to the Most High. In the next Psalm, we are told that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.” These are things that the animals who are not made in the image of God can never do. We must use our real liberty to worship the true God—not raise our fists against one who owns a cattle on a thousand hills.

With Joshua, I suggest that we worship the living God rather than ourselves. “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The one with whom we have to do

Hebrews 4:13 tells us this: “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” You see, ultimately it is always with God that we must deal. The reason for this is simple; all things come to use by his hand. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” If God himself watches over the least sparrow in the land, how much more so the creatures made in his very image?
Heidelberg question 27: What do you understand by the providence of God?

The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.
If this is true, then I owe a great debt of thankfulness to this God. The very fist I would use to shake at God when things don’t go my way is in his hands. What right have I to be bitter and complain against the Ancient of Days? Without his great gifts, I wouldn’t even be able to raise my voice against him. This would make sin the ultimate irrationality for sin takes God’s own gifts and uses them against him. It corrupts and distorts the good use of them. When the judgment of God then comes, what shall I say about such actions? Nebuchadnezzar had such an experience; his words are instructional in this too!
Daniel 4:34-37 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

And none can say to unto him “What doest thou?” None can bring the actions of God into question and propose a better course of action. This is simply beyond our power as creatures. We must be content with the simple promise that He will work all thing out for the good of those who love Him.

Job too had an encounter with the Living God. In all of God’s answer to Job, he did not explain why Job was suffering. Think about that as you read part of God’s response.
Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
2"Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
3Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
4"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8"Or who shut in the sea with doors,
When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9When I made the clouds its garment,
And thick darkness its swaddling band;
10When I fixed My limit for it,
And set bars and doors;
11When I said,
"This far you may come, but no farther,
And here your proud waves must stop!'
12"Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
13That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?

The full answer of God is several chapters long. But it is basically a long line of rhetorical questions that show how little Job understands about the Most High. Job’s response should also be noted because it shows his repentance.
Job 42:1Then Job answered the LORD and said:
2"I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
3You asked, "Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?'
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, "I will question you, and you shall answer Me.'
5"I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
6Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes."

This is the proper response to a meeting with God. Even the most holy men had to be peeled off the floor when the encountered the presence of God. Jonathan Edwards spoke of it in this way in his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

As a side note, we should not end with Edwards’ speech because it does not tell the whole story. It all is all true no doubt, God is dreadfully provoked against sinners, but this wrath has been taken away.
1 Thessalonians 5: 8-10 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.

“God has spoken once, Twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A hope deferred part 2 or contrasting conjunctions and adverbs?

You know, I really want to write about meaninglessness today. I want to quote Ecclesiastes at length and firmly agree with Solomon that “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” I really want to hate life: “Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” “For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow?” “I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants.” I yearn to cry out that this life is a vain toil; man will return to the dust whether he is righteous or wicked! The wise man and the fool go to the same place; they have the same end. What is the value in righteousness? The wicked accumulate wealth and are satisfied. Asaph said it well in Psalm 73.
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
To such as are pure in heart.
2But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.
3For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
5They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
6Therefore pride serves as their necklace;
Violence covers them like a garment.
7Their eyes bulge with abundance;
They have more than heart could wish.
8They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression;
They speak loftily.
9They set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue walks through the earth.
10Therefore his people return here,
And waters of a full cup are drained by them.
11And they say, "How does God know?
And is there knowledge in the Most High?"
12Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.
13Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
14For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning
15If I had said, "I will speak thus,"
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
16When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me-- (NKJV)

Nevertheless, I cannot end there. For some reason, I can’t seem to get 2 Timothy 2:12 out of my head. It is like when you just want to be in the dark and ponder the vanity of your own situation and someone turns on a blindly bright light that illuminates the area. The light is so bright that it takes your eyes a few minutes to adjust to it, but once they adjust you can’t help but see the truth. As much as you wanted to hide from it, the light is inescapable.
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
The keyword here for me is ‘nevertheless.’ I’m amazed that such a small word has such a big effect. The effect is something along the lines of this. It reaches into my very soul and picks my heart up off the floor and says “those things are all true,” and then it screams “NEVERTHELESS that is not all!!” This wouldn’t mean very much coming from someone sitting in luxury somewhere, but this was written by the apostle Paul while he was waiting in prison for his execution. In the face of his pending execution and his much suffering, he could say that he was persuaded that Christ was able to keep him. Looking death right in the eye, Paul still had hope because his hope was not founded on anything that existed in this life. This reminds me of a quote from Luther as well.
Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith.
Paul and Luther were men of whom the world was not worthy.
Hebrews 11:35bOthers were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-- 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
39And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.(NKJV)

The verse from Proverbs that I stole part of my title from should actually be considered too. The last time I quoted it, I only quoted the first part. That verse too has a word that serves a similar function to the ‘nevertheless’ in the previous verse.
Proverbs 13:12Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
This time it is a conjunction instead of an adverb, but it provides a contrast nonetheless. “But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” WOW! Perhaps patience is of some value. Perhaps good things are worth waiting for and working hard to get. Perhaps they are even worth all the heartbreak and sleepless nights they cause. Perhaps priceless prizes are worth enduring these things. Romans 8:24For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?

Monday, May 16, 2005

A rest for the people of God

Man was not made for the Sabbath day, but the Sabbath day was made for man. It is a good thing that we need not work 7 days a week to feed ourselves and our families. It seems to me, that the Sabbath day was a very practical thing as well as a foreshadowing of things to come. It remains that same thing today with some of the shadow removed.
Hebrews 4:9There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Hebrews has a lot to say about entering into the rest of God. The author goes to great length to argue that Caanan was not the promised rest of God and that keeping the Sabbath on Saturday is not what the promised rest was all about. Those things merely pointed to the real rest. Hebrews 4:9 is the culmination of that argument; there remains a rest for the people of God. Joshua did not give it to them, and neither did Moses. Not even David gave Israel the real rest. Caanan pointed to the real rest with God--when Christ would come and the elect would be justified and eventually glorified. Calvin seems to say the same thing:
“for it is certain that [the Jews] looked higher than to that land; nay, the land of Canaan was not otherwise so much valued except for this reason, because it was an image and a symbol of the spiritual inheritance. When, therefore, they obtained possession of it, they ought not to have rested as though they had attained to the summit of their wishes, but on the contrary to meditate on what was spiritual as by it suggested. They to whom David addressed the Psalm were in possession of that land, but they were reminded of the duty of seeking a better rest.”

The next verse in Hebrews presents an interesting consideration. “11Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” This seems counter-intuitive to me. How can I labor to enter into a rest? I believe that is because this is a different kind of rest. This rest is from our own works and for the purpose doing the works of God. When we stop doing our own works and believe God, then we enter the rest of God. Perhaps “stop doing our own works” deserves some qualification though; we need to stop trying to earn our salvation by keeping the law. The law condemns people it; can’t justify them. We need to stop trusting our own works for salvation and lean on Christ for only he saves. This is the Christian’s rest!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

On the signs and seals

After a nice long discussion with a Lutheran friend, I find it needful to write on the error of making too much of the signs and seals of Christ. The signs and seals of the new covenant are definitely meant to assure us in our faith. As physical signs they point to spiritual realities. It is absolutely imperative though that we don't mistake the signs themselves for Christ because that will bring Christ down out of Heaven. Those who would subscribe to something more than that (i.e. the Lutherans and Catholics) would appeal to some of the following verses in defense.
John 6:53-58 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

Well, it is settled then right? Christ has said that we are to physically eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Since we aren't cannibals we should therefore interpret this in light of the Lord's supper right? The Lord's supper must really be the body and blood of Christ that we physically feast on. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on what side you're on) the scriptures interpret themselves and they clarify this right afterword.
John 6:60-66 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

This is a hard saying, they said. They thought he was speaking to them about physical realities; not so says Christ. His words are *spirit*; the flesh doesn't profit us anything! To eat the broken body and shed blood of Christ is to believe on him. It is a spiritual feeding of our souls—not of our bodies. Those who say that Christ is in, around, under, and through the elements make the same error that Jesus' disciples did here, but they don't take his correction! Consider the Heidelberg's questions on the subject—they are VERY good.
78. Do then the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ?

No: but as the water, in Baptism, is not changed into the blood of Christ, nor becomes the washing away of sins itself, being only the divine token and assurance thereof, so also, in the Lord's Supper, the sacred bread does not become the body of Christ itself, though agreeably to the nature and usage of sacraments it is called the body of Christ.

79. Why then doth Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the New Testament in His blood; and St. Paul, the communion of the body and blood of Christ?

Christ speaks thus not without great cause: namely, not only to teach us thereby, that, like as the bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal; but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us, that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood, through the working of the Holy Ghost, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him; and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we had ourselves suffered and done all in our own person.

I stand in awe of the wisdom of the Reformed fathers. They understood the temptation to become obsessed with physical ceremonies.

The argument against baptism actually being the washing away of sins itself is pretty much the same. Consider what John the Baptist said:
Matthew 3:11-12 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit; baptism with water definitely signify this and it points to it, BUT it is not the baptism of the Holy Spirit ITSELF. Those who say that it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit itself have made to much of it and are dangerously close to idolatry in confusing the ceremony with the Creator himself. On the other hand, those that say it has no significance at all, that it doesn't even point to Christ, have made too little of it. Truth very often has errors on both sides that should be avoided. I hope the different ditches on the sides of the sacraments are a little more clear now. I'll end with the Heidelberg again:
72. Is then the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sins?

No; for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.

73. Why, then, doth the Holy Ghost call Baptism the washing of regeneration, and the washing away of sins?

God speaks thus not without great cause: namely, not only to teach us thereby that like as the filthiness of the body is taken away by water, so our sins also are taken away by the blood and Spirit of Christ; but much more, that by this divine pledge and token He may assure us, that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually, as our bodies are washed with water.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A garden and a city

I think it is significant in the scriptures that man starts out in a garden but he ends in a city. I'm sure Eden was a beautiful place. The Tree of Life was there as well as the infamous Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. Here man could live or he could fall. We all know the story; Adam chose the fall. But where the first Adam failed, the second Adam has redeemed us from the fall. What is interesting though, is that we aren't going back to the garden. No, something much better is in store for us!
Rev 21:9-11 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;

I don't really mean to make an application of this because I don't know that I fully understand it. Maybe it is meant to be that way too though, for Heaven will be much greater than our wildest imaginations. What I want to notice is that many of the things present in the garden are present in the New Jerusalem, but in greater, more perfect form.

Genesis 3 tells us that God was walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve. No doubt, this was probably a frequent thing. God's presence would have been a great blessing and the way the Abrahamic covenant has the promise of God himself being the exceedingly great reward, I would guess he was present a lot in the Garden. Take note then of Revelation 21:22-23: “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” God himself is in the New Jerusalem. And his presence seems to be there in much greater glory because he lights the place with nothing but his own glory.

Notice also that the Tree of Life is again in the New Jerusalem. The description of it gives you the impression that it is larger though. It bears fruit every month and the tree is on either side of the river proceeding from the throne of God. It is also relevant to notice that there is no Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God himself will preserve his chosen people there. There will be no more curse and no more sin! Oh, I do long for that day.

One last observation: there is no night in the New Jerusalem. In the garden there was both night and day in its usual cycle. My guess is that night symbolizes darkness of understanding or spiritual wickedness or something of that sort. Either way, night is considered worse than the day because those who do evil do it at night and they are unwilling to come into the light. The fact that there is no night in the New Jerusalem would seem to show that there is no wickedness nor even an opportunity for it. There is also a much better understanding of God's Word there as well.

I'm floored when I read those passages together. It gives me hope that believers will end in a great city that God has prepared for them. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Friday, May 06, 2005

A complaint against the church

I have a complaint against the church. It isn’t one for which I would be excommunicated (at least I hope not LOL) because it really isn’t a core doctrine or practice. I’m not taking issue with anything in the creeds or confessions or constitutions. My complaint is how the church deals with single people. Being in a covenantal church, people see the marriage state as being really better in almost everything than the single state. This is usually an unwritten assumption, but I believe it shows forth in their practice all the time. We have sermons about loving your wife as Christ loved the church; about how we ought to raise our children, and about how our spouses are not perfect and are no substitute for Christ himself in our lives.

In my more bitter moments, I ask how this could possibly apply to me? You kind of have to be married before you have children to raise, and you have to have a spouse to have a problem with too much focus on them. How am I supposed to related to loving my wife as Christ loved the church without being married? I’m not saying these are wrong to teach these, but something needs to be said to those who can’t relate to this. It is almost like they are saying “Well, you don’t understand now, but hopefully one day you will. Until then, just try to pay attention and maybe you’ll remember this when it really is applicable to you.”

All in all, I think I agree with this basic assumption. Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians seem to be generally more directed towards those who would endure persecutions. Of course it would be better to be unmarried during a time when Christians were being thrown to lions, burned, and all other such manners of persecution for the faith. Christians aren’t being hunted down in modern America today, so this seems to be a lesser concern. My other reason for agreeing with the assumption that marriage is better is that there seem to be two good things that were instituted before the fall that continue to this day. One institution is a person’s vocation/job (Genesis 2:15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.), and the other is marriage (Genesis 2:18 And the LORD God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him." And Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.). Marriage is indeed honorable among all.

Now given the knowledge that people are not born married, this means that for the first part of our lives (and it might very well be the most important part because that is when our beliefs and thought patterns are formed) a person will be single. They will then somehow magically transition to the marriage state. For some people this will no doubt be easy, they have their childhood sweetheart that they’ve known since 5th grade and it has been known since about the 8th grade that they will be married. Then there are those that went to college to get what I’ve affectionately heard people call their “MRS” degree. (I’m not trying to say this is wrong, I’m sure there are many good schools in which you can get a good education and still get your “MRS” degree) What about the people that went to school to get an education (*gasp*) and focused on that instead of other things? Now they come back to the small churches that teach the truth and are silently informed that pretty much anyone of any value already got married during college. Or to put it another way, how many opportunities are there when the church has 50 members and 40 of those are couples and most of the rest are recently confirmed children?

The larger, mega-churches solve this problem by creating singles-groups and such things. There is no doubt this works in some cases, but for some reason I think there is a better solution. The problem with these is that usually this separates the single people out so much from the rest of the congregation that they loose a lot of good examples in the married couples. The uninstructed need good examples of Godly marriages to pattern theirs after; instruction with words is good, but examples fill in the missing pieces.

I don’t have a solution to this problem; I hope someone wiser than I does though because I don’t like the current situation.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

For His mercy endures forever

Psalms 136 uses this constant refrain: “For His mercy endures forever.” The passage is a set of reasons that God’s mercy lasts forever followed by that refrain. God is praised for creating the world, for creating the stars in the heavens, and for simply being the King of Kings. It is good and right that we should praise the Lord for these things for all things come to us by his hand.

But then we get to some things that aren’t going to set so well in the minds of modern people. 10To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn, For His mercy endures forever; and 17To Him who struck down great kings, For His mercy endures forever; 18And slew famous kings, For His mercy endures forever—(NKJV). God has a special people that he watches over, and he brought terrible judgment onto Egypt when they tried to stop Israel from leaving. This is the same God that watches his Church today. He is long suffering and patient with people, but he will judge. Deuteronomy 32:35 “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.” Christians can praise God even for this: when he brings down tyrants and strikes down wicked kings. The God of the Bible is not a like modern people would want him to be. He is a God of both justice and mercy; his is both holy and patient. Of course, this may be too much for those who preach a “gospel of tolerance.”

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Christian worldview and its consequences

The Christian worldview produces some unexpected results sometime--at least in the world’s eyes. Humanism tries to bring man to the top; man is the most important they say! We will be great because we love men. With no absolute reference point to give value to man, Humanism ends up bringing man low. He is really no different than the animals. Some animals kill their babies so why shouldn’t humans? Elderly animals are killed in nature by predators and such means, why do we need our elderly? All these ideas about making man great end up making him small. In the end, he is nothing more than a smart animal.

Christianity, on the other hand, starts somewhere else. Christianity says that man is not God; he is not supreme; he is not the top. Ironically, this leads to man being great. He is not like the animals because he is made in the image of God. With God as the absolute reference point, man has real value. Let me say that again: because of God, people’s lives have real value. Man is made in the image of God for the purpose of worshipping his creator. This is a high and noble purpose. We aren’t to kill our babies because they are made in the image of God and they have a real purpose in life. We aren’t to kill our elderly because they too should worship the true and living God. So, in the end, Christianity gives value and dignity to man--the very end humanism sought and was unable to attain.

The very same thing could be said about the status of women. Humanism and feminism try to exalt her status above God. In the end, this leads to women being viewed as glorified property. How horrible! Christianity starts with the basis that she is to be a suitable helpmate to her husband; he is to have authority over her, but they are of equal essence both being in the image of God (Eve was taken from Adam’s rib, not his foot, and not his head). Those who reject Christianity are left with trying to raise women up to a high plane from nothing; very little is left after this process. Isn’t it interesting that only in the places that Christianity has been rooted for many years are women viewed as more than just property? The pagan lands in African certainly don’t hold a high view of women.

The Biblical foundation is a strong one. When its principles are allowed to permeate a culture, that culture begins to show forth some of the holiness of God. In this, it is very good.


I’m not sure if the sermons have just been really good lately, or I’ve been paying attention more, but they really hit home. The sermon this week was from Jeremiah 31. The object lesson of the Israelites really goes to the core of contentment. Here was Jeremiah prophesying about the return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple before it was even destroyed. Pastor pointed out something that is very obvious, but not recognized very often. The people who heard this prophecy (and Jeremiah himself) would probably never see the temple rebuilt. They were to spend 70 years in Babylon, so maybe some of the really young people would see Jerusalem again in their lifetime, but most of them would not. And yet, God tells them to sing for gladness.

I know what my response would tend to be to this: Since I’m never going to see the rebuilding of Jerusalem, why should I sing for gladness? It will be almost three generations before the temple is rebuilt! It is amazing what happens when the rubber meets the road. I profess to be a pilgrim and a stranger in this world, and yet when it comes right down to it, I would probably be despairing in such a situation. Not so the great men and women of faith. Consider what Hebrews says of such people.
Hebrews 11:13-16 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
These great men and women DID NOT receive the promises made to them. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob didn’t take possession of the land of Caanan. Even the great man Moses, who God spoke with face to face, never entered into the land of promise. Suddenly, my personal problems seem to fade away when I consider this. These men lived their entire lives on nothing more than the promises and word of God. In doing this, they declared with a single loud voice that they were seeking a different kind of homeland, and God has prepared such a city for them!

Oh to be like these men, who saw such a dim light and yet believed so strongly. The light of the gospel is so much brighter now, and a lot of the shadows and figures have been removed. Should we not be believing all the more? I pray that we would be all the more like these great men and women of faith; that we would be counted among those “of whom the world was not worthy.”