Your Paper Is Too Small

Though we know that passages in the Old Testament addressed to Israel were not written to us, Paul said that they are still for us. What happened to them is recorded for us as an example “that we might not desire evil as they did” (see 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

Let’s learn from one of those Old Testament passages, Deuteronomy 28. The entire chapter describes blessings on those who are faithful and curses on those who won’t obey the voice of the Lord. In the section describing disobedience the Lord addresses the cause of their upcoming devastation.

Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. (Deuteronomy 28:47–48)

Though they had been given affluence, “the abundance of all things,” they did not abound in thanksgiving. Finding reasons for gratitude required no great exercise of imagination. They only needed to taste the bumper blessings and see that the Lord was good. But they refused. All the gifts that they received without gratitude would soon be repossessed.

We lose what matters most when we won’t be thankful. Instead, we were made to receive from Him and so we “offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14).

Sunday in worship, and Thursday in mashing potatoes, waiting for late guests, wondering why you believe believe in the Lord but your extended family doesn’t, and in a thousand other moments of effort, serve the Lord in gratitude. Though sin tells you that your list for thanks is too small, the real challenge comes when you see that your paper is too small for the list.

Adorned with Divine Delight

A fantastic footnote (#10) found in chapter 6 of The Things of Earth (paragraphs added):

Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.’

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that Thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with Thy perfect pleasure. I confess to Thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving Thy creature and Thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised! Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in Thy sight.’

A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works….

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all His angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all His creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.”

–Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 158– 59.

Getting Accustomed Again

Noah was 600 years old when the rain came down and the floods came up. He spent one of our entire lifetimes just building the ark. That project kept him busy, but life was basically the same for him until the day the Lord shut him in safety. A year later when he disembarked, life was similar and yet it could not be the same as before.

As Christians, we learned one way of living before the way of salvation. Some spent a long time in the world’s workshop, others less. But length of life in sin isn’t an excuse for staying in sin; we are all called to leave the old and live in the new. Naturally this is difficult. We have to relearn how to talk, how to relate, how to work, how to worship. We had ways of going about it before, now we have to get accustomed to going about it like Christ.

Some persons want to get on the ark and get off again with everything the same as before. They want salvation from sin and to keep living in ways that required their salvation. They might as well try to stay dry while giving a bath to a pack of lions.

The church is the people relearning to walk. We don’t always take every step in the right direction, but we keep coming together as fellow-citizens of Christ’s Kingdom to renew our training in faithful obedience. The communion meal is part of the program reminding us to give thanks to God who sent us a Savior from the flood of judgment we deserved.

He Condemned the World

The world prefers that we do not confess when we disobey God. For that matter, the world prefers when we do not obey God. It might seem as if this puts us in a position where we cannot win. By faith we know that it means we are.

Noah showed how this works.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)

Noah believed God and did all that God commanded him, and look what it accomplished: “by this he condemned the world.” His obedience to build a boat–not his letters to the editor, his weekly sermon podcast, or his public revival meetings–declared the disobedience of the world. Noah trusted and submitted to God and, because his generation saw him do it, they were accountable for it. They couldn’t say that they didn’t know.

They were responsible for 100 years of mockery-of-mouth toward the ark-itect, 100 years of laughing off the ridiculous idea of rain, 100 years of evidence they couldn’t un-see.

Just because our obedience isn’t as dramatic doesn’t mean that it isn’t as effective in condemning the world. Even when we disobey but then acknowledge our sin and seek God’s forgiveness in Christ, we show the world what they should do. By faith we trust the judgment of God on His Son, by faith we expect the judgment of God by His Son, and by faith we become the heirs of righteousness. Our obedience of faith is antithetical worship and a witness to the unbelieving culture.

The Reformer’s Days

Charles Spurgeon, “Holding Fast the Faith”:

Everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want anyone else to do the same today. When you go to the…gardens you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering about loose in the street? You tell me that would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.

So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago; the past ages are sort of a bear-pit or iron cage for him, but such a man today is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if can think of one. Yet imagine that in those ages past, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and their (friends) had said, “The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great (racket), and get ourselves in disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake things will have grown better.”

Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on. Note what we owe them, and let us pay to our sons the debt we owe our fathers.

It is today as it was in the Reformer’s days. Decision is needed. Here is the day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the gospel passed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it.

Look you sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear, there will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His truth today.

… Stand fast, my beloved, in the name of God! I, your brother in Christ, entreat you to abide in the truth. Quit yourselves like men, be strong. The Lord sustain you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Happy Reformation Day!

Enthroned over the Cross

There are hard things that happen in the world. Though the gospel has had a great affect on many peoples, many other peoples haven’t heard the gospel or received the gospel. Sinful men, left to themselves, destroy themselves, destroy one another, and destroy society.

God sent a flood to destroy the destroyers and, to David, this was a reason to sing about God’s sovereignty. It was also a reason to sing about how the same God gives strength and peace to His people.

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!
(Psalm 29:10–11)

The sinfulness of man was hard, so was God’s punishment. The LORD was in charge before, during, and after the global flood; the flood sat at His feet, so to speak. This heightens our fear of the Lord and, even more, deepens our faith in Him.

The apostles preached about the crucifixion with the same affirmation of the Lord’s control.

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)

The unjust torture and murder of Jesus was hard. But the Lord was in charge before, during, and after Good Friday. It was carried out according to His plan. And it is hard but good news for our faith. We could sing today:

The Lord sits enthroned over the cross; The Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace!

Not one hair of your head, one sparrow in the sky, one drop of rain, one drop of Jesus’ blood, falls apart from your Father (Matthew 10:29-31). He has purchased your strength, not a story that doesn’t require it. He has purchased your peace, not a life without enemies or hard things. Eat and drink in remembrance of His authority and His gifts to you.

The Blockheads of Earth

The Pharisees asked Jesus about the coming of the kingdom recorded by Dr. Luke in chapter 17 of his gospel. Jesus told the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was “not coming in ways that could be observed,” and followed up with His disciples after the public interchange.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:26–27)

My purpose right now isn’t to pinpoint the timing of the kingdom but to portray the blockheads of earth.

Jesus wasn’t listing the sins in Luke 17. We know, and Jesus knew, that God rained the flood to destroy the multiplied corruption among men. What He was describing was the cultural insensitivity to sins. Dinner and drinks and weddings are God-given gifts. But the men in Noah’s day weren’t acknowledging God anywhere; He was out of their minds. The problems weren’t the parties per se, but when they planned their parties the weatherman said nothing about judgment in the forecast.

In the midst of a people like that obedience is hard. But hard-heartedness is harder. That’s one reason for our weekly confession of sin together, to remind us to be ready for the return of Jesus. Cultural indifference and peer pressure will not be good excuses before the King who expects us to be expecting Him.

Separate from the Sexual Fray

God takes all sin seriously, though sexual sin is regularly referenced as a remarkable reason for God’s judgment. Paul did say, “every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). There are additional, personal consequences.

The world has a long history of relational disaster. Our generation is a troubled one but not the first one to be troubled. God rained a flood worth of punishment down on the ancient world marked by unnatural desire. Christ came a couple millennia ago to a confused and corrupt culture. Paul told the Ephesians,

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:5–6)

God’s law is clear and the inheritance of His kingdom is for those who are separate from the sexual fray.

The good news is that Christ died for sinners of all stripes. The wrath of God is coming, but it also did come already on God’s Son. Are you a sinner? Yes. Have you done things that don’t belong, that ought not even be named among the saints? Yes. Were you in darkness? Yes. But the death of Christ really took your unrighteousness. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV)

Our worship does not depend on covering our sin but on the cross. “You were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). Confess your sins, whatever they are, and come worship in light.

Our Supernatural Squeamishness

We need God to poke our supernatural squeamishness. One of the greatest, subtlest dangers of our day is the (false) assumption that every effect has a natural cause. By natural I mean a materialistic, mechanistic, impersonal energy that explains everything.

Christians are getting better at understanding God’s immanent involvement in the natural world. Things work how He wants and they work because He keeps speaking. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). We are learning how to look at all natural phenomena as a reason for thanks and praise.

But our beliefs go beyond the natural. Crazy things happen in the world God made, not things that are outside of His control, but things outside of our tidy categories that we thought would help us to pretend He doesn’t care. It’s good for us to remember that supernatural things are happening all the time.

Christians already believe crazy things, at least according to the natural man. Regardless of how you interpret Genesis 6, to be a Christian you must believe that God took on flesh. The Spirit fertilized an egg in a woman, not by taking her as a wife or knowing her like a husband, but He supernaturally grew His Son in Mary’s womb to be her son. We believe the One from and through and to Whom all things were made was laid in a trough usually used to feed the oxen.

We also believe that this God-Man’s death satisfied the Father’s divine justice against those who declared war on the God-Man. He delivered His enemies from their enmity by being crucified. Who does that? How could one death stop divine wrath?

And we believe that the Father and Son sent their Spirit to dwell inside every believer. Christian, you are spiritually alive. You are part of a supernatural story of mythic proportions. Our communion is more than shared geography or interests. Our communion is given by the Triune God. The bread and the cup cause natural and supernatural effects. The world is more than our eyes can see and the God who runs it wants to eat with you at His cost.

A Certain Way

I’ve posted about Enoch a few times the last few weeks. Though he is exceptional, he is also an example.

The author of Hebrews includes Enoch in the Hall of Faith.

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5)

Genesis doesn’t explicitly state the part about pleasing God but it makes sense. It also sets up the inductive conclusion in the next verse. The particular instance of Enoch leads to this general principle.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Enoch believed that God is and that God is a certain way. Namely, God is eternally and unchangeably a giver to those who depend on Him.

The communion meal is an expression of our faith, not our works. We eat and drink in dependence on God through His Son. And we know what to expect. We’re not obligating God to do anything. We don’t demand wages. But we know that He loves to provide for and fill up and bless His people. He has given us His own Son. How will He not with Him graciously give us all things?

Leave your righteousness, leave your strength, and leave what you counted as gain. Receive by faith His righteousness, His strength in your weakness, and His reward for seeking Him.