A Season to Be Made More Sturdy

We believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit God’s Son became incarnate from the virgin Mary. We believe that He is now recognized in two natures, truly God and truly man, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. There is no one like Him.

We confess that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3). Not only so, we remember that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). And what did He do in the flesh? Among all the normal human things such as eating and drinking and sleeping and walking and working, He suffered.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2).

Peter’s previous paragraph talked about Christ the righteous suffering for the unrighteous. He was “put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18) for us. It is amazing that God became man. It is more amazing that God came to suffer.

It is an annual temptation to forget the suffering part, His and ours in imitation of Him. Christmastime is not a time to get out of suffering, it’s a time to remember the God who wrote Himself into the suffering story with us and for us. Christmastime may include sweet things to eat and a sense of security, but those are only possible because others sacrificed, and in some cases died, to give us what we have.

We receive cards that use soft colors to portray calm, warm evenings by a fire with lots of presents under a decorated tree. Such sentimental sketches don’t keep anyone from sin, they often stimulate false expectations and holiday idols. The same is true with so many “seasonal” songs; they are superficial and saccharine and don’t make us more sturdy. But Christ came in the flesh and suffered in the flesh so that we also would live for the will of God, and that includes our sanctified suffering, even on and around Christmas.

The Goat that Went Away

A scapegoat is a powerful symbol.

In the Bible it comes from Leviticus 16. On the day of atonement the Lord told Aaron to take “two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for [the scapegoat],” at least that’s how the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible translate it. The ESV translates it as “the other lot for Azazel,” unsure of the exact meaning, suggesting maybe it is the name of a place.

Yet the note of commentary in the ESVSB says:

The traditional explanation is that Azazel (Hb. ‘aza’zel) is a compound word, combining “goat” (Hb. ‘ez) with “going away” (Hb. ’azel): the word would then mean “goat that goes away” (hence the conventional “scapegoat”).

The word is used in Leviticus 16:8, 10, and 26.

As I said, the image is powerful. It is a goat, it is a goat that gets sent away into the wilderness, and it is a goat that gets sent away into the wildness carrying the sins of the people. Of the two goats, one is sacrificed and the blood covers the sins. The other goat, the scapegoat, symbolically removes sins. They are taken away.

Cultures seek scapegoats. Whole books are written to explain the motives and the methods. But none of them are effective. Jesus is. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The apostle John also wrote, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5).

Jesus died so that we might reign with Him (see 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:6). Who died and made us kings? Actually, Jesus did, and we’ll reign with Him.

And there we’ll find our home

Our life before the throne

We’ll honour Him in perfect song

Where we belong

He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye

As thirst and hunger die

The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King

We’ll reign with Him
(“There Is a Higher Throne” verse 2)

The Spirit of AntiChristmas

Christmas is seven days closer than it was last Lord’s Day. I don’t really care if your shopping is done, or close, or not. I do care if your soul, and body, are in harmony.

We believe that God, in Christ, came in the flesh. This has been debated since Jesus’ birth, and it was an issue the apostles addressed unequivocally even in the first century.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and is now in the world already. (1 John 4:2-3)

It was so important that John repeated it in his second letter.

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 7)

To deny the truth that Jesus Christ has come “in the flesh” makes one an antichrist. As we are the church assembled for worship in the name of Jesus, I do not suspect there are many among us who deny the teaching. But I do suspect that we may deny the doctrine in our behavior. Let us call it AntiChristmas.

You believe that God took on a body, rubbed elbows with smelly men, ate untasty or cold meals, dealt with unappreciative people. It’s all true plus some. So what do you do when people are late, or make you late, or keep you from doing what you want, or get in your way? Do you want Christmas without getting tired? Then perhaps you want to celebrate the idea of incarnation and not the incarnation itself. This is the spirit of AntiChristmas, and it should be forsaken.

Sing It for Yourself

You might need this today. In the spirit of colossians3:16ing, here’s Psalm 94:19 (NASB):

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,

Your consolations delight my soul.

“Anxious thoughts” translates the Hebrew word sarappim which could be defined as “the processing of information which causes distress and anxiety in one’s mind and heart” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semitic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament). Synonyms abound here: disquieting thoughts, anxious doubts, fear, angst, worries, stress, unease, internal reactions to an upcoming event or an uncertain outcome. Do you ever have any of those? Are challenges to your calm approaching from more than one front? The language is emphatic, these “cares” (ESV) are “many.”

The second line of the verse uses another plural. The “anxious thoughts” are not swallowed up by a more absorbing anxiety but by more powerful ”consolations.” The Hebrew word is tanchum describing comforts, the easing or alleviating of distress. These are supports and reassurances that “delight” or “cheer” (ESV) our soul.

Ours are the internal cares, His are the soul comforts. His comforts are greater than our cares.

In the context of the song these anxieties are caused by political and cultural concerns more than just psychological or emotional concerns. It’s a big world, and there are a lot of problems. Certainly, though, there is application for whatever factor is multiplying our worries.

And what are the “consolations” that the psalmist had in mind? Just in Psalm 94 itself Yahweh is the judge who will repay the wicked, He hears and sees all, He rebukes entire nations, He teaches men knowledge, He disciplines those He loves for their blessing, He gives rest to those in trouble, He does not forsake His people, He holds up the falling. Of course these do not include any of the New Testament consolations in Christ by the Spirit, which happen to be a lot.

My meditation on this verse has come by singing a version of the Psalm that our church sings. I’d sing it for you here, but this is a blog. The words are:

When my anxious thoughts are many,
how Thy comforts cheer my soul.

Sing it for yourself. Sing it for another.

To Judge or Not To Judge

In chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians Paul told the believers that he didn’t judge himself (4:3). In chapter 11 he told them to “examine” themselves, and that “if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged” (11:28, 31). Well, to judge or not to judge, which is it?

The two passages address different problems. In chapter 4 the issue concerned the faithfulness of a preacher, in chapter 11 the issue concurred the worthiness of a communion participant. The first involves evaluating a man’s work on the Lord’s building, the latter involves evaluating a man’s sitting at the Lord’s table. It’s not the same situation.

Yet both passages aim at the heart. What is the heart of the steward? What is the heart of the eater? The heart determines if the steward is trust-worthy, the heart determines if the eater is table-worthy.

Which gets back to the question, why did Paul say he didn’t judge himself but that they should judge themselves?

The answer is that his service spoke for itself and he left the final accounting up to God. Likewise, their selfishness spoke for itself and they were not taking God into account. Paul was obeying as best he knew, and he also knew that a deep, introspective dive still wouldn’t get him to the bottom. But the Corinthians were serving themselves first at the excuse of the hungry and were humiliating others in the body (11:21-22). They needed to wait for one another (11:33), and the reason Paul exhorted them to self-examination in context is because they were acting oblivious to their obvious problem.

So are you despising a brother or sister at this table? You should do some judging, it’s not a hard case to decide. But if you are confessed up, having already humbly examined yourself before the Word, then eat and drink and look forward to your communion with the Lord until He returns.

Twenty-Four Whole Days

One of the most important jobs of a pastor is to tell the flock things that they already know. He must remind them of God’s truths regularly. A disciple is a learner, and sometimes we need to learn things again, to learn afresh. Equipping the saints for the work of ministry means furnishing them with staple/basic supplies, not just surprises.

It is also true that we cannot be reminded about everything always. I have a growing list of verses and thoughts that I wish I could keep in the front of my mind every moment. That’s not how God made us to work. So we need reminders that are placed strategically.

The month of December is strategic in that it has twenty-four whole days before the 25th, the day that has been recognized as the day of Jesus’ birth for many centuries. I don’t believe Jesus was born on 12/25/00; I don’t think any of those three numbers work. And I don’t have to in order to see it as a strategic time to remember, and remind my people, that God came in the flesh.

Emmanuel means, “God with us.” John said, “The Word become flesh and dwelt among us.” This is what we mean by the word incarnate: enfleshed. So I want to consider implications of the phrase “in the flesh” these advent Sundays.

As glorious as the idea is that the eternal, almighty Maker of heaven and earth became a man, as joyful and celebratory as this season can be, it is because when Jesus came in the flesh He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin” (Romans 8:3). He didn’t just do it because He had always wanted to visit in person, but because He had to partake of the same things as “the children…in flesh and blood” (Hebrews 2:14) in order to destroy the sinful flesh.

However we plan to celebrate advent and Christmas, let us remember that He came to bid our fleshly envy, strife, and quarrels cease.

The Lesser of All Things

It is quite a thing for Paul to say that “all things” are ours (1 Corinthians 3:21, 22). It is quite a thing for the psalmist to say, “When my anxious thoughts are many, how Your comforts cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19). What happens when we consider all the comforts God has given to us in Christ?

Consider these four questions in Romans 8.

  • If God is for us, who can be against us? (verse 31)
  • Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? (verse 33)
  • Who is it to condemn? (verse 34)
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (verse 35)

Among the many consolations that are ours, we have certainty of security in righteousness and fellowship with God. There is no enemy who can successfully accuse us or judge us. There is no wedge that can be driven between us and the love of God in Christ Jesus. There can be those who try, but they cannot conquer.

So Paul makes the argument from the greater to the lesser.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him gracious give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

As amazing as it is that “all things” are ours, the all things are the lesser. We have been given God’s Son. He is ours and we are His. The Father’s sending and the Son’s sacrificing are the source of everything for us. “What then shall we say to these things?” What then shall we eat and drink to these things?

More Hope for Fools

It’s one thing to live with zero desire to be respected and it’s another thing to live dishonorably and demand to be respected. Some people are hard to steer, others are hard to motivate, and still others are both yet they love to give advice.

The common denominator, and it is the lowest one, is of persons who are deceiving themselves. They think they are wise, but they may be the only ones who don’t know the truth.

These sorts of fools use proverbs but they are useless, like a lame lan’s legs. They get assignments but they hurt those who send them or hire them. They do the same painful, sickening things over and over, like a dog that returns to his vomit.

Solomon once took eleven verses to talk about how bad a fool is, only to follow it by saying: “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).

The issue of self-deception is explicitly bad in James 1:22-24. There is a religious person, a person who hangs out with church people and even one who listens to God’s Word, but who cheats himself from the blessing of obedience.

The word “deceive” comes from the idea of catching or ensnaring. To deceive someone else is to try to gain an advantage over them, to deceive oneself is to make-believe something that isn’t true. The only advantage of deceiving oneself is to not have do deal with uncomfortable reality. There’s more hope for fools than deniers.

Thanksgiving and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I have more things to be thankful for than I realize. But I know I am #blessed, and it can’t hurt to count some of them.

I am thankful for my wife’s perseverance through daily pain that most people don’t realize. Mo takes pain medication so that she can get up to serve those around her not so that she can sit down and rest a few points lower on the pain scale. I’m thankful for how quickly she forgives me and does not treat me like my sins deserve. I am thankful for her curiosity that never hits snooze. I am thankful for her insight into each one of our kids and for how she mobilizes their force as a unit. I am thankful for her pumpkin whoopie pies.

I’m thankful for our who kids act like it’s normal to go to a school that their parents and parents’ friends started in a basement. I’m thankful for kids who are loyal to their family, but whose loyalty to family is rooted in their love for God. I’m thankful for kids that look forward to worship with the church on Sunday and who never complain about staying late because they are with their friends. I am thankful for kids who are unrelenting idea-machines for doing things better or bigger. I’m thankful for kids who get excited about spending money on other people.

I am thankful that my sister is in heaven, free from pains of all kinds.

I am thankful for all sorts of tools that most people in history could not have imagined. I’m thankful for reading on my iPad Baby Pro in the Kindle app or Logos app while I’m running on my treadmill. I’m thankful that whatever I highlight syncs to my MacBook Adorable. I’m thankful for text messaging. I’m thankful for the Apple Pencil, for the Internet, for Ulysses, Tweetbot, Things 3, nvALT, DEVONThink, PDFExpert, Goodnotes, Dropbox and iCloud Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar and Google Docs, Due, Overcast, Instapaper, Feedbin and Unread, Scanner Pro, and YNAB.

I’m thankful for the Reformation and Luther and Tyndale and Calvin and Bucer and Edwards and Spurgeon and The Master’s Seminary and Brothers, We Are Not Professionals and Douglas Wilson and Abraham Kuyper. I’m thankful for fiction (though not necessarily the Dispensational kind), for non-fiction, for the ability to read and the ubiquity of English reading material.

I am thankful for the three other pastors at our local church. I’m thankful for the flock who endure how often my mouth is open. I’m thankful for the teachers of our kids. I’m thankful for the worldview of Kuyperian Dispensationalism, even if I am not yet living in such a way that others would envy. I am thankful for God’s grace and new morning mercies and the Holy Spirit all working to bless me and make me a better Christian, husband, father, shepherd, friend, and image-bearer.

I am thankful for black coffee, for red wine, for white (turkey) meat, and for brown gravy. I’m thankful for how the gospel has influenced more feasts than those who feast recognize. I’m thankful I get to feast in Jesus’ name.

Without the Stickers

This is a week to kick up your #blessed game a couple turkey legs.

All lawful feasts are Christian feasts. That’s because unbelievers always feast for wrong or at best deficient reasons. They feast because they like food, which is fine, but Who made them to like food and Who provided it for them? They feast because they like family, or they like the nostalgic idea of family, but how can they know what a family is for?

Christians know the Father and His Son. Christians have God’s Spirit who turns the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Christians know that farmers do a lot of work and that no farmer has ever made a potato or a pumpkin or a turkey grow on his own. God gives growth. God gives us all these gifts, food and family and forks and plates and tables and chairs and wine and pie.

I am not exhorting you to post a picture with the appropriate hashtag for every gift; you don’t have the mental bandwidth (even if you have an unlimited data plan) and it would be annoying and it’s not a biblical, conscience-binding law. It is biblical law to “give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Maybe you could imagine that you had a oversized roll of #blessed stickers, and you could put one on everything you see this week that reminds you of Your Father’s kindness. Would that cause others to see something different in your Thanksgiving feast? Can you act in such a way that they would see the same difference but without the stickers?