Proverbial Nose Bleeds

How many ways can you have a bad day? I’m not sure, but I know for sure how to make one worse.

Maybe the “bad” is due to your body. It’s not traceable to anything foolish you did, it’s due to something in God’s sovereignty, and it causes you some amount of suffering. Maybe the bad is in your mailbox, or email inbox. Out of what seems like nowhere to you, God sent you a bill, or a criticism, or an “opportunity” that will take you a week just to decide what to do. People have had it worse than you, but this is bad.

I have come back from the land of attempted sanctification and can report a guaranteed way to multiply the problem. I’m going to tell it to you know, for free, it doesn’t take long to teach. If you want to make it worse, see what’s bad and then get mad. Anger will pour vinegar on the soda of your papier-mâché volcano. Eruption!

Solomon wrote a lot about anger, and about how fools get angry. It starts with too high a view of the man in the mirror.

If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
or if you have been devising evil,
put your hand on your mouth.

For pressing milk produces curds,
pressing the nose produces blood,

and pressing anger produces strife.

(Proverbs 30:32-33)

Anger starts when you’ve decided that you are doing things God’s way, or rather that what you’ve decided is as good as God’s way. If God’s way isn’t happening, which by this point you’re seeing very clearly from your perspective on high, you get angry. Anger never dances alone for long. It wants a partner, or rather, a target, and so it “produces strife.”

Now your bad day, which may have been God’s plan to get glory (as in John 9), has you hot and your wife in fight or flight and your kids (or coworkers) questioning if you are as #blessed as your bumper sticker claims.

But, good news, Jesus already bled for the proverbial nose bleeds you’ve caused, and His grace is like cool milk to a heart on fire.

Affections in Maternal Tones

Paul did not have questions about his gender, but he did speak of his affections in maternal tones a couple times. He told the Thessalonians, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). To the Galatians he was even more active:

my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (Galatians 4:19)

He regularly talked about his labors for the elect, but this is the only place he likened himself to being in labor. (We can only imagine the complaints of gender appropriation he must have received).

The Galatians were being bewitched by those preaching salvation by law keeping, or at least true sanctification by law keeping. Paul’s entire letter to them corrects ideas and practices contrary to the gospel of free grace.

Like a mother with her children, Paul is in “anguish,” a word which could be translated “suffer birth pains.” While I haven’t given birth, I’ve been around. It looks like it hurts. Paul used the illustration to communicate that he cared, that he was closely connected, and that he longed for a healthy baby. He wanted Christ in them, for them to take on Christ’s shape.

That happens by faith. When Paul says that he suffers birth pains so that Christ is formed in them, it includes his desire that they would, like him, “live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). So come to the Lord’s Table of grace and remember His loving sacrifice. May your faith be fed by the bread and wine. And may Christ be formed in you.

So Not Okay

God hates divorce. God also hates division in the body. He loves unity. Jesus prayed that His people would be one, that they would be one even as He and the Father are one. That’s tight.

But history, which we believe God rules, is filled with conflict and splits between believers, between churches. While Paul climbed all over the Corinthian contentions to correct their petty party preferences, he also told them later that divisions were necessary and part of God’s purpose.

when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1 Corinthians 11:18–19)

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul admonishes the church for failing to receive one another, for some who selfishly isolated themselves and satisfied themselves rather than loving one another. Is that okay? Not only is it not okay, God planned for it to be so not okay that it accomplishes His purpose of showing who’s not okay.

While we should examine ourselves when we come to the table and confess any resistance to fellowship, that is different than coming to the table and resenting other fellows who are messing up communion. It is possible that someone is doing it wrong, and praise God that it isn’t you, unless it is. Either way, we eat and drink in remembrance of what Jesus has done, and focusing on Him either fixes conflict or it puts the characters into context.

Knots and Nooses

Give a sinner a knife and he will find knots to cut. He doesn’t want things tied together, he wants things loose. Give a man a rope and he will make a noose. He claims he wants justice, punishment for those who deserve it. A knife is good, but in a culture of lynch mobs, a knife is good for cutting nooses. Rope is good, but in a culture of relativism and emotional goo, it’s good for tying knots that hold things together. Sin doesn’t need different tools, sin uses the good tools toward wrong ends.

Law and grace are misused gifts. The law is good for revealing the righteousness of God and our need for a Savior. Sinners use the law to accuse and condemn our neighbor. Grace is good for delivering us from the guilt and grasp of sin. Sinners use grace as a justification to plunge deeper into it.

What should we do? We should listen to God’s Word and not be choosy. We should hear all that He has to say, and learn what He loves and what He hates. But we overestimate our abilities and stop listening before He finishes speaking. God loves the perfect and hates perfectionism. He loves when His people walk in the Spirit and He hates when we try to walk in the Spirit apart from our feet.

Sinners are strict when they ought to forgive and compromise they ought to stand. We need to be ruthless with our sin, and never sin by being ruthless with our neighbor. We have many good gifts, let us use them as obedient sons.

Bitter Would Be a Start

When it comes to the ideal marital state, the point is contentment and satisfaction that matches your condition. Are you single and satisfied? Are you married and enjoying it? Such happiness is gift.

When it comes to the ideal spiritual state, the goal is peace and fellowship with Christ and His people. Not everyone has the same gift that builds up the body. Different persons serve in different ways, but we all enjoy communion. We don’t compare talents to say who is “better,” we come to the same table and share the same elements by faith.

This is where we get our identity. Here is where we learn to get along.

We live in a culture that is panicked that someone else might be getting more recognition. We are concerned about aggressions and micro-aggressions. Someone is upset that she is called “single.” The label implies something is missing. “Unmarried” is even worse. So what should we call her? “Bitter” would be a start.

Again, Christ’s calling is the difference, and, He doesn’t give everyone the Same. God is the one who gives gifts. None of us have anything that hasn’t been given to us. More than figuring out why we should have what someone else has, we should be figuring out all the things we have to give thanks for.

The bread and the cup are provided for us, and they orient us to the one who gave Himself for us.

A Candle Under Your Hoodie

There is a somewhat famous statement in Christian circles that “it is better to marry than to burn.” That’s a poetic way to talk about passionate, erotic desire for someone else. In itself, there’s nothing wrong with passion, but there is only one safe direction for sexual desires: your spouse.

Remember King David. He was already married, but then he saw Bathsheba, and in many ways his life was undone. It was unlawful desire. It destroyed him and many lives around him.

In Proverbs 6 Solomon shares wisdom with his son, starting with exhortations to learn from the ant about not being lazy, and then moving to reminders about mom and dad’s teaching on purity. There’s a lot of warning about the “strange” woman in Proverbs, and there are a couple verses about obvious danger.

Can a man carry fire next to his chest

and his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals

and his feet not be scorched?

This is a different kind of burning, and the consequences are unavoidable. The questions don’t reveal information, they are a memorable reminder. How far can you carry a candle around under your hoodie? What number of jumping jacks can you do barefoot in a bonfire? It’s impossible to avoid the pain, and Solomon presses the image into adultery.

So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;

none who touches her will go unpunished.

It is good for a man to touch his wife, it’s not good for a man to touch another man’s wife, or any woman who’s not his wife. It’s good to love your wife, it’s not good to lust for anyone who isn’t (Matthew 5:28).

Where are your passions? Are you guarding your heart? Out of it proceed the issues of love.

The Valley of the Shadow of Freaking Out

The natural man is surprisingly dumb when it comes to economics. He makes virtually no end of bad deals.

Consider the following, purely fictional, account. A wife expresses a concern to her husband. She’s having a problem, or anticipates that a problem is coming. She’s pretty committed to the fact that it’s bad. She’s walking through the valley of the shadow of freaking out.

The husband has what the wife needs. It may be extra information, it may be bigger perspective, it may be a practical plan, it may be just kindness and comfort. But often he puts the exact wrong condition on the transaction. He says, not verbally, but through his impatience and defensiveness and anger, “I want to help you with your problem but first you need to stop freaking out.” But her freaking out is the problem, and here she is, asking for help. She is not the dummy.

Consider another scenario. You have a vision to start a new business but not the capital to get going. You visit a bank and ask to borrow some money, and you’re even willing to wear out your good pen in order to sign all the papers promising to pay the bank back plus extra for the privilege of using the loan. Let’s assume that the business plan is reasonable. Would you think it reasonable for the manager to deny the loan because you don’t have enough money? Not having enough money is why you’re there in the first place.

This is not the way Jesus treats us. The gospel is a better transaction. Jesus does not wait for us to get cleaned up before He cleanses us. He washes the dirty. And He doesn’t withhold food from us until we can show that we don’t need it. He feeds us when we’re hungry. He feeds us first. This is good news, and it is for all who believe.

Believing Believers

When Jesus came down the mountain after His transfiguration He met a father who had brought his convulsing son to Jesus for healing. The disciples who had remained in the foothills hadn’t been able to heal the boy, and Jesus lamented over such a “faithless generation.” To the father himself Jesus said, “All things are possible for one who believes,” and the father’s famous response was: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

I was thinking about this again after a repeated comment last weekend at the Grace Agenda conference. When it comes to enraging the culture, telling others the good and authoritative news of the Bible, calling them to salvation in Jesus Christ, it was observed that our first and biggest problem is not getting the unbelievers to believe, it is getting the believers to believe. We don’t believe that God is sovereign and that His Word is powerful and that His Spirit works. We are ashamed of the gospel. We fear being reviled and rejected. We back down and back off. We don’t believe God first.

This is true of Christians not only in evangelism and apologetics, this is true in marriage and parenting, in bill-sorting and job-searching, in health problems and home problems, in temptations to anger or impatience or fear or any sin that plagues us. We believers don’t believe God. There are times when I do not believe God.

But Jesus said all things are possible for the one who believes. While we may cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief,” we also ought to cry out, “I believe, forgive my unbelief.” Little faith does not honor the God of promise and power. We are saved by faith, so let’s live by faith.

Look for a Second

On the first day of the week we worship because Christ rose from the dead; the first day changes all the other days for good. Likewise, His resurrection, though only something that happened once, is just the first of many in a different way. He will not rise from the dead again, but because He did many more will after Him.

Paul told the Corinthians,

in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20–23, ESV)

On the first day of the week we remember the first fruits. “First fruits” is one Greek word, ἀπαρχή, a word that refers to the beginning that represented more. Just as there is no need for an outline without at least two points, so a first signals us to look for a second, for a succession. Paul called Jesus the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18), the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).

We are an army of new men, the offspring of His offering. Supernatural life was breathed into us. We have hope not only in this life but in the life to come. We are no people to be pitied, we are a people purchased and raised and promised the glory of an imperishable body. Jesus is the first fruits and we are part of the rest of the resurrection harvest.

Blessed Forever

Since the Sunday of New Year’s Eve I have focused our exhortations to confession around the idea of being blessed. We’ve seen 13 #blesseds so far, and this will be the final one for [this series], though certainly not the last one found in the Scriptures.

The reason for the focus, as you may remember, is rooted in the belief that God will give such great blessing to the church across many nations that will provoke jealousy among the elect unbelievers to cause them to desire salvation and blessing in Christ. This has special concentration on the end times, receiving and rejoicing in our blessings so well that a generation of Israelites will believe and be saved.

The final blessing for attention fits both with that scheme of eschatology and with Easter.

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

This is the fifth of seven blessings in the Revelation, and the blessing is resurrection and reigning. The “first resurrection” includes all those who believe in Christ and die physically before His return; it’s us, the church. The “second death” is eternal death, and it cannot harm the believers at all; it has no teeth.

The blessed will be resurrected to “reign with him for a thousand years.” This is the millennial kingdom, and we believe that this is actually 1,000 years of Jesus’ future reign as Lord on earth over every nation, and it’s us, with Him. We’re not there yet, but we will be.

God’s blesses His people with the hope of resurrection, He blesses His people with actual resurrection, and He blesses His people post-resurrection as they share in His kingdom. It is all because of Christ. In Him we come to life and reign with Him. We are blessed and will be blessed day and night forever and ever.