Chosen and Expressly Named

I’m struck by a couple small descriptions in the account of when King David brought the ark back to Jerusalem. David offered sacrifices and distributed food to the people, and it was “on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:7). The middle, and most, of the chapter is a song of thanks, and then more appointments for sake of leading worship, including “Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever” (verse 41).

Did the “chosen and expressly named” men apply for the “Thanks Givers Team”? What did that vetting process involve? What did a typical day of work at the worship tent look like, making a new list of blessings, or adding to the one started yesterday? Did those “expressly named to give thanks to the LORD” ever wake up on Monday morning and dread going into work? “I just don’t feel like giving thanks today.” “I need a vacation from this.”

We don’t have the same position today, or at least I’ve never met a “Pastor of Thanksgiving.” And yet, isn’t it true that all of us believers have been “chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD”?

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:8)

This is the Lord’s steadfast love, and we’ve received His mercy (1 Peter 2:9). God chose us before the foundation of the world and sealed us with His Spirit so that we would sing and make melody to the Lord with all our heart, “giving thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:19-20).

We have been chosen and named to the thanks industry, and duties require vigilance to see His hand as well as our indifference.

Interconnecting Gears

On more than one occasion the apostle Paul wrote about the triad of faith, hope, and love. These three don’t just belong together, like complementary colors on a wall, they work together, like interconnecting gears in an engine.

As Paul gave thanks for the Colossians (whom he had not met in person), he remarked that he had heard of their faith “and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.”

We know that love is the great commandment. Loving the saints is right, both the strong and the weak. Loving our neighbors and seeking their salvation is also right. God is love, God commands love, in Jesus we know love, the fruit of the Spirit includes love. So why don’t we love?

We don’t love, or perhaps better said we love the wrong things, for a variety of reasons. But if we reverse engineer this description in Colossians 1:4-5, at least one of the reasons we don’t love is because our hope is broken.

The problem may be because our hope is in things on earth. It could be because our hope is not informed. It could be because our hope is in the present not in the promises.

If we are uncertain about our future then we will be more cautious about today. If we don’t hope in God’s reward, reserved for us with faith but not currently visible, then why sacrifice our current position? Love has its own momentum, but has even more thrust when driven by hope.

Are you building up your hope?

Belly Worship

We’ve been talking about food and gods in 1 Corinthians 8 in our current sermon series, about the connection between eating and worship. In Philippians 3 Paul warns about those who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” and it also has to do with an idolatrous relationship with repast.

“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory on their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (verse 19).

The four phrases seem to work backward from the end. These men are occupied with physical things and so that’s where they get their standards. Earthly standards lead to an exchange between glory and shame. When shame gets taken for glory, self must be the god. And because we can’t ever successfully exchange God’s world for our imagined world, self-as-god ends in destruction, where the verse starts.

“Their god is their belly” is quite a striking, almost crude sounding description. The comforts for self, the satisfactions for self, all serve self. Note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a “fat belly” (Buddha-like) god, it could be a “free range only belly” god or a “flat belly” god; the focus is still on self. These are enemies of the cross which crucifies self.

Those who are, by contrast, friends of the cross, if we can call them that, are not defined by what they do or do not put in their bellies, they are defined by their bellies being servants of God rather than gods to be served. They are appropriately ashamed in their shame, and they anticipate the true glory when Christ transforms our “lowly” bodies “to be like his glorious body” (verse 20).

There is no neutrality. Either we will worship the Creator or something in creation. Our bellies will show shame or glory, not measured by girth but by gratitude.

Self-Esteem Propaganda

There are (at least) two ways to feel superior to other people: know that you know more/better than others, or, not actually know better but be self-satisfied in your imagined higher estate. In other words, pride comes from a certain kind of knowledge, and pride comes from a certain kind of ignorance.

God says that knowledge puffs up. The wise man measures his wisdom and seeks to gain more of it, but his sin tempts him to measure against the attainments of others. Rather than compare our knowledge to God’s, and give thanks for His grace that brought us to knowledge, we sit in judgment on our brothers.

Ignorance is not better, and it certainly does not guarantee of humility. An ignorant man who has enough knowledge to know he is ignorant is one thing, but a fully ignorant man is ignorant of his own state. All he needs is a good imagination and to drink at the fount of self-esteem propaganda all around him.

In my observation, men are more likely to fall into the latter category, women into the first, they even have the moniker: “Church Ladies.” (Preachers are a third category of unhelpful.) Men should stop acting like know-it-alls, and women should stop believing that they are better because they talk demurely about their righteousness. It is not always those who argue loudly that have a pride problem, it can also be those who whisper, taking delight in someone else’s failure.

This is another reason why worship, informed and driven by the Word, is so important. Worship in ignorance does not exalt God, and worship in true knowledge of God does not exalt us. We are humbled before Him and learn how to treat others just as He treats us.

Truth-Tubes

Ignorance of God makes idolators or weak worshippers. Knowledge of God, like knowledge of one’s spouse, increases and intensifies love and praise for God.

But it is easy to seek knowledge as an end, or maybe more accurately to seek knowledge for the praise of our knowledge. This is a subject that I’ve spoken about repeatedly, a subject that I believe is relevant for our flock, and a subject that regularly requires repentance.

I’ve referred to seeking Bible knowledge as an end as trying to fill one’s “truth-tube” and those who do so as “truth-tubers.” This is not a criticism of truth, but rather an image intended to provoke our thoughts about what truth is for.

Imagine organized rows of clear and clean glass test tubes, all filled to various heights with fantastic colored liquid. What good are those tubes doing for each other, including the ones that are filled to capacity? They are close, but they are not connected.

The illustration of truth-tube came as I attempted to come up with the opposite of a great illustration used by John Bunyan in his book, Christian Behavior.

“Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other.”

The “dew of heaven” is grace and truth. We are “nourished” in order to “become nourishers of each other.” This is why we speak truth in love for sake of being joined as a body and growing as a body built up in love.

The Bottom Line

Money has become a god for many men. You can tell by how they praise it, love it, sacrifice for it. Money chokes out the seed of the gospel (Matthew 13:22). You can see the fruitlessness from those who claimed faith but no longer. Money is the root of all kinds of evils (1 Timothy 6:10). You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).

But God also says that those who have money are not supposed to burn it, or even bury it. They are supposed to bless with it.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

There is a way to trap your thinking to the mold of this present age, but God through Paul says that there is another way of taking hold of the good life to come by how you use money in the present age.

God gives money/makes rich, so don’t be proud. God provides, so don’t be ungrateful. God provides, and with rich generosity, so then you enjoy and employ your money for good as well.

We are all rich, not with the same bottom line at the bank, but knowing the bottom line of God’s blessing. Eat, drink, work, invest, buy, give because tomorrow you may die and go to heaven, and you want your good foundation to be well supplied.

No Lifehacks for Obedience

I have read a variety of books about productivity and getting things done and how to figure out what’s best next. I kind of like the genre. I have tried a lot of task apps, todo systems, and techniques for processing information. These have a place. We are created for good works, and being able to plan and organize and aim our good works is a good thing.

But. There is often a but. But, efficiency and effectiveness can become idols. Not only can they become false gods, they are not gentle gods, they are cutthroat. There is always someone serving those gods better than you who get greater rewards, and there are always items left on the list every day that didn’t get done to burden your guilt. Most of the books and articles and lifehacks offer an answer. You must change something in your circumstances in order to do better.

The assumption is that the problem with your productive service is your environment. What you need is a list organized like this. What you need is a clean desk like this. What you need is a place to store all your papers, digital or analog, like this. What you need is to carve out blocks of uninterrupted quiet time like this.

One danger of these sorts of “this-es” is that they tempt us to see our neighbor (family member, friend, co-worker) as an inconvenience, a hindrance to “our” work. But it is not blessed to blame. It is not blessed to lust for quiet, and get angry, when God clearly isn’t giving it to you. Pastors tell other pastors the story of Jonathan Edwards who regularly spent thirteen hours a day by himself in his study. While I’m thankful for some of his fruit, he left his wife Sarah to run the house. That is not more spiritual, it’s more selfish.

Let us be zealous for good works as Paul told Titus to tell his people. Go ahead and make a list, and get an app if you need to. Let us redeem the time because the days are evil. And let us never think that if we could just control our environments then we could obey God. Obey Him always and in everything.

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.

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.

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.