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A Shot of Encouragement

There Is Still Work to Do

Assumption One: Paradise was easy living. Incorrect. It was joyful and glorious, which is a very different thing. Adam and Eve were given an entire planet to tend. Every last creature to identify, name, and oversee. Or, in the case of the dragon, identify, name, and kill. All before the fall. All while the world was perfect. Adam and Eve were not in hammocks, relaxing in the light of a perma-sunset with even tans while sipping on honeysuckle bouquets proffered by miniature ponies. They were given a job so big that only Noah and the disciples who received the Great Commission saw anything like it.

—N. D. Wilson, Death by Living, 74-75

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A Shot of Encouragement

Hard to Find, Harder to Miss

Good Story: a linked thread of occurrence, real or fictitious, in, around, and after trouble of some degree or sequence, in which the triune nature is consistently revealed with artistry either through the real actions and choices of particular characters, the author’s direct participation, or through the author’s indirect judgments latent in the choices of style and arrangement in the recounting.

—N. D. Wilson, Death by Living, 72

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A Shot of Encouragement

Image Bearing by Battle

Nails are forged for pounding. Man is born to trouble. Man is born for trouble. Man is born to battle trouble. Man is born for the fight, to be forged and molded— under torch and hammer and chisel— into a sharper, finer, stronger image of God.

—N. D. Wilson, Death by Living, 69

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A Shot of Encouragement

Parents Are Always Parenting

Other real live souls are now depending on you. You are the creator of their childhoods. You are the influencer of their dreams and tastes and fears. You are the emcee of all reality, the one to introduce those small people to the true personality of their Maker (as imaged by your life more than your words). The choices you now make have lives riding on them. Always.

—N. D. Wilson, Death by Living, 44

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Bricks on the Wall

Some Bible opposites are easy to couple. The opposite of night is day, of dark is light, of truth is lies. Some opposites are a bit more creative. For example, the opposite of evil is not always good. When it comes to the way of salvation, the opposite of evil is justification. The opposite of foolishness is not necessarily wisdom considered by itself. The opposite of foolishness is faith and the fear of the Lord, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

When Paul used Psalm 14–about fools who say “There is no God”–in Romans 3 he set the final bricks on the wall of bad news. All have sinned. None have done good. But his entire argument is to convict fools to believe, not to get fools to get smart or to do better in order to be saved.

The gospel of Jesus Christ addresses spiritual corruption with a crucifixion, not with a class or consultation. “Stop being a fool today by following these three simple steps.” No. The path out of foolishness is a burial and a resurrection, yours when you believe and are baptized in Jesus. “We were buried therefore with him in baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

At the Lord’s Table, the opposite of unrighteousness is righteousness, but not our own. The opposite of death is life, but that life is life that someone else gave to us. The opposite of boasting is not silence, it is boasting in the Lord. He is our hope and our salvation. We’d be fools not to believe in Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Such a Bone Head

Harsh. Badly behaved. Worthless. Impossible to talk to. These adjectives are used about a character in a well-known narrative, but not about a low class halfwit. They do not describe an independent man but one who received care and kindness from others he didn’t know. They aren’t directed at a man whose wife was cranky and ugly and hard to tell which was worse; his wife was discerning and beautiful.

The man’s name was Nabal. In 1 Samuel 25 David’s men, who had been protecting Nabal’s shepherds, requested provisions from Nabal for a religious feast. Nabal famously and foolishly denied anything to David or his crew, taking the opportunity to express his disapproval of David’s mutiny. “There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters.” Unless Abigail had fixed it, David was readying to let the blood out of Nabal’s thick skull.

Nabal is one of those characters where truth is more striking than fiction. How could a man with a profitable business, with health enough to oversee the shepherding and shearing work, and with a devoted wife who was looking out for his best interests, how could that man be such a bone head? Why would anyone in such a blessed earthly position be so stupid? Because folly is the great spoiler. It doesn’t take anything special to be a fool, and fools spoil everything special.

Solomon said that a little folly is like a dead fly in the perfumer’s ointment (Ecclesiastes 10:4). For some it is the main ingredient.

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Every Thumb's Width

They All Involve Hills

Here’s a good case for pastors to fight on the front of free speech rather than of tax exemption. One reason is because we will lose the rhetorical battle about money.

[P]rogressives have successfully camouflaged their lust for other people’s money as the high point of their altruism, and our objection to being pillaged as our greed.

A second reason is because the liberals say that they love free speech. “So,” we would say to them, “prove it.”

Make they live by a principle they profess to love, instead of a principle they abandoned with seared consciences almost a century ago.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not the Final Meeting

Thank God that the justice of God can never be isolated from the mercy of God. We can divide them when we study them. We can track both words through a concordance search and read passages that mention one and not the other. But in the world, in God’s nature, the two cannot be separated.

When God judged Adam and Eve, promising them pain and death, then banishing them from the Garden, He honored His righteous, authoritative justice. When He promised the defeat of the serpent and then covered the couple with skins and made it so that they could not live forever in the knowledge of guilt, He honored His righteous, loving mercy.

The same event showed more than one attribute for those with eyes to see. No greater display of His justice and mercy has been given than in the death of Jesus on the cross. Was the crucifixion the worst thing or the best thing that has ever happened? For all those who believe in God it is both.

In the Son’s sacrifice justice and mercy kiss. God’s demands are met, even as angry, jealous men betrayed and murdered an innocent man. They meant it for evil, God meant it for good. God used the unjust to satisfy His justice. God used the unmerciful to show mercy.

Golgotha was not the final meeting of these two attributes. If we trust God, then in many of our sufferings (personal and corporate) both justice and mercy are at work. Seeing one means that the other is probably not too far behind.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Motivation for Obedience

We believe that God is God meaning that He does whatever He pleases (see Psalm 135:6). We believe that He controls everything, from ants in driveway cracks to the color of lights on the White House. We also believe that God writes all things into existence for His glory, and in light of His unmatched wisdom and power, we would be right to conclude that what we see around us is ultimately the best way for Him to be seen as great.

One practical sanctification question for those with straight theology about God’s sovereignty is this: If God is in control, and if He gets glory whether I obey or not, then why should I pursue obedience or be concerned when I sin?

Most Christians who are savvy enough to ask this already know that God commands righteousness. He explicitly said, “Don’t sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1) even though more grace would seem to bring Him more glory. Yet sometimes this simple order doesn’t satisfy all the way down. We still might question if the sovereign God isn’t at least a little disingenuous.

God does desire His glory. He also desires our obedience. He also gets glory when we don’t obey. But when we don’t obey, we don’t have joy.

God told Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). God was and still is honored through Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness but this didn’t make Pharaoh feel better. God wrote Judas’ part in the gospel story (Matthew 26:24) and must be praised for it, but Judas did not get joy. God gets glory, in some way, even when we sin, but we do not get joy.

This is yet another evidence that we are not robots, that God desires more from us than a warm body to play a part. If you are holding onto sin, especially if you are trying justify it theologically, confess and repent motivated by a desire for joy. We pray like David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Everything brings God glory, but not everything brings us joy. He offers us both.

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Every Thumb's Width

Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms

Yesterday I wrote that the sins in our culture are not worse than the original sin in the Garden of Eden. That said, our sins are bad and getting worse, or they at least have better marketing. What can we do? Are we supposed to do anything? Who is the “we”? The church? Individual Christians? American citizens? Pastors? Parents?

Within the first twenty-four hours after the Supreme ruining on marriage, the most common response I saw among evangelical Christians went something such as, “We don’t care about politics, we still have the gospel.” Of course, if we really didn’t care about politics, why do we need to encourage ourselves that we don’t care? Is it because we lost? If the vote had been 5-4 the other way, would we care then? Would we have praised God for the (temporary) victory…inappropriately? Were we wrong to be praying for the decision before it was made? Are we not supposed to pray for our political representatives and judges, or are we just to pray that they would get saved? Even that requires care, though, because if God did save them, wouldn’t we expect them to leave their non-gospel jobs so that they could pray more…like us?

If Genesis 1-3 is true, then it is a false dilemma to say that we can only care about the gospel or we can care about our relationships and responsibilities on earth. We are not supposed to trust politics or politicians to save us, but neither do we trust gospel presentations to save us. We trust in Christ, presented to us in the gospel. And if a group of people trusted Christ, wouldn’t they want to interact with one another in a way that honors Christ? Isn’t that fundamental to government and law, that we will be rewarded or punished according to how we love one another?

Gospel and government are not an either/or. Christians put them in opposition because they don’t understand either of them. Gospel and government are a both/and, or better, a first then second, or better yet, a first and fifth (with family and work and church spheres in between). My investment in the gospel is an investment in government (though not always immediately visible, just as my investment in breakfast for my kids is an investment in my grandkids, though it’ll take some time for that to work out), and my investment in government is only worth what I’ve gotten from the gospel. I want a man to confess that Jesus is Lord. That has consequences that include his house, and his local court house, and the White House.

It isn’t the church’s job (or authority) to run everything. A pastor shouldn’t be the President or be the boss of the President. But it is the church’s job to worship God, and worship changes people. It is the church’s job to make disciples with dual citizenship who love their responsibilities to both countries. As those disciples are going, they should see all the world under the rule of Christ. Disciples should think and vote and tweet and talk with their neighbors. If a disciple made a disciple, and both of them were being transformed as they worshiped Christ, and then one of those disciples became a Senator or a Judge or a President, then that disciple should do his work under Christ and for Christ.

So we should do something. What should we do?

We should see fit to acknowledge God.

This is the first thing that the Bible teaches us to do in Genesis 1-3. This is the first problem Paul listed about a crumbling culture in Romans 1. We don’t work backwards from the fruit to the root, in our case, pouring all our energy into appealing to reverse the Supreme Court’s hauteur. When we see that the fruit is bad we need to get down to the root.

Christians have failed to acknowledge God everywhere. Unbelievers don’t, sure. But believers certainly should. We acknowledge God for a couple hours on Sunday morning, and maybe for a few devotional minutes during the week. But we tend to acknowledge Him as Lord of the Church, not the Lord of heaven and earth. We still tend to ignore the antithesis and accept neutral spaces. For example, the most subtle yet despicable part of my public schooling was the constantly unspoken lesson: who cares if God is there? But anyone who does not see fit to acknowledge God loses his mind (is given over to a “debased mind”). This can’t help but make a mess of business, family, education, and government. Believers must continue to be transformed by the renewal of their minds.

The root of homosexuality, and the root of our cultural loss of common sense, is unbelief. Unbelief doesn’t just affect personal morals, it affects public enforcement of morals. Christians are the first ones who need to believe that believing in God affects everything.

We should adorn the doctrine of God.

Paul wrote this phrase about adorning the doctrine of God our savior in Titus 2 to slaves.

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9–10)

The message of the chapter up to this exhortation to slaves has been about doctrine. Starting in verse 1, Paul exhorted Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Then in verse 10 he describes a life purpose to “adorn the doctrine.” Doctrine ought to be beautified by behavior. Decorate the doctrine by your deeds. The following paragraph reasons further about what the doctrine of grace does.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14)

Grace trains us for living godly lives, grace purifies a people, grace makes us zealous for good works. In light of verses 1-10, those “good works” include older men having character, older women teaching younger women about being wives and mothers, younger men being self-controlled. It’s largely an in-house, among family work. Even slaves should slave in such a way to make the doctrine look good.

There was a time when more people in our country identified themselves as Christians. But, while many have been faithful, many others have not made the gospel look good. How many kids have grown up in “Christian” homes wanting to get away from, not be like, their parents? Instead of seeing that the problem is sin, they misdiagnose the problem to be “traditional” marriage.

If we do not want to be Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms, the conservative cranks who always rain on Rainbow Parades (there is irony there, right? And you saw the picture of the White House lit up with the colors of the rainbow, not even realizing how the symbol they’ve chosen commemorates the fact that God promised not to flood the earth for such debauchery), then we must have something in addition to showing sinners that sinfulness is wrong. We must tell and show them how obedience to God is better. We are not saying No for No’s sake. We are saying No for Yes’s sake, but God gets to decide what is No for sake of Yes, something He started to do in the Garden. We ought to be able to give an account for our criticism beyond the fact that we are good at being critical Christians. Unless we give an account of God’s world from our joy in it, we are just condemning others for not following our course of unhappiness.

One of the observations about the dark lunacy of homosexual “marriage” is that it cannot reproduce itself. That’s obvious. Homosexual partners still want to be considered a family, and even do “family” things such as raise children. Where are those children going to come from? Heterosexual spouses, and some Christian spouses included, have made it so that it will be a long time before demand surpasses the supply of available kids. There will be plenty to adopt because we won’t live and love righteously as man and woman. Men have taken dominion to fight the physical pains of labor but not the spiritual judgment that keeps parents from caring about, or being able to care for, offspring. Homosexuals don’t care about where kids will come from because they know that we don’t care.

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cynics. You are campaigning for the laws of the next generation, and you are more effective, one way or another, than any marketing guru could dream.

We should announce the good news of forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Were it not for grace, we would have more obvious sins than we do, whatever they might be. Grace opened our eyes to see sin, to seek forgiveness, to believe in Jesus as Savior, and to learn obedience to Him. All of it is by grace. None of it is deserved.

Grace is how we got all the good we have. Grace is the answer for everyone. Grace does not deny the need for grace; it calls sin, sin. It delivers from wrath, and it also straightens the perverse, brings dignity out of dishonor, restores what was being destroyed. Grace offers covering for guilt. And grace gives meaning to life, grace makes us free under God. Peter reminds us,

you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19)

We who know Genesis 1-3 know the nature of man. We know better than men why they act self-destructively. We also know that every man will give an account to his Creator, and that his Creator offers salvation through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. The good news of Jesus Christ is that all who repent and believe, who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. This must be our message to men blinded and enslaved by sin.