A Shot of Encouragement

The Reformers’ 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!

Lord's Day Liturgy

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Choose Your Own Epithet

Moses highlights Enoch in the family tree from Adam to Noah in the Genesis 5 genealogy. Enoch is seventh in line through Seth and compares with the polygamist, murder-poet Lamech who was seventh through Cain. Not only is Enoch not proud like Lamech, twice Moses says that Enoch “walked with God.” Enoch had received the heritage of those who called on the name of the Lord (see Genesis 4:26) and his communion with God was the high point of that line. He didn’t die, he “was not” for the Lord took him.

Even though we’re given no reasons to expect repeats of the Enoch departure event, we are given reason to walk with God. That part of Enoch’s life is desirable and repeatable. Enoch’s great-grandson Noah also walked with God (Genesis 6:9) and the Lord delivered mankind through Noah and his family.

Later in the Old Testament the prophet Micah addressed the people of Judah.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8)

Our steps are seen by God and strengthened by God. He also desires that our steps are in step with Him. To walk with Him is to know that He is present, to talk to and depend on Him in prayer, and to obey everything that brings Him pleasure.

What epithet do you want recorded for your kids and grandkids that summarizes your life? Will it be “walked with God” or “wandered from God”?

Bring Them Up

A Site to See

There’s a new website for the Raggant Fiction Festival that includes audio and video for all seven of this year’s talks. You can also download an audiobook of the whole kit.

My talk is here: The Testimony of an Unlikely Convert (and the notes are here).

Lord's Day Liturgy

New Soil

As sons of Adam we have his sin. We don’t need to learn sin, in the words of our modern theologian Lady Gaga, we are born this way. Being born this way, where every intention of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually, is not an excuse for sin, like the Lady intended, but it is the reason we need a savior from sin.

When God saves us He doesn’t just pull up the weeds. He brings in new soil. Because He died and rose again He both forgives us and makes us different.

Our third year Latin class was translating and discussing 1 John 1:9. He forgives our sins, a plural noun, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness, or “wrongdoing,” which is singular. The plural refers to the acts of active and passive rebellion. There are many weeds to deal with.

But the singular unrighteousness refers to our nature. He is cleansing the soil, treating it so that less weeds and moss will grow. He really is making us different people, and this internal work must be done otherwise we can only ever deal with the surface.

When we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table we do it in remembrance of Him. We remember His obedience, His love, His death and resurrection. We also should remember His aim, to save and sanctify a people for His own possession. As Christians, we have been crucified with Christ, we no longer live. When we remember what He has done, we remember that we also died and rose again in Him by faith.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Long Drive

In our categories for sin, when we weigh which are the heavier matters, we often put discontent in the chaff pile. “Awww, shucks.” Discontent doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, maybe because we’ve gotten used to living with a low-level of it always idling in the background.

But discontent is a gateway into a minefield of destruction. To want, and be mad not to have, is a hunger that starts wars.

Discontent amplifies unthankfulness that dishonors the God of giving. Discontent inflates bitter envy that sabotages relationships. Discontent leads to worldliness that leads us away from God. Discontent promotes the worst of all, idolatry, where we search for a new god who will give us what we want or, even more likely, tempt us to think we should be gods.

The serpent’s lie advertised a new and improved Eve. “Eat now and you’ll be like God!” When every intention of man was evil before the flood, those intentions involved the evil of every man continually thinking of himself as more important than others. That thinking led many to seek to be something more than man and pursued immortality through marriages to the “sons of God.”

Do you not like who you are? Do you not want what you have or do you want what you don’t have? Do you appreciate your limitations? If not, then you are imitating the gods of men. You have come to believe that God is not good, that He is not giving, that He is only in it for Himself. That means discontent has driven you a long way from the truth.