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Lord's Day Liturgy

Threat Is on the Table

If you’re like me, as you’ve read the Old Testament, you’ve probably wondered why the Israelites blew it so often. How did they miss the point that obedience brought God’s gracious blessing and that disobedience brought God’s gracious, usually painful discipline? What kept them from trusting God? Take just one instance: their deliverance from Egypt by miraculous plagues and the Passover and crossing the Red Sea. Within months they were complaining like Americans after the third stimulus check was spent at Best Buy. What was their problem?

It’s an easy answer. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them like we do. Certainly, even in the wilderness, spiritual people wouldn’t have acted entitled to better provisions and conditions. We would never act like them, we would never harden our hearts like them, right?

Yet the author of Hebrews states that we “who share in the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1), we who recognize Jesus as our High Priest, should look to the Israelites as an object lesson. Their problem may become our problem, not that we can’t have their problem. It’s on the table.

So, “as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.'” (verse 7, quoted again in 3:15 and 4:7) “Take care, brothers, lest their be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (verses 12-13).

There are a number of issues at work in Hebrews three and four, but if the goal is the promised rest of God, the threat is unbelieving, hardness of heart among us. The threat is disobeying God and doing what we desire like Israel did. The blessing of God’s Word is that it confronts us, it cuts up our hearts and exposes them, and makes them tender. We also have a sympathetic High Priest who was without sin and who invites us to draw near to the throne of grace for help in time of need, even against the threat of entitlement and hardheartedness.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Without Needing to Google It

Peter was explicit about his ministry of remembrance. In his second letter he said “I intend always to remind you…I think it is right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:12-13). We forget.

Paul was eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome (1:15), the same ones who were loved by God and called to be saints (1:7). You can know, and still need to re-know. Near the end of Romans Paul wrote,

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:14-16).

Paul was set apart for the gospel of God (1:1), his was priestly service of the gospel of God (15:16), and he says they knew enough about it that they could talk to about it to one another without needing to Google it. But they needed reminders.

Every week we get the reminder of the gospel, the fact of what Jesus Christ has done and the desire that God has for us in Jesus Christ: communion with Him. This is a reminder for our comfort, it is also a reminder of our calling. Jesus died and rose again as a sacrifice so that we might live for God (Romans 7:4), so that we might be sanctified and acceptable to Him.

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A Shot of Encouragement

Recognize and Resist Wicked Rulers Day

Today is September 28. It’s a good day to read Proverbs 28. Maybe the wise should call the 28th Recognize and Resist Wicked Rulers Day.

The wicked flee when no one pursues,
but THE RIGHTEOUS ARE BOLD AS A LION.
(Proverbs 28:1)

When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,
but with a man of understanding and knowledge,
its stability will long continue.
(Proverbs 28:2)

Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
but THOSE WHO KEEP THE LAW STRIVE AGAINST THEM.
(Proverbs 28:4)

When the righteous triumph, there is great glory,
but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.
(Proverbs 28:12)

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
(Proverbs 28:15)

A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor,
but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
(Proverbs 28:16)

When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,
but when they perish, the righteous increase.
(Proverbs 28:28)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Wherever You Go

I’ve mentioned that I’m plod-reading through a book titled, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. The author isn’t a Christian, but he believes that Christianity is the only explanation for much of the good in the world today; Christianity has built category-shelves and filled them. Though Holland’s view of history has errors, including how he reads some Scriptures, he also offers some edifying (and emboldening) insights.

One such encouragement regarded the Jews, the Temple, and the Torah. The Temple was the place of centralized worship in Israel. All the men of the country were required a minimum of three times per year to travel to the capital city for a trifecta of feasts, reuniting the nation in the worship of Yahweh. But at various points in Israel’s disobedience, her people were taken captive and the Temple either overtaken or destroyed. What happened to their worship when that happened?

They took God’s law with them. “Wherever Jews might choose (or be forced) to live, there the body of their scriptures would be present as well.” (Loc. 920)

Culture comes from words, covenants, constitutions. Christian culture comes from God’s Word, His promises, His instructions. Obedience is according to His Word, and strength for that obedience comes from it.

Remember what the Lord said to Joshua (prior to the existence of the Temple):

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9)

Wherever we go, with God’s Word, God is present. When His law is in our hearts, our steps do not slip (Psalm 37:31).

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He Gives and Takes Away

Isaiah Funden, RIP

When I was younger I remember hearing people around me refer to someone who had just passed away by saying “RIP So-and-so.” Other times I’d see R.I.P. written out, including on fake tombstones in front yards around Halloween. I never bothered to find out what it meant, but it sounded irreverent, sort of a wooden way to distance oneself from the pain. It sounded like a cold, non-Christian response to death.

It was only in the last few years, really, hearing it used by some people who I know to be faithful and unflinching Christians, that its history and meaning and value became clear. I think it also has special application for Isaiah.

The letters RIP are an acronym for a Latin phrase, requiescat in pace, meaning “may (the deceased person) rest in peace.” It turns out that the acronym works when translated into English, rest in peace. The three letters have apparently been found on some gravestones in Christian burial places, some as far back as the 8th century. It became a common reference for the next thousand years.

Also, as it turns out, it is a Christian condolence, and as Christianity had such a dominant influence in a number of cultures, especially English speaking peoples, even those who didn’t believe in Christ still picked up the phrase.

It’s sadly not much more than shallow sentiment apart from Christ. When it comes to both rest and peace Christ makes all the difference in this world, and for the next.

Those who belong to Christ, who believe in Him, are given a taste of rest now and promised a full share in Christ’s rest forever. Christ finished His priestly work of offering sacrifice for our sins, of offering Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. So all who put their faith in Jesus look forward to eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3, 8-9). This rest doesn’t mean that we’ll be sitting around all day staring out the window, but that we’ll be doing our resurrection work without the frustrations and difficulties we endure in a broken world. Our works will be done in rest, not in bitterness or exhaustion.

And that rest will be in peace. God reveals in His Word that peace isn’t superficial, nor is it necessarily circumstantial. God’s peace is a fulness of soul. His peace is connected with real and joyful and loving fellowship. It’s better, and deeper, than just not being at war or in a fight (though it can include that, 2 Chronicles 14:6). The absence of conflict isn’t as good as grace and peace. This peace provides reasons for rejoicing beyond removal from a bad situation.

Ultimately, and certainly eternally, this kind of peace, in souls and on earth, only comes from the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Isaiah was looking for this peace. It’s part of what makes this memorial more heart-heavy, and it’s also what gives us comfort in the heaviness.

Through a series of choices, some that were his own and some outside his control, Isaiah was working to deal with various messes in his life. He knew that he wasn’t where he needed to be and was taking steps in a better direction. He desired to live in his own space, to have a place where his son could visit him. Isaiah was working to reestablish his responsibilities as a young man.

He had begun to reach out to make some new friends, even among some of us at TEC. He would sometimes be able to attend our meetings, most recently coming to the Meat Eat less than two weeks ago.

But he was still struggling, still reckoning with consequences and trying to get untangled from a number of challenges. It was hard. Just a day or so before his death, his mom and dad said that Isaiah told them that he really loved Jesus and he really wanted to find peace.

It’s understandable that we who remain ask, Why? Why Isaiah? Why now? Why when he was still so young, just 24 years old? Why when it seemed that there were so many possible good things ahead of him? And for us who remain, we are not likely to get complete answers.

But, we should remember that the Why? questions only make sense if there is a sovereign God who is in control of all things. In a godless world, Why? has no target, it floats out into the void of senselessness and meaninglessness. If there is no god, then there is no one to answer. When we ask Why? to God, we are asking the One who is sovereign and good, the God with omniscience and mercy. For Christians, we are asking our Father.

And though we can’t know for certain right now, perhaps part of the Why? is in answer to Isaiah’s longing for peace.

In the prophetic book with his name, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote about a particular kind of mercy from God. The prophet was describing a society in decline, a society in defiance against God. Righteous men were perishing among such a people and no one cared. What stands out is that the prophet announced that the righteous man “is taken away from calamity.”

For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
who walk in their uprightness.
(Isaiah 57:1b-2, ESV)

Here is another translation:

no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
(Isaiah 57:1b-2, NIV)

We don’t naturally think this way, and in Scripture death itself is not a friend. But there are times when to be “taken away” and taken “into peace” is God’s mercy.

It may be God’s purpose to remove His people from seeing more trouble and enduring more torment, as He causes them to enter peace in His presence earlier than what we might have expected, earlier than we want. Though Isaiah’s fruit did not fully match his profession, he did long for this peace. And though we aren’t able to celebrate a life full of days, we do commit Isaiah into the Lord’s righteous hands. Again, our merciful Father can be trusted.

Since we remain, God is being merciful to us as well. Perhaps God is mercifully reminding you that no one is guaranteed another day, and that only in Christ is it possible to rest in peace.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience…No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11, 13).

We must look to Christ.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16)

So now we grieve for the loss of a son, brother, dad, grandson, nephew, friend. We grieve with his family and we pray that the Father would grant them peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). We pray that this peace of God will guard their faith and comfort them, directly by His Spirit and using us as His agents.

While Isaiah may have remembered the “stupid people” part of Psalm 94 in verse 8, we also remember application from later lyrics:

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
(Psalm 94:18–19 ESV)

So we pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, may Isaiah rest in peace.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Long Hugs and Pirate-Sounding-Song-Singing

There is a description in Titus 2 that is a regular picture in my mind. Paul tells Titus to remind the slaves that they are to be submissive to their masters, that they are to be well-pleasing and faithful, “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10).

The “doctrine” or the teaching heading is God’s saving character, He is Savior; saving is His business. Salvation is His work exclusively, as in, there is no other savior. And salvation is His work exhaustively, as in, there is nothing we add to it. The truth of this is emphasized even in how Paul writes it: “in order that the doctrine – the of the savior of us of God (doctrine) – you may adorn in everything.”

The teaching is already glorious. God, our Savior, is glorious, essentially and beyond dispute. And yet, even these slaves could live by faith in such a way as to give the doctrine an attractive appearance. They could show its beauty by their work.

While this has application for every believer, not just bondservants, I think it also has application for the entire body of believers, so individual and corporate.

And, beloved, you continue to adorn the gospel. This doesn’t mean that everyone sees it. At the memorial service on Saturday, a young person was overheard expressing great thankfulness that his parent never takes him to church and makes him sing songs like that. But without question, to those with eyes to see, your heavy-joy and long hugs and tasty food and loud pirate-sounding-song-singing showed the goodness and beauty of our Savior.

Even as we come to the communion table together, as we share with one another, this is part of our proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes, and how we do it adorns the doctrine of God our Savior.

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Rightly Dividing

The Obedience of Faith

The obedience of faith may be one of the most underrated and underused expressions in the Scriptures. It’s only used twice, once in Paul’s greeting to the Romans (Romans 1:5) and again in the benediction of Romans (Romans 16:26), but we should use it more often.

There are a couple proposed interpretations for the phrase.

One possibility is that πίστεως (“of faith”) is a genitive of apposition, where the genitive restates the same idea as in the main noun, or what’s sometimes called an epexegetical genitive, where the genitive clarifies the meaning of the head noun. If that’s the case, the Paul’s mission was to bring about “obedience, that is, faith,” so that obedience is a larger category of which faith is a more specific kind. That interpretation could work. It’s at least theologically correct, and could be compared to John 6:29 where Jesus called faith a work of God (to be done). And since “believe” is an imperative (Mark 1:15), faith would be obedience to the command.

But πίστεως seems to me to better fit the pattern of the genitive of source (or genitive of production). Pauls’ mission was to bring about “obedience derived from or sourced in faith,” or even with the gloss, “obedience produced by faith.”

When I think about the flow of the letter, with the emphasis on justification by faith followed by Paul’s immediate response to anticipated arguments about faith and grace denying the obligations of obedience, especially in chapters 5 and 6, it causes me to lean toward the interpretation of the (necessary) obedience that comes from faith.

I also take Paul’s quote from Habakkuk about the righteous living by faith (Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17) to refer to faith-driven righteous behavior, not just faith-received justification, though it has to start there.

The Great Commission requires that disciples be taught to “observe all that (Jesus) commanded” (Matthew 28:19). This means that complete obedience to the Lord is the mission, though we understand such a life starts with faith in Him.

We are forgiven by grace alone through faith alone, and then re-formed, still by grace through faith. But this re-formed obedience is a post-requisite. We are being transformed (Romans 12:1), we are being conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). This is sanctification. Our resurrection in Christ causes us to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), and sometimes we need to have the feet of our hearts washed again (see John 13:10). The whole thing is from faith to faith (Romans 1:17), and obedience is the fruit of healthy faith.

Faith is no more an enemy of works than the sun is an enemy to flowers. Obedience is the bloom, the color, the fragrance of salvation in the flesh. It is the obedience of faith.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Shortage of Little Popes

I came across a snarky joke made by a psychologist and, since it wasn’t aimed at me, I could laugh rather than be defensive. Someone wrote to Carl Jung, who created a whole approach to counseling others, asking Jung for life advice. Jung replied, “Your questions are unanswerable, because you want to know how to live. One lives as one can. There is no single, definite way….If that’s what you want, you had best join the Catholic Church, where they tell you what’s what.”

Before the Pope, there were the Pharisees. They invented elaborate extras to make sure a man had a rule for every decision. “This is how you make God happy, we’re just sure of it. Of course, it’s not exactly what the Lord said.”

In some ways, this is better than what the legit pagans had. As Tom Holland points out in his book Dominion, even the Greeks knew that if a law wasn’t transcendent, men would make laws to the hurt of others. The problem was, there wasn’t agreement on what the gods required. And “unlike those of mortal origin, were not written down: it was precisely their lack of an author which distinguished them as divine.” This would be perpetual confusion.

Man-made and human-determined standards of virtue and righteousness become weapons of manipulation and condemnation. The followers of such standards become mobs, and those who dislike the standards can mob-back. There is no shortage of little popes.

As Christians we know that God has given His Word, and He’s put His law on the hearts of men (Romans 2:15). Paul depended on this transcendent truth with immanent application, and then looked forward to the day when, “according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16).

The standard is found in the gospel; there we learn about the living God and about His requirements for living. The gospel calls out our actual sins, and it calls us to only Savior. Submit to no substitutes, no matter how white and pointy the hat (or lab coat).

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A Shot of Encouragement

Business 300

I don’t always listen to podcasts, but when I do, it’s mostly from people whose thoughts I care about. The Contraratics have been at it for a few years, the Hauling Off ladies are going to keep at it, and here’s a new addition from one of the men at our church, Business 300 by Philip Kulishov. His “300” is his commitment to make his episodes 300 seconds or less, which brings him under the five minute mark. If you’re a listener, listen up.

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A Shot of Encouragement

Learning in Wartime – the DEFINITIVE YouTube Edition

I put a link to this in my convocation notes, but it needs its own call-out. For what it’s worth, I actually searched for an online reading of “Learning in Wartime” before my first college Greek class of the year, but wasn’t satisfied with what I found so I read the whole thing myself. Glenn posted this the next day. I’ll be sharing this link with others in the future.

Glenn does a great job reading this great address. Glenn has also read/recorded Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism and he’s made a version of Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (with permission) as well.

It also turns out that the artwork he used for this recording is an image he made as our church studied through the Apocalypse under the theme of “Just Conquer.”

Listen to this. Bookmark it. And comb your hair.