Knowing Christ - Mark Jones - chapters 15-18

15 – Christ’s Humiliation
Philippians 2:5-11 shows us the humbling and exalting of Jesus.
No one ever stooped so low, because He came from such a height.
The Incarnation wasn’t automatically a humiliation, as if flesh is inferior stuff to get away from.  But being incarnate into His circumstances certainly was a humiliation.

His parents gave the sacrifice of the poor for Him.  He was taught.  He bore slander silently.  He submitted to wicked powers.  He had to wait years to minister to others, though he was wise at 12 in the temple.  He had to listen to others when He knew more than them.  His family thought He was crazy.  Judas betrayed Him.  Peter denied Him.  They attributed His miracles to Satan.  His trial was unjust.  His crucifixion was physically humiliating and painful.  He was scorned and rejected as prophet, priest and king.  He experienced death as His spirit parted from His body.

How can we complain of being humiliated when Christ bore so much more, for us?
“Our glory is our humiliation.”

16 – Christ’s Transfiguration
Jesus will return glorious, no longer marred and humbled, but with power like glimpsed at His transfiguration.
It happens after 6 days (Mark 9:2), so on the 7th, a Sabbath hint.  Sunday is now our day of gladness and light.
The contrast with the crucifixion is striking. He spoke of it as He came down the mountain.
God answered Moses’ prayer to “Show me Your glory,” at the transfiguration.
God declares Jesus His Son, and commands us to listen to Him.
We need to listen to Him in the Scriptures, reading which, Peter says is better than seeing Jesus transfigured (2 Peter 1:16-21).
We too will be transfigured – glorified – in our bodies at the resurrection.

17 – Christ’s miracles
His miracles:
·         verified His ministry as from God.
·         ushered in a new creation.
·         Each point to the cross, the source of healing, blessing and restoration.
·         Were more than acts of compassion and charity.
·         Announced a new age, like the wine at Cana.
·         Show us what the new creation will be like – disease healed, sight restored, hunger fed, demons thrown out, life after death
·         Of exorcism show His victory over Satan accomplished
·         Show God’s own desire to restore all things

Jesus is all along now miraculously giving life to the dead in regenerating and converting them to faith in Him.

18 – Christ’s sayings
His seven sayings from the cross were:
1.      Father, forgive them.  He sought their repentance as He prayed, and it was granted at Pentecost when many did repent.  He prayed for His enemies, as they killed Him.  Can we be so kind to our enemies?
2.      Today you will be with me in paradise.  The first saying is answered, immediately!  God is willing to forgive and save miserable and repulsive sinners.
3.      Behold your mother.  Jesus fulfilled the law (5th commandment) at His death.  [He also provides spiritually for her, putting her in His believing family of disciples instead of His unbelieving biological family.]
4.      My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?  Only Jesus knows the depth of this cry.  This was a new experience for Jesus, and His descent into hell.  He noticed God’s withdrawal of favor and fellowship.
5.      I thirst.  Shows His physical suffering – dehydration – and also a picture of need for God unmet (Isaiah 41:17).
6.      It is finished.  He fulfilled all righteousness.  The imputation was done, putting our sins on Him, and His righteousness on us.  The victory was won over Satan and death.
7.      Into Your hands I commit My Spirit.  The Father said “Very good” to His work.  Christ’s death was voluntary. 

These words comfort us, even as He said them in deep distress.


Talking to Teens about Sex and Culture // Gilead // Venker?

Just listened to an excellent series of talks to high schoolers by Rich Lusk, a pastor Alabama in my denomination, the CREC.  I highly recommend them.  A great Biblical response to the sexual rebellion/revolution in our culture right now, without overreacting into legalism ourselves or hostility against folks caught up in it.

World did a book review of Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson on their podcast today.  Part of me hesitates to recommend it, though I quoted from it in last Sunday's sermon!  The hesitation is because the author is a PCUSA liberal type.  But the insight she brings is very edifying.  It isn't wading through 80% chaff to find a few nuggets - there's food for thought on almost every page.  The link is here and it starts at 19:20.

Lusk recommends Suzanne Venker, who I hadn't heard of before today.
Just a quick skim of this page shows it useful.
Her bio says she's been at the Federalist, which is a plus in my book.


On Halloween

Also, I take more Jim Jordan's position on Halloween than Al Mohler's, for what it's worth.

Of course, we don't want to get caught up in the real rise of witchcraft today, and the occult has a real allure to some.  But an intention to mock the devil and honor our forefathers on All Saints' Day - Nov 1) by celebrating in some way is great. 

(All Hallow's Eve = Hallow's E'en = Halloween).

I might argue for a different way of celebrating than costumes and candy, but that's for another day.

Medical Bill Options // Preach the Word // Abortion in Michigan

So I think my Democratic congresswoman did something right

  • Price transparency in health care has long been a driver of higher costs.  Your doctor says you need it, so you get it, no matter the cost, right?  Only sometimes.  Why not make sure doctors show you all the market options for treatment?
  • I realize this breaks from my usual libertarian tendencies of letting the market sort itself out without governmental interference.  But some markets are more imperfect than others, and if regulation moves them toward working more properly, it might be a good thing.  I realize doctors are small businessmen who are already highly regulated.  But sometimes they direct patients to the treatment they've made arrangements to sell, instead of taking into account what is best for the patient and what he can afford.  The parallel with mechanics is a roughly accurate one.
  • I haven't read the detail, and the article was short, so I might change my mind.  
  • Fun fact: the co-sponsor is from where I moved away from in Virginia.  I think Slotkin and Spanberger are former CIA buddies...

Alistair Begg knocks it out of the park with this sermon: "Preach the word!"

  • Much of the evangelical church today shows a lack of confidence in the Bible and in preaching it, by what they emphasize in a Sunday service, and how the preacher preaches.  Is monologue dead?  Psychologists will tell you today that it takes dialogue to persuade, after all.  Begg gives a great answer.
  • This has come to be true in mainstream and "normal" churches, not just the crazy liberal or megachurches out there.  See a future post for more on this.  If you're reading this there is a good chance you are in such a church.  Give a listen, thinking about how things go where you worship on a Sunday morning.

Our pro-abortion governor
  • Michigan governor Whitmer is pushing legislation removing most restrictions on abortion, as New York did a few months ago.  Very sad, that a procedure that stops a baby's beating heart is only being referred to as health care for women, now.  Lethally misleading.
  • It's also disappointing to see her attempt to delegitimize the Republican legislature that stands in her way, by calling it a "gerrymandered legislature."


Knowing Christ - by Mark Jones - chapters 11-14

Chapter 11 - Christ's Reading
A clever way of showing that the Old Testament is about Jesus.
Imagine Jesus reading it when He was 18 or 25 years old!
He read of His sufferings:
 - Genesis 3:15 - His heel would be crushed
 - Psalm 90:9 - He ended His days with a sigh
 - Psalm 22 - He was forsaken by God on the cross
 - 2 Samuel 15-17 contains a little-known parallel and foreshadowing of Christ's suffering.
 - there are many more, of course

He read of His coming glory
 - Isaiah 53 - He would see the fruit of His labor
 - Psalm 110 - He would reign and subdue His enemies
 - Psalm 2 - the Father would appoint Him King of kings, and give Him all the nations to own.

We also see in the Scriptures our own suffering and glory, as we are united with Christ.
(Romans 8:18)

Chapter 12 - Christ's Prayers
Jesus needed to pray.  It was part of His faithfulness to His Father while on earth.
He commands us to do what He did.
Communion with His Father was essential to His work on earth.
He prayed in Gethsemane:
 - better than Adam in his garden
 - submissive to His Father's will, yet asking
 - the blood a sign of his intense agony, though perhaps not physically real
He prayed as our priest in John 17: it continues in heaven, now.
He prayed as a righteous man asks God for what He has promised.

Chapter 13 - Christ's Sinlessness
God hates sin.  Jesus is God.  For Him to sin is unthinkable.
Many Scriptures assert this: 1 Peter 2:21; John 8:46; 7:18; Isaiah 53:9; 1 John 3:5.
He was holy.  He did what the law commands.  He was a walking picture of law-keeping.
His sinless sacrifice pleased God.
We should be more pleased by it, than distressed at our sins.
He was made sin for us.
His death was a sin-bearing death more terrifying and spiritually painful than any other.

Chapter 14 - Christ's Temptations
Could Jesus have sinned?  No!
He was always God, and it is unthinkable for God to sin.
His human will could not be contrary to His divine will.
He suffered temptation successfully in the wilderness, willingly, unlike Adam in the Garden.
He confronted Satan, as much as Satan attacked Him, in the wilderness.
 - (Aragorn shows himself to Sauron in the Palantir, defying and provoking him.)
 - Jesus had to believe He was God's Son, not prove it by a miracle
 - Jesus had to take the way of suffering, not the short-cut of glory Satan offered.
 - Jesus did not test God, experiment with Him, or give Him an ultimatum; nor may we.

His temptations were real: the more you resist successfully, the more force you feel.


Give a Listen

Al Mohler was great today.  He had me laughing out loud about the loony New York lawyers who want to grant elephants legal rights as people, and advocate against them being "illegally detained" at the Brooklyn zoo.  He also made an excellent serious point that governments do not GRANT us rights.

He also pointed to an Australian Anglican archbishop's courageous speech against LGBT advocacy in the church, calling on such to go find a church that fits their views and stop ruining and compromising the Anglican church.  Awesome.


On Confessing Your Sins at Church

I come from a church tradition where we confess our sins and hear a declaration of our pardon every week in the worship service.
How do we understand corporate repentance and pardon declared in the worship service?

Two things must be said.
1. Our repentance is never perfect, and it isn’t the quality of our repentance that saves us.
2. Our repentance needs to be heartfelt and sincere, as opposed to formulaic, automatic or even hypocritical.
These two truths sometimes feel contradictory to us.  In fact, some folks want to say the first so strongly, they won’t allow the second.  Others are so pietistic in affirming the second that they forget the first.

So how does the minister assure people their sins are forgiven after confession at church?  Three truths or phrases should be present in some way:
1. On the basis of God’s Word and Christ’s sacrifice described there,
2. As you sincerely or honestly confess
3. God forgives you your sins.

This is not to say that number 2 is equally as important as number 1, of course.  True repentance isn’t the part we contribute to our salvation, it is a gift God gives us.

Those who emphasize that the quality of our repentance doesn’t save us will tend to want to ignore number 2 above.  They overly objectify our salvation and don’t leave enough room for the real experience of a broken and contrite heart.  Those who emphasize that our repentance must be heartfelt will tend to ignore number 1.  They overly subjectify our salvation, making it dependent on how fervently we feel sorry, rather than the on the truth in God’s Word.

This is a part of our worship service that stays pretty much the same each week.  This can be good for catechizing our children into the truth, but also carries with it the danger of becoming rote and automatic in our thoughts and hearts.  Confessing our sins together in church is not meant as a replacement, so we don’t have to confess our sins personally.  Rather, it is supposed to be a model of how to confess our sins personally, just as the sermon should be a model of how we read our Bibles on our own.

So, pray for a tender heart, truly sorry for your sins.  And pray for reliance on God’s mercy found at the cross for pardon for your sins.


Great sermons on Answers to Prayer and Jealousy

I heard two excellent sermons recently, and commend them to you.

1. Nate Wilson spoke on Jesus in the Garden.  Nate recently went through the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, so his message on Jesus praying and getting a no answer from God in the Garden is riveting.  Sometimes God sends us to the cross, into the fiery trial, though we don't want to go.  Don't define your faith or life by your feelings.  As always, Nate has a way of bringing together many aspects of the Christian life of discipleship into one rich tapestry.

2. Alistair Begg spoke to college students on jealousy.  Begg points out from James that conflicts arise often from jealousy, and that's borne out in my own experience.  This can be hard to prove - the jealous person usually lies to himself or others that they aren't really jealous - they are standing on some principle instead.  The solution is to preach incisively and for conviction, describing jealousy and its effects so that you see yourself.  Begg does this very well.


Knowing Christ - by Mark Jones - chapter summaries

Chapter 8 - Christ's Faith - Psalm 22:9
Jesus lived by faith during His earthly ministry.
Jesus knew the struggle to live by faith.  He "learned obedience" (Hebrews 5:8).
Jesus can only impute to us what He had: perfect faith and obedience.
Jesus' faith provides us a pattern to follow.

Chapter 9 - Christ's Emotions - Mark 3:5
Our problem is not that we have emotion, but that we express them wrongly.
Jesus had and expressed emotions without sin.
Jesus had pity and felt compassion, but did not receive mercy.
Jesus felt anger, and it is sometimes right for us as well.  He received the Father's wrath.
Jesus was joyful, since it is a fruit of the Spirit.  Not a circumstantial happiness or mere delight in living, but exulting in freeing captives and winning the victory over Satan and death.  But He took on dark, God-forsakenness on the cross, too.
Jesus was sorrowful at Lazarus' tomb, and over the unbelief of Jerusalem.

Chapter 10 - Christ's Growth - Luke 2:40, 52
Christ grew in grace, or favor, with God and men.
So there is some form of grace that is not a response to sin, but a more general kindness or favor.
His communion with God was by the Spirit.
He developed as a boy and as a person.
God's favor on Jesus was both unconditional, and dependent on Christ's obedience (John 10:17; 15:10).
The cross was a reversal of Eden.  In Eden the trees were attractive but gave death since they were forbidden.  At Calvary the tree was repulsive but gave life, since God sent Jesus there.  When Adam went to the tree it brought our ruin; when Jesus went to His tree it brought our restoration!


Pray for the Kurds

The international news is just appalling these days.

Besides Apple and the NBA caving to China (soon after it felt the need to stand up to North Carolina's medieval policy of having separate bathrooms for men and women), now our president withdraws troops from the Kurdish region of Syria.  Immediately following, Turkey attacked the Kurds, feeling free to do so now that we had left.

Bringing our troops home, and not getting entangled in foreign conflicts, sounds great on paper, but this is an instance where we were actually preventing real harm.  And we see the immediate effect when we leave: military assault across borders, loss of life, and disregard for human rights.  The Kurds are a distinct people without a country of their own after the West drew national lines without regard to them.  Religiously, they are a mix of Yazidi, Christian and Muslim - this classical Christian school there is worth supporting.

The real culprit in all this is Turkey's president Erdogan, but our own president deserves plenty of blame for this foolish and immoral move.  When you see evil intent, know you can restrain that evil, and deliberately withdraw and let it happen, you've lost your moral compass.  While Trump is admirable in his courageous stand against the liberal media and in other areas, we really need a better Republican candidate in 2020.


SCOTUS and ChiComs

The transgender revolution at the Supreme Court.
Oral arguments were heard on some transgender cases Tuesday.
All I've seen in the print and mainstream media screams "rights of transgender people!"  "Fired for being trans?!"
Only Al Mohler reported Justice Alito's question: aren't you asking us to do what the Equality Act seeks to enact?
The Equality Act was passed by the House, but the Senate will not pass it.  These cases are just asking SCOTUS to get done what Congress won't.  The country is deeply divided over these issues, and it is an undue process to ask the courts to pick a side.  This is what Roe v. Wade and Obergefell did, too: legislate from the bench, creating out of thin air a whole new set of "rights" they find in the Constitution, to fit with the sexual revolution: abortion, homosexuality, and now the transgender confusion.
Notice the common thread in what is sought:
We are legally prosecuting and codifying our sexual rebellion against God, demanding that we call good what God calls evil.

The NBA in China
The Communists are getting smarter.
China's have for years now been using the economic benefits that capitalism gives them as a carrot, enticing the world to its markets.  But there's a catch: tow the party line.  Don't speak out when we brutally repress Muslim minorities or try to take away Hong Kong's civil rights.
Well, thankfully not everyone goes along.  One team coach voiced support for the Hong Kong protesters.  Even though it was just a sentence or two, and quickly taken down, the ChiComs are having none of it.  As a totalitarian regime, they seek total control.  But can they manage the demand their own people have for American sports?
This is a major theater in the ideological warfare between democracy and dictatorship.
American business should stop siding with the latter.  Their willingness to compromise ethically to get Chinese markets and money is appalling.  Don't give up your civil rights as the price for doing business with China.


Help from Our Forefathers in Grief

Yesterday I posted several Scripture passages that give us some answers that arise when our loved one suffer tragedy or die.

Today I also commend to you what I consider the best that Christians have written about this.
These are not the Words of God, and so are not infallibly accurate.  But they are time tested to be reliable summaries of Scriptural truth.

This is controversial to some Christians, but I will be assuming as a Reformed believer (following the way men like John Calvin read the Bible) that God is sovereign and in control of everything, always.  He is not the author of sin, but He does ordain that it happen.

Amos 3:6 - "If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?"
So we'll look at some thoughts on providence, too.

I'm using some of the same questions from the last post, reordered a bit.

1. Where do I go, who do I go to, for comfort?
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Heidelberg Catechism Question 1

2. What is happening now to our loved ones who have died trusting Jesus? Where are they?
Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?
Our death does not pay the debt of our sins.
Rather, it puts an end to our sinning
and is our entrance into eternal life.

Heidelberg Catechism Q42

How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?
First, by his resurrection he has overcome death,
so that he might make us share in the righteousness
he obtained for us by his death.

Second, by his power we too
are already raised to a new life.

Third, Christ’s resurrection
is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection.

Heidelberg Catechism Q45

How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?
Not only will my soul
be taken immediately after this life
to Christ its head,1
but also my very flesh will be
raised by the power of Christ,
reunited with my soul,
and made like Christ’s glorious body.2
1 - Luke 23:43; Phil. 1:21-23
2 - 1 Cor. 15:20, 42-46, 54; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2

Heidelberg Catechism Q57

How does the article [in the Apostles' Creed] concerning “life everlasting” comfort you?
Even as I already now experience in my heart
the beginning of eternal joy,
so after this life I will have
perfect blessedness such as
no eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no human heart has ever imagined:
a blessedness in which to praise God forever.

Heidelberg Catechism Q58

The Last Judgement
Finally we believe,
according to God’s Word,
that when the time appointed by the Lord is come
(which is unknown to all creatures)
and the number of the elect is complete,
our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven,
bodily and visibly,
as he ascended,
with great glory and majesty,
to declare himself the judge
of the living and the dead.
He will burn this old world,
in fire and flame,
in order to cleanse it.

Then all human creatures will appear in person
before the great judge— men, women, and children,
who have lived from the beginning until the end of the world.

They will be summoned there
“with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet.”

For all those who died before that time
will be raised from the earth,
their spirits being joined and united
with their own bodies in which they lived.

And as for those who are still alive,
they will not die like the others
but will be changed “in the twinkling of an eye”
from perishable to imperishable.

Then the books (that is, the consciences) will be opened,
and the dead will be judged
according to the things they did in the world,
whether good or evil.

Indeed, all people will give account
of all the idle words they have spoken,
which the world regards as only playing games.
And then the secrets and hypocrisies of all people
will be publicly uncovered in the sight of all.

Therefore, with good reason
the thought of this judgment
is horrible and dreadful
to wicked and evil people.
But it is very pleasant
and a great comfort
to the righteous and elect,
since their total redemption
will then be accomplished.

They will then receive the fruits of their labor
and of the trouble they have suffered;
their innocence will be openly recognized by all;
and they will see the terrible vengeance
that God will bring on the evil ones
who tyrannized, oppressed, and tormented them
in this world.

The evil ones will be convicted
by the witness of their own consciences,
and shall be made immortal—
but only to be tormented
in “the eternal fire
prepared for the devil and his angels.”

In contrast, the faithful and elect will be crowned
with glory and honor.
The Son of God will profess their names
before God his Father and the holy and elect angels;
all tears will be wiped from their eyes;
and their cause—
at present condemned as heretical and evil
by many judges and civil officers—
will be acknowledged as the cause of the Son of God.

And as a gracious reward
the Lord will make them possess a glory
such as the human heart could never imagine.

So we look forward to that great day with longing
in order to enjoy fully
the promises of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Belgic Confession Article 37

The state of men after death

The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies:

Westminster confession of faith 32:1

3. Can I really trust a God who does this to me, or who allows this to happen?

What do you understand by the providence of God?
The almighty and ever present power of God
by which God upholds, as with his hand,
heaven and earth and all creatures,
and so rules them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
prosperity and poverty—
all things, in fact, come to us
not by chance
but by his fatherly hand.

How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
We can be patient when things go against us,
thankful when things go well,
and for the future we can have
good confidence in our faithful God and Father
that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.
For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand
that without his will
they can neither move nor be moved.

Heidelberg catechism Question 27-28

What does the fourth request [of the Lord's Prayer] mean?
“Give us this day our daily bread” means:
Do take care of all our physical needs
so that we come to know
that you are the only source of everything good,
and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts
can do us any good without your blessing.
And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and trust in you alone.

Heidelberg catechism Question 125

God's Providence
We believe that this good God,
after creating all things,
did not abandon them to chance or fortune
but leads and governs them
according to his holy will,
in such a way that nothing happens in this world
without God’s orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of,
and cannot be charged with,
the sin that occurs.
For God’s power and goodness
are so great and incomprehensible
that God arranges and does his works very well and justly
even when the devils and the wicked act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire
with undue curiosity
into what God does that surpasses human understanding
and is beyond our ability to comprehend.

But in all humility and reverence
we adore the just judgments of God,
which are hidden from us,
being content to be Christ’s disciples,
so as to learn only what God shows us in the Word,
without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort
since it teaches us
that nothing can happen to us by chance
but only by the arrangement of our gracious
heavenly Father,
who watches over us with fatherly care,
sustaining all creatures under his lordship,
so that not one of the hairs on our heads
(for they are all numbered)
nor even a little bird
can fall to the ground
without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest,
knowing that God holds in check
the devils and all our enemies,
who cannot hurt us
without divine permission and will....

Belgic Confession Article 13

The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

Westminster Confession of Faith 5:4

4. Is there life after death? How can I make sure I have it?

How are you righteous before God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.

Even though my conscience accuses me
of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments,
of never having kept any of them,
and of still being inclined toward all evil,
without any merit of my own,
out of sheer grace,
God grants and credits to me
the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
and as if I had been as perfectly obedient
as Christ was obedient for me.

All I need to do
is accept this gift with a believing heart.

Heidelberg Catechism Q60


The Bible Has Answers in Our Grief

This past Saturday 4 of my nephews and nieces were in a tragic and fatal car accident.

My 22-year-old niece was driving and died of internal injuries, and my 13-year-old nephew has skull fractures and they still don't know if he'll make it.  Another niece and nephew, younger, escaped with only bruises and broken bones.

When the shock subsides and the grief begins to set in, where do you turn for answers?

In one sense, of course, there are no answers.  We don't know specifically why God allows such tragedies.  He makes us walk by faith, not explaining everything for us now, giving us promises that won't be fulfilled until after our death.

But God has not left us without hope.  And He gives certain and sure answers to the most important questions we will have.  We find hope and answers primarily in God's Word, the Bible.  Our hope is in the God who has acted faithfully, most centrally in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and He recorded those acts, what they mean, and God's further promises to us in the Scriptures.  Speaking of the Scriptures themselves, Paul says in Romans 15:4: "whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope."

So I make no apology for a long post with a lot of Scripture.  As one of the family, and a minister of the Word, I can't think of something I want more right now than that my family and anyone grieving today trust God as He speaks in His Word, and trust what He says there. 

Our thoughts and feelings vacillate wildly in grief and that is normal. 
These are not always direct and complete answers, but we trust God that they are enough to trust Him for now.
This is home base to come back to.  THIS is what we need to hear and where we need to go for refuge and comfort in such times.

I've started each section with questions we can have in italics.

1. Does God know how much this hurts?  Does He care?
John 11:33-36
when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?”
They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

Isaiah 53:3-4
    He is despised and rejected by men,
    A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief...
    Surely He has borne our griefs
    And carried our sorrows;

Psalm 130
    Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD;
    2      Lord, hear my voice!
    Let Your ears be attentive
    To the voice of my supplications.

    3      If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
    4      But there is forgiveness with You,
    That You may be feared.

    5      I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
    And in His word I do hope.
    6      My soul waits for the Lord
    More than those who watch for the morning—
    Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

    7      O Israel, hope in the LORD;
    For with the LORD there is mercy,
    And with Him is abundant redemption.
    8      And He shall redeem Israel
    From all his iniquities.

Psalm 42:5-6, 9
    Why are you cast down, O my soul?
    And why are you disquieted within me?
    Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
    For the help of His countenance.
    6      O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
   9      I will say to God my Rock,
    “Why have You forgotten me?

Psalm 56:8
    You number my wanderings;
    Put my tears into Your bottle;
    Are they not in Your book?

Job 1:11-13
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place... For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. 12 And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. 13 So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.

2. Is there life after death?  How can I make sure I have it?
John 11:25 - [Jesus to Martha at Lazarus' tomb:]
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?

1 Corinthians 15:51-57
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
    55      “O  Death, where is your sting?
    O Hades, where is your victory?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. What is happening now to our loved ones who have died trusting Jesus?  Where are they?
Revelation 7:9-11
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God...
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. 16 They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-7
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Revelation 14:13
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep,  lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

John 14:1-6
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

4. Where do I go, who do I go to, for comfort?
Psalm 46:1-3
    God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.
    2      Therefore we will not fear,
    Even though the earth be removed,
    And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
    3      Though its waters roar and be troubled,
    Though the mountains shake with its swelling.

Psalm 23
    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    2      He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
    He leads me beside the still waters.
    3      He restores my soul;
    He leads me in the paths of righteousness
    For His name’s sake.
    4      Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil;
    For You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
    5      You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
    You anoint my head with oil;
    My cup runs over.
    6      Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    All the days of my life;
    And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

5. Does God really know me?  Will He bring us to Him after and through trouble?
Isaiah 43:1-7
    “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by your name;
    You are Mine.
    2      When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
    When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
    Nor shall the flame scorch you.
    3      For I am the LORD your God,
    The Holy One of Israel, your Savior...
    5      Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your descendants from the east,
    And gather you from the west;
    6      I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’
    Bring My sons from afar,
    And My daughters from the ends of the earth—
    7      Everyone who is called by My name,
    Whom I have created for My glory;
    I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”

6. Can I really trust a God who does this to me, or who allows this to happen?
Job 1:21
    Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    And naked shall I return there.
    The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
    Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Romans 8:18, 28, 34-39
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.... 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.... 34It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
    “For Your sake we are killed all day long;
    We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 139:1-5, 16
    O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
    2      You know my sitting down and my rising up;
    You understand my thought afar off.
    3      You comprehend my path and my lying down,
    And are acquainted with all my ways.
    4      For there is not a word on my tongue,
    But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
    5      You have hedged me behind and before,
    And laid Your hand upon me.
    16  Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
    And in Your book they all were written,
    The days fashioned for me,
    When as yet there were none of them.

7. Why does God let such awful things happen to His children?
1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.


Christian Masculinity - again?

Tons have been written about Christian masculinity in the last 10 years or so.
I've found Aaron Renn's The Masculinist to be among the best.

He has announced he is stopping production, but all 37 issues are still online for your benefit.

Renn alternates between cultural analysis and personal practicality, issue to issue:
Why churches are failing.
How to talk to women.
The trouble with men.
Improving your posture.
Marrying up.
Habits in the home.

Renn is insightful.  Going beyond rants and moralistic advice, he gives you a nuanced reason for his views.

I've consistently found these helpful, and hope my readers will head to The Masculinist before it's taken down.


On Music in Church

Erik Routley, in The Music of Christian Hymns:

There is an "immobility in amateur singers which composers for them have to live with. They like repeated notes and stepwise movement--which they get in many popular tunes today."

Speaking of a hymn melody: "Its popularity must be mainly due to its extreme simplicity.  Not many tunes move only within the compass of a fifth, but this one does, and it could not be easier to memorize. In all other respects it is limited and unenterprising, but congregations will put up with a great deal of that if it brings with it the premium of demanding very little effort on their part. (Musicians constantly wonder why congregations in church tolerate so much dull and tedious music; but musicians have to live with a certain amount of that because not everybody is like them: they are like good tennis players having to play with rabbits.)"

I agree completely with this need to accommodate the man in the pew's musical ability, while rejecting the tone of superiority I perceive in the quote.

It isn't loving the boring or tedious, but returning to the familiar and easier so your focus can be on the Lord Himself.

As a pastor and musician, I think it is critical that church musicians reject an attitude of superiority to the congregation (why can't they appreciate more complex music?) and adopt one of service.  Not saying you've got that problem, but I've seen it around now and then.  Yes, you have more musical knowledge and skill and appreciation than most at church, but how you bring that to them to crucial.  Just as a preacher needs to connect with people on their level and not just dish up a lot of Hebrew/Greek and heady theology in the pulpit, so music selection needs to be accessible and only occasionally challenging.

I remember starting a pastorate years ago and being excited to have the Trinity Hymnal and Book of Psalms for singing to work with as far as picking music every week.  I went a little crazy picking too much lesser known stuff in my zeal to expand the congregation's repertoire.  A wise deacon piped up at a Session meeting and asked if I could limit the unfamiliar number of hymns/Psalms to 1, 2 at the most, per service.  I was a little grumpy about it at first, but he was right.  I love the Psalms and ancient hymns we sing at church, but I think we can frustrate our congregations and especially visitors unknowingly when we sing too much complex and challenging music.

People usually come to worship music as a place of rest, NOT a time they want to learn something new and put in effort to explore creatively.  The familiar facilitates worship in a way the new does not.  We know this liturgically - routine is important - recall the CS Lewis quote about not wanting to feel experimented on during a worship service!  The time we spend focused on the steps of the dance (learning new music or trying complex music) should be minimized in preference to enjoying the familiar dance.  Not that we have to always cater to that ("Sing a new song to the Lord") but we need to serve them with the main goal of facilitating worship.  That means considering the frame of human worshipers and managing expectations accordingly.  Educating or innovating creatively in our music selection is a lower priority, though also important.

My favorite example of this: when 9/11 happened I was in seminary with a college campus next door.  The college chapel people came over, planning a memorial service that night, wanting to borrow the seminary's hymnals.  (They didn't have any.)  They knew the CCM they were singing wouldn't cut it in the face of such tragedy.  On a smaller scale, your average worshiper comes into church every Sunday seeking refuge from distress in the familiar.