Negative Examples from Testaments Old and New

Jesus used the bread and wine of Passover to start this new covenant sacrament. Like Noah (sermon on Genesis 9:18ff), we drink wine in God’s house. But the effect is very different. Instead of self-indulgence and shame, we remember the Lord Jesus, His sacrifice, which brings blessing upon us and our children. Instead of mocking disrespect among family members, we look upon each other with love and respect, as fellow saints for whom Christ died. Now, in the new covenant we can abuse God’s grace and His sacraments.  The Corinthians show us this.  They got drunk and insulted each other (1 Corinthians 11:17-22), just like Noah and Ham. But God restores sinners. Whatever shameful things we have done, we are invited to God’s table to eat with His people. Lay down your sin, rejoice in your Savior.

This is your sign that God has remembered you, and it is the way God has given you to remember him.


Godly Grief

Do you grieve over sin? One mark of the maturing believer is that we see our sin more and more. We become more aware of our pride, and less aware of our humility. More aware of our weakness and need for God, and less aware of what we are doing for God. Arther Pink says what distinguishes a child of God from an unbeliever is not the absence of sin in our life, but the grief over it. When Jesus blesses those who mourn, He isn’t just talking about the grief of death or hard times. Blessed are those who also mourn over their sins. God calls us to rejoice always, but also to grieve for our sins our entire lives. We should be asking God to show us the reality of our sins – their depth and offense against Him. Without that we won’t be torn up in heart over them, and we won’t flee to Christ for refuge and forgiveness. Do you grieve over your sin?

Let us confess our hurried "sorries" given to siblings and spouses, our routine surface repentance to God, when God is seeking broken and grieving hearts.



Immediate Ratification of the Word Spoken

John Calvin says, “God, after speaking, immediately wants to ratify His promises in a way that seems good to Him.”

This is one reason we have communion right after the sermon. Word and sacrament need to be together. This meal is your rainbow, a promise that God will preserve you to the end. No flood waters can separate you from God.  Wild horses can’t drag you away from the Lord Christ.

This is your sign that God has remembered you, and it is the way God has given you to remember him.



Review: Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me

Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me
Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rarely do I give a new book 5 stars, but this is an exception.

In a mere 120 pages, DeYoung covers clearly what we need to believe about Scripture. The Bible is enough, clear, final and necessary, as God's inspired Word.

"If authority is the liberal problem, clarity the postmodern problem, and necessity the problem for atheists and agnostics, then sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians" (45).

DeYoung has a knack for defending Scripture against liberal assaults and also pointing out evangelical weaknesses in the next breath. He lays out the classic theology from the Reformation, and applies it to today's issues.

"The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this 'red letter' nonsense.... If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew" (118-9).

- He takes on the neo-orthodox view of Scripture posed by Barth
- Does God still speak today?
- liberal higher criticism

"If Jesus is right in how he handles the Bible, then boatloads of higher biblical criticism must be wrong" (104).

An easy read, but packed with truth, I highly recommend this book!

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Take Part, and Hope

Communion after preaching on Noah sending out the dove.

This table points to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is why I break bread and pour wine every week. We are showing you the sacrifice, symbolically. The main point of this meal is to remember – that’s what Jesus said. Sometimes we think a better way would be to watch a movie of the crucifixion, if we are to remember what happened. But we are also to participate in His death. The main thing isn’t the breaking, the pouring or the gory details. The main thing is our eating and drinking with faith in our hearts.

At the cross God was pleased with a sweet-smell. At this table, as we trust in the sacrifice at the cross, God smiles on you. He is pleased with You in Christ.

Here at this table is your olive branch from God, your sign that the earth will be renewed, that you will be renewed. God gives you a symbol of hope amidst death. Even as the carnage comes into sight, as the waters go away, new life comes into sight, too. Remember that dove, hovering over the waters.  The Holy Spirit hovers here, offering you God’s peace instead of punishment.

This is your sign that God has remembered you, and it is the way God has given you to remember Him.


Don't Forget!

When God called Jonah, Jonah ran away. God swept him into the storm waters and he almost drowned. But God preserved Him in the fish, and there Jonah remembered God, verse 7. In the middle of his misery, still stuck in the fish, Jonah acknowledges God, repents, and remembers God.

We tend to think that forgetting is an excuse. Children, sometimes we offer it up as an explanation of why we didn’t do what mom or dad asked. Oh, I’m sorry I forgot. It may explain, but it does not excuse. It is a sin to forget, not an excuse. God calls us to keep Him in mind. To keep our neighbor, our family, our friends in mind. We are to Love God with all your mind.

Let us confess forgetting God for most of our moments.



Flood, Baptism, Communion and Faith

1 Peter 3:18-22
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him."

Noah was saved through flood water. We are saved through baptism water.

The real saving is done by God’s grace, and our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. But God gives us signs and seals of that saving, and usually He uses them to apply the saving work of Christ to us. The Word rains down and waters the earth and doesn’t return void, Isaiah 55 says. The ark worked for all who went in – it kept Noah safe. Baptism works for all who believe – it washes us clean. This Supper works when we come in faith – it actually feeds our faith. Here is your door into the ark. You have the opportunity here to enter the ark of Christ with Noah.

Now, some honesty about the ark and about us. In here the air sometimes feels stuffy to us. Manna again? It’s all we ever get. Same routine week after week. Can’t do what we want, can’t do this, can’t do that. Can’t I just live a little? The siren song of the world calls to us, even as God shows us so clearly the judgment that sin brings. We still want what we want.

Instead, Let us thank and praise God for giving us a life raft, giving us a wonderful cup to drink, in place of the cup of wrath Jesus drank. Jesus drowned in God’s flood so you could survive to see the new creation He has for you.


Are You on E?

We will consider God’s judgment in the flood today, a somber warning of His just punishment on the wicked. One of the last teachings of Jesus before He goes to the cross, our Lord gives a sober warning to be prepared for His coming. Is the oil of the Holy Spirit flowing fresh within us? Do we eagerly look for the Bridegroom of our hearts, Jesus Himself? In this parable, all the bridesmaids fell asleep. That wasn’t the problem. Do you have oil and light to meet Jesus when He comes unexpectedly? Does Jesus know you?

Now, the point isn’t to scare us into confession this morning. If all you have is a desperate sense of self-preservation, you don’t have much real repentance, if any. But hearing of God’s judgment, and warnings to be ready can prompt us to remember our offenses against Him, and the mercy of the Savior.

Let us confess letting our gas tanks run down to empty, careless to the Spirit’s prompting, our conscience calling. 


Prayer at the Start of a Worship Service

Heavenly Father, you call us through Your Son to rest in Your fellowship. Help us set aside our restlessness now, we pray. We train ourselves to sit still for this worship service outwardly. Grant our hearts and minds to also rest and be at peace before You today.
Your Son Jesus is glorious, majestic, and full of mercy. Shine in our hearts so we can see His face and know Him fully. Direct us by Your holy Spirit to Your glory and greatness and grace. In this season of epiphany we remember that You must shine light on us if we are to see, if we are to worship You properly.

We are weak and need your help in this, we admit.



Experiencing God

The false teaching of mysticism has made deep inroads into mainstream evangelical Christianity today.

JI Packer, in Knowing God, chapter 20, writes of God guiding us in the Christian life.  He does not do so apart from Scripture.  The Spirit leads us to remember Scripture and apply it to our circumstances.  But we ought not to claim authority over our lives or others' lives if we hear a still small voice and if we cannot find a parallel obligation in Scripture.

Tim Challies writes of the false teaching of Teresa of Avila.  Many see her as a commendable person today, and in some ways she was.  The difference between godly meditation or contemplation, and damaging mysticism can be hard to recognize in the midst of religious experience, sometimes.  But it is a clear one.  Here is the question:

Am I giving more weight to my interpretation than I am to the Bible in evaluating what is happening?

We do this far more often than we realize.  But first

When Absalom chases David out of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:31-32), David prays that God would confound the counsel given to Absalom.  The next thing that happens to David: Hushai, a known royal advisor, meets him, and David sends him to confound Absalom's counsel.  This happens today.  After we pray for something we should watch our circumstances expectantly.  I do not deny this experiential element to our spiritual lives.


The modern man would assume, lacking all humility, that this was God, with a glib, "Way to go, God!"  David knew enough not to make such self-centered presumptions.  He continues to act deliberately and hopefully, but not presuming to know confidently God's intent in any given event.

Many people measure their piety

  • by how certain they are that prayer x led to event y, or
  • by the number or intensity of times when they feel God is leading them or speaking to them, or
  • by God speaking immediately - not through the Bible but directly.

These assure them that God is real and alive today.  They would doubt Him in the absence of these experiences.

Another way this goes wrong is tempting God.  Some find it pious to put themselves in a dangerous or precarious situation, and ask God, trust God, to rescue them.

Each of these violates the main guard rail against a false mysticism:

don't ignore Scripture for the sake of your experience.

The Bible tells us to wait on the Lord, and though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.  Mysticism and experience-driven Christianity ignore this, doubting God too deeply if He doesn't speak to them or guide them as they expect.  The Bible tells us not to endanger ourselves or tempt God - mysticism will do this to bolster its faith.


Covenant to Preserve Us from Flood

God established a covenant with Noah to preserve him and his family before the flood. God established a covenant with Moses and Israel to preserve them and their families before the plagues and Passover. God the Son established a covenant with the disciples in the upper room before the ultimate judgment of the cross. The blood of Christ preserved them from the wrath of God poured out on the cross.  And here in Acts 2 that covenant is continued and offered again freely to all Jerusalem and to us, and to our children. God extends his promises to you, just as your neighbor extends the tray of wine to you, expecting you to take the cup of salvation and pass it on to someone else.

But the promise. What is the promise? To preserve you from wrath as real as the flood. God has given you a way out. An ark is provided, a life raft. It is The Lord Jesus Christ. Not a boat we have to build ourselves. Not temporary, cramped quarters. Not an object but a person. In the indestructible life of Jesus, we find life everlasting. As we commune with Him, fear of the flood melts into peace of knowing Him.


Love God

Mark 12:28-31
"Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.   And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Here we have one of the few times Jesus answers a question directly. Often He will answer with a story or with a question back. But here we have the law interpreted straight from the Savior, the Son of God. The key to the whole law is love for God. Honoring, reverencing, obeying and adoring Him. Next is to love your neighbor. To help, to do for him what you would want done for you.

Let us confess our breaking of these commandments God has given us.


How the Poor Live

The latest Imprimis is a home run.  A description of the underclass from a British doctor serving lower classes and prisons for decades.  Here's the run down:
  • The violence of their lives, particularly between the sexes.
  • Households with shifting cast members
  • Asking who a child's dad is, is often embarrassing.
  • Twice as many 16 year olds have a tv as have a biological dad in the home.
  • Very large tv's, never off
  • Little means of cooking a meal, often no dining table.
  • Eating pattern is individual foraging, thus many are fat.
  • Illegitimacy rate is nearing 100%
  • They speak in terms that deny responsibility.  A murderer describing the act will say "the knife went in."
  • This denial and victim attitude fits well with the governments desire to save them.  "We pretend to be ill, and you pretend to cure us."
  • Independence is seen as not from the state, but from your family.  Often by getting dependent on the state!  Mothers are pleased to be on the dole, so they don't have to be beholden to the man they know to be "violent swine."
  • "There are no fathers."
  • Those on the dole used to say they "receive their check" on a certain day.  Now they say they "get paid."  For what?
  • We have "maintained high levels of state subsidized idleness while importing almost equivalent numbers of foreigners to do unskilled work."
An interesting P.S.: the homicide rate would be five times higher today, if we had the same medical technology we had in 1960.


On not Condemning the Immodest

Here is a helpful alternate perspective on modesty in what women wear at church.

I don't know the author, but it is important to deal graciously yet truthfully with the motives people have for dressing or acting immodestly.


Test-Driving Courtship

I'd suggest reading this article, if you are an advocate of courtship or parent-guided dating.

There are some healthy cautions in here, against "over-doing" the guarding-your-heart mentality.  But there is a lot to filter out as unhelpful, too.

I've read two of the three books pictured at the top of the article.  I assume they are meant to represent the beliefs critiqued by the article.  I can understand criticisms of people like Lindvall and Doug Wilson or Josh Harris for their views of how dating should go.  But Elisabeth Eliot?  Wow.

Children who grow up in overly strict homes usually have an adjustment to make.  They will tend to over-adjust by over-emphasizing (distorting, really) grace and under-emphasizing a healthy fear of falling into real sin.  Can grace really be over-emphasized?  Not the true version.  But it can be distorted, yes.  See Romans 6:1 for an example.

Teaching young people to guard their heart and stay emotionally pure before marriage is based on fear, causes shame and pride and dysfunction in future relationships, and over-emphasizes safety.  Thus says the article.

To say that guarding your heart is based on fear is a half truth.  Is the fear well founded or over-protective?  I don't leave my ipad in precarious positions high over hard floors, just to have the experience of losing something valuable, or just to avoid living in fear.  How much less am I careful who I give my heart to?  Neither do I have to put the ipad in a glass case and never open it to anyone.

It is true an overly scrupulous application of this can lead to false guilt.  Stollar calls it shame.  You feel guilty but haven't actually sinned.  If you start to like a guy, you haven't sinned.  It's what you do with that feeling that you are responsible for.  Does a person always have a piece of your heart, even if you break up and marry someone else?  That might be a little strong, but regrets do linger over romantic relationships before your marriage.  These need not be sinful, but it's always with you, and why not avoid regrets?  It's true that God redeems such experiences.  He is gracious and merciful.  But we don't go sin or act recklessly, that grace may abound, either.

Emotional purity teaching can cause pride?  Yes, it can.  But that's not an argument for or against the teaching.  Teaching any moral standard can cause pride, whether the standard is biblical, or extra-biblical.  The problem is the heart that exalts itself.  Bragging about not kissing (silly) or not saying I love you (disturbing) before the wedding does show a heart of pride.  Neither is required by the Bible.  But refraining from kissing before the wedding day does not make you a legalist or proud, either.

Emotional purity teaching makes you feel guilty for having a cross-gender friendship?  Almost every guy-girl relationship especially among young people is sexually charged, so to speak.  People should tread carefully here.  I think of Billy Graham who made it a policy never to be alone in the same room with a woman.  This is just a healthy precaution, not a proud and fearful Pharisee at work.  Of course, if your friend's spouse steps out of the room momentarily you don't have to freak out.  But a conscience sensitive to being in vulnerable situations is better than being oblivious to potential trouble.  This isn't a legalism versus grace issue.  We don't need to recreate a Victorian culture where men only talk to men and women only to women.  But social interactions should take into account that men and women are different, and not interchangeable as modern life tries to tell us.

Emotional purity over-emphasizes safety with formulas?  Yes, it can.  I've seen this attitude quite a bit.  If I just stay in God's ways I won't get hurt.  Putting this in absolute terms is a problem, but I think Proverbs does affirm anecdotally that obedience leads to life and disobedience to destruction.  Externalizing purity with outward rules alone is a problem.  But a heart of purity will lead to refraining from certain outward behavior.

One thing I learned from this article, especially at the end, is that if we haven't persuaded our children from God's Word of the rightness of how we raise them, the fruit won't get far.  The older our children get, the less we should impose extra-biblical, house-rule standards on them that they won't accept.  For clear Scriptural principles parents can  and should say, "As long as you live in my house you won't do x, y or z."  But if a teen won't accept your guidance, then parent-guided relationships aren't going to work and shouldn't be forced, no matter how much dad has bought into courtship.

Stollar calls the fruit of this movement rotten.  I would argue that that bad fruit comes from (truly damaging) over-zealous and -strict application of truly helpful Scriptural principles.

PS - I don't endorse this website, but it can be helpful in self-evaluation for homeschooling parents.

Going up the Ladder

John 1:49-51
Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”  And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus promised Nathaniel that the angels would ascend and descend on him. What this means is that Jesus is the ladder connecting heaven and earth. Without him as our mediator we cannot commune with God. In him, we worship God with the angels. This union is so real, we could say that the Spirit catches us up to heaven in our worship, our communion, every Lord's Day. And this union will become more so in the great consummation. Jesus will come for His bride, take us to His Father's house, throw a wedding feast, bring us to His banqueting table, and His banner over us is love. How can a spiritual being take on flesh and be a bridegroom? This is a great mystery, but when it is Jesus, it is our salvation. Rejoice in the favor God has shown you in Christ.


Law as Grace

Never forget that the law begins with grace. Before there is law, there is grace. God gives Adam the gift of life before He commands him. God brought Israel out of Egypt before He gives them this law. Peter preaches the resurrection of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, and then reminds them they killed him and calls them to repent. The very giving of the law and conviction of our sin is a gift.

So we have no excuse to call God unfair when He gives us this law, when He convicts us of breaking these commandments. Who here has not put another idol in place of the true God? Who here doesn’t try to change God’s grace or His standards to try to fit with our sin? Who here has always rested and given rest on the Sabbath to others?

Let us confess our breaking of these commandments god has given us.



Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had seen this at the library for a while, and it fascinated me. New concept - half picture, half word story. Not really a graphic novel. 500 pages that can be "read" in a couple hours. Reading for ADD kids??

So I finally got it and got 10 pages in, and realized it is the book behind the movie "Hugo," which friends have recommended to me.

The plot was fairly compelling. Boy copes with life without dad and then without uncle. Helping and trusting others, instead of keeping secrets and stealing, is the main theme. It borrows and commends the story of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods to give to men. The movies, or more broadly human dreams and imagination, are this gift.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but probably will.

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Review: The Twelve Caesars

The Twelve Caesars
The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The decadence and audacity of some of the Roman emperors is beyond belief. How Suetonius could calmly catalogue the corruption with little more than wry critical comment on occasion amazed me.

But he was able to get to the root of the problem in few words:
“Caligula always found some cause for envy” (167).

There are several comments of interest to Bible readers.

1. “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ] he expelled them from the City” (197). This makes plain that the expulsion, noted in Acts 18:2, was the result of Jewish upheaval catalogued in the book of Acts in every city to which the gospel came. Rome was no different, but Claudius’ response was heavy-handed. Minor city officials worried about mistreating Roman citizen Paul and getting in trouble with Roman officials. Meanwhile the emperor sent all the Jews away from his own city, essentially telling his empire they had to deal with the troublesome Jews because he wasn’t going to!

2. “An ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judaea would come the rulers of the world. This prediction, as it later proved, referred to two Roman emperors, Vespasian and his son Titus; but the rebellious Jews, who read it as referring to themselves…”
So the Messianic predictions really referred to Vespasian and Titus! There’s a neat trick of co-opting a conquered people’s sacred texts and applying their prophecies to yourself. The Romans were masters of propaganda like this – “no, we aren’t your conquerors, we’re your saviors!”

3. Queen Berenice of Acts 25:13 gets a prominent mention as a lover of Emperor Titus. Suetonius recounts her biography before and after that incident with Paul (pg 290).

4. When Titus died he said he had only one sin on his conscience, and Suetonius thinks it was his entering the Holy of Holies when he conquered Jerusalem. Bernice apparently reproached him for it.

5. Though other emperors did this more subtly, for Domitian “’Lord God’ became his regular title both in writing and conversation” (304). I’m convinced this is one manifestation of the beast in Revelation. See Christ and the Caesars by Ethelbert Stauffer for more on that.

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Strolling the Links

A Thomas Nelson Community College student recently got Virginia's restrictive free speech policy for colleges loosened, so he could present his views (a.k.a. evangelize or preach the gospel).  "Before the changes, student were required to get permission from a student organization, get permission from school officials four days in advance, and be confined to a small "free speech zone" in order to present their views." - See more here.

Joe Biden recently committed us to protecting gay rights around the world.  And of course we don't want anyone physically attacked or their civil rights impinged for their homosexual inclinations or behavior.  But will this be limited to cases of physical violence? Won't any future denial of "rights" be deemed a mode of violence, justifying the use of violence against the perceived offenders?  With current shifts, I'm not convinced that distinction is as clear as it should be.  Every major religion is close to being labelled inhumane and barbaric for their condemnation of homosexual practice as a sin against God.

Why Study Archaeology?

I subscribe to Biblical Archaeology Review, and read it fairly carefully for clues to the text.  There's a lot of liberal disbelief in the Word on its pages, but there is the occasional gem.

"To isolate the Biblical text from the world in which it emerged is to make it into something which it is not and to forgo many essential clues to its interpretation."

In traditional language, we have to interpret the Bible grammato-historically, by the grammar and the historical context.  Most exegetes and preachers spend more time on grammar, and little on the history.

Here's an example, from the same issue of BAR, written by a favorite seminary professor I had, Jeffrey Weima:

"When worshipers in the ancient world offered a sacrifice to a particular god, only a small portion of the food was burned up on the altar.  The majority of the offered food survived to be either sold by the priest in the marketplace (1 Cor 10:25) or eaten by the worshiper in a dining room located in the temple.  These dinners, therefore had a strongly religious character which transformed them from regular meals to cultic meals.  Christians were forbidden to join in these meals because their participation involved a level of intimacy with the pagan god that made believers guilty of idolatry.
"Some 20 papyrus dinner invitations asking guests to dine at such cultic meals have been discovered in Egypt.  Typical is P.Oxy. 2791 which reads: 'Diogenes invites you to dinner for the first birthday of his dauther in the Serapaeum tomorrow which is Pacon 26 from the 8th hour onward.' ... the Serapaeum - a temple devoted to the Egyptian god Serapis."

Weima goes on to describe a dining hall for such a purpose in Pergamum.  This fits Revelation 2:14 (the letter to the church in Pergamum!): "I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality."

This one was a classic of bad timing.  I read this article a day after I preached on Revelation 2!

So there is this distinction between (1) associating too closely with idolatry or sin, and (2) yes, there's a connection somewhere along the supply chain, but not worrying about it.

Quotes from BAR, Nov/Dec 2012, pgs 16, 64

Death, Judgment, No Death

This sacrament is a living rendition of Genesis 5. That chapter repeats the death of person after person. And he died, and he died. This supper proclaims the Lord’s death week after week. We come back and remember and heard it said again. He died on the cross.
We also see the prophecy in Methuselah’s name come fully true at the cross. The two words "death" and "sent" meant for Methuselah, that when he died, the judgment of flood was sent.  For Jesus, when He died, the ultimate judgment of God against all our sin fell like a flood.

This is good news for us. And His death made Enoch’s escape from death possible. By faith he pleased God. By faith we eat this bread and wine, and trust we too will escape the sting and curse of death, even as we go through it.

We are those other sons and daughters in the line of promise. Trust in the savior. Let that faith work a real difference in your life.


God's Law in Our Worship

We will be considering the law in our worship services more regularly.

Theology describes 3 uses of the Law: it restrains evil in the world, drives us to the Lord Jesus for salvation, and guides us in how to live once we believe. This means we can use the law in different ways in our worship service, too. Today we read the law before we confess our sins, so it drives us to Christ. Other times we may read the law after we confess our sins, as a guide to living, now that we believe and are forgiven.

The law takes several forms in Scripture. We usually think of the 10 commandments, or the ritual law. But there are summaries of the law in various places, and this morning we see a picture of citizens in Christ’s kingdom from the king Himself (the sermon on the mount).



Things I Never Noticed in the Bible

Judges 18:30
"And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land."
So the grandson of Moses is a priest of idolatry for the tribe of Dan, in the darkest times of the Judges.

Be diligent to teach your own children, no matter how "holy" your calling.
Moses spoke with God directly and interceded for and shepherded Israel in the wilderness.  It was exhausting, frustrating and kept him very busy.  For whatever reason, his sons seldom figure in the story at all after Exodus 18, where Jethro brings them back to Moses after the Exodus.  I assume Moses sent his wife and sons to Jethro for safety while hostilities with Pharaoh continued.  No fault there, necessarily.  But after that we hear nothing of them until this verse.  How could Gershom's son be a priest for a golden calf after the way Moses responded to Aaron's golden calf?  Negligence in training him?  Gershom himself shrugging off fidelity to the God of Israel?  Or carelessness in raising Jonathan?

Let us be diligent to teach our children God's ways, to pray for their hearts to be drawn to God in loyalty.

Where we have been faithful and humble (not perfect) before God and our children, let us not condemn ourselves when they stray from the Lord.

Marriage and Divorce, Part Two

In Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce:
“The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’”
They are asking about Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness [literally, “indecent thing”] in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, 2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, 4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
This text assumes a written certificate of divorce. This was a legal document, preventing rash, impulsive action, and officially ending the legal status of marriage. The point wasn’t to lay out the grounds for divorce in detail, but to restrict its abuse. Here’s an example of how it was abused: the man divorces his wife and sells/rents her to another man, who marries her for the night. In the morning she remarries the first man. It’s actually prostitution under the legal disguise of marriage. No way, God says.

The “indecent thing” or “some uncleanness” (verse 1) is vague – the same phrase refers to human waste in Deuteronomy 23. Some Pharisees used the vague definition of “unclean thing” to widen the grounds of divorce beyond all sanity. Their casuistic reasoning went like this. There are two Hebrew words: 1. sexual indecency. 2. thing, reason, cause, event, affair. (In English “indecent thing” is the clearest translation.) They took the two words of the phrase and made them two grounds. You can divorce her for some sexual infidelity, or for some other thing. In classic Pharisee style, they reverse the intent of the passage (to limit grounds to sexual infidelity) by appealing to the letter of the law. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus is NOT changing Deuteronomy 24, taking away Moses’ permission of divorce. Jesus is clarifying what the unclean thing is – sexual uncleanness. There is not this second category of “any cause.”

Seth, Not Cain, at the Table

At this table, we do what Seth’s line does (Genesis 4:17-26).
1. We grieve over the evil and sin that took Christ to the cross.
2. We step in to our place at the table, accepting the life of loyalty to Christ that it requires. We step in, thankful for the privilege it is, knowing the Abels who have gone before us in faith and knowing the Cains who have fallen away and left this table.
3. We call on the name of God in Christ here. This is what the remembering is all about. Not just a mental act, but reaffirming that Jesus is the one I need, Jesus is the one who saves me.

At the same time, the way of Cain is overcome bit by bit at this table over time.
1. We are rooted in Christ.
2. We find our rest in Him.
3. We find close communion with him and with each other.
4. And we boast only in Christ and Him crucified, only in knowing this wonderful, merciful Savior.


Don't Profane the Name

Leviticus 19:12-18

"And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.  13 ‘You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the LORD.  15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.  17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."

This passage climaxes with the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. But notice verse 12.  This isn't a separate sin from the rest of the passage. Everything else connects with doing justice and mercy to your neighbor.  God doesn't throw in something extra in vs 12: "Oh, and by the way, don't swear or make false oaths, either."  No if we disobey the rest, if we fail to deal justly and mercifully with our neighbor, then we are by doing that profaning the name of God, taking His name in vain.  We call on His name and are identified by that in our way of life, our profession of faith in Christ, our baptism.  Do not profane that profession of God’s name by what you say or do.



Remembering Mr. Folkert

At a critical point in my spiritual formation, somewhere between 18-23 years old I think, the Lord led me to attend a Sunday School class with a handful of men who were all about three times my age.  It was a glorious experience I'll never forget.  I remember not talking much, just listening to the wisdom of these men, most of whom didn't have much formal education by today's standards.

One of them went to be with the Lord a couple days ago.

We spent very little time together outside of that class, but his demeanor and the way he taught showed me a love for the Lord and His Word that helped me tremendously.  I was in the grip of some judgmental immaturity at the time, in that cage stage of theology, with a sophomoric understanding of the Word.  Battling liberalism was the essence of Christian piety, I thought.  Not that that's a bad thing, but he showed me so much more - that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13), that love for the Lord Jesus shows itself in many quiet ways.

Tomorrow I'm preaching from these verses on 1 Corinthians 4:15-16:
"Though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me."

May the Lord grant Wally Folkert rest and reward in Christ.  He was a spiritual father for me at just the right time - a channel God used to give me just what God knew I needed then.

Funny how I wasn't really aware of all this until I heard of his death and thought about my time with him.  It is SO important to connect with other believers who are different from us around God's Word!


An Old Prayer for Our Land

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!


Invoking the Name

Heavenly Father, you are indeed holy, and the eye of sinful man cannot see or look upon you.  And yet you call us into your presence to sing loudly, to shout to You our rock, our shepherd and our king. Lord it is our earnest desire to serve you with gladness and to bless Your name now. We invoke Your name now in this prayer of invocation. We call on You to be present with us as we call in faith upon Yahweh, the God of Israel, Father of our Lord Jesus. We call on the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God and only Savior of sinners. We call on you Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of our souls.  Let our hearts ring and vibrate to your tune your pitch as we worship you.



Marriage and Divorce, part one

Let’s talk about divorce.

This is a controversial subject. You probably won’t agree with everything I say, but I hope it stirs you to consider God’s design and ground rules.  We need to begin with marriage, before looking at divorce.

Marriage is an earthly covenant, not an eternal, absolute or metaphysical union of souls. God designed marriage to end at death, and it can end sooner than that.

Obligations in marriage
We find marriage defined and its obligations laid out in Genesis 2:24 and Exodus 21:10-11: leave parents, cleave to wife, be one flesh. Provide sustenance and companionship to each other. The context of Exodus 21 is regulating slavery and polygamy, weird to us Western moderns. But those two phenomena are similar to divorce in this way: all three are restricted and regulated in Scripture without God endorsing them.  This makes the Exodus text particularly relevant, as it addresses circumstances where people aren't living rightly, and it specifies when a spouse can be free of a marriage.

So there are three basic principles. 1. Be physically present with your spouse. Live with them. 2. Make common cause together – it’s not just a contractual relationship. Unite in heart and mind and common effort. 3. Be one flesh. Don’t deprive each other sexually (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).

Establishment and dissolution of marriage by God
Marriage is established by God, not by the church or the state. Church & state pronounce marriages valid, and register the formation and dissolution of marriages, but they don’t create it out of thin air by their authority. Church and state have to follow the Word of God in administering the covenant of marriage. Today, civil governments widely admit no-fault divorce, flat-out disobeying God. In the past church or state would not admit divorce where there were no clear grounds. Church and state can err in this: an illegitimate (unbiblical) divorce isn’t made right before God just because the church or state says it is okay. Same sex marriage isn’t valid before God just because the state says it is. God sets the terms for the formation and dissolution of this covenant of marriage.

Though church and state don’t establish marriage they should both be involved at its birth and death. The state needs to be informed of its occurrence at least, for property concerns. I might also advocate (as a for instance) lower tax rates for a married sole bread winner with six children than for a single person. Regarding the church, Christians especially should cherish the church’s wisdom and counsel and community in pre-marital counseling and helping with the ceremony or receptions, for instance. The church does not have to be involved for it to be a true marriage, however, as this is a creation ordinance established before the covenant of grace began. On the other side, at a divorce, too often the church is left out of the whole process, not even consulted in the heat of a hostile relationship. But Paul sets a precedent in 1 Corithians 7 for the church being involved in intimate family affairs, advising how God wants husband and wife to live together or separate in difficult situations.

Next time we will jump into Old Testament teaching on divorce.

Don't Stay Away; Keep Your Brother

Here at this Table we have the opposite of Cain. Cain turned away from God, did not repent, didn’t give a fig for his brother. At this supper we turn toward God in faith, repent of our sins, and discern the body of Christ.

Cain stayed away and stayed away. We keep coming back to our Lord week by week here. We long for the face of God. We can stand it because we believe we are washed clean of our guilt and shame before Him. This can happen because we repent honestly.

Cain didn’t want to be his brother’s keeper. Jesus has kept us in Him and no one snatches us out of his hands. We commune with one another through Christ here and remember our call to love God and neighbor.

It’s possible to come here physically but stay away from God spiritually.
It’s possible to kneel and say words but not really repent.
It’s possible to take communion and think only of yourself and Jesus.

But the design is different. Come to Jesus now with a clean heart. See the face of Jesus in your redeemed brethren. Rejoice in the Lord.


Don't Get to This Point

The rich man ignored Lazarus day after day. He got to a state where he wasn’t interested in or able to repent. To change and love God or his neighbor. In Hades, he wants relief from his torment, but has no repentance to express, even when he sees Lazarus. maybe he still doesn’t care, Maybe he knows it’s too late, maybe both. The point is for you not to get to this spot, by our repeated offenses and superficial sorries.

What will shake us up enough out of callous stupor to turn from self and sin to the Savior? Surely a sensational resurrection would do it. Lazarus, back from the dead! No, Jesus says, and the facts bear him out. When Jesus actually brought Lazarus back from the dead, did the rulers repent and come to Christ? No, they just plotted to kill Lazarus, too – surely the silliest plan ever.

Jesus’ point is sobering for us. If the Word of God won’t shake you and cause you to repent, no ghost appearance will either. No scary visions of hell, emotional preaching, or traumatic experiences will do it. Only the Spirit at work in the Word.


Brought to the Heavenly Mountain

Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing us to mount Zion in our worship, to Your heavenly Jerusalem, to Your heavenly hosts of angels, to Your glorified saints who have gone before us and are made perfect. Most of all thank you for bringing us to Jesus, Your provided mediator to bring us to You. You bring us to His blood which does this, covering our sin. Thank You for speaking even better things in His blood than Abel’s blood did after Cain killed him. Thank you for putting to death all enmity, malice, envy, jealousy, greed and vengeance at the cross. And for clothing us with the righteousness of Christ our cornerstone. You have bound Yourself to us in love by His blood, and we seek close communion with You as we sing, confess, listen to Your Word, eat and drink by your word and spirit.

Opening Prayer

Singing a Stern Psalm

This Psalm* is darker, in a minor key, kind of brooding and stern. What are we doing singing this kind of song in worship?

The book of Psalms gives us more moods to sing than just positive and encouraging, and we should use them. There is certainly a time to sing about nations rejecting our God and our Lord Jesus, these days. And the mood that brings is lament or stern resolution, not bounce and cheer. We should weep with those who weep in our singing together.

This can be tricky to engage with in worship. It takes some preparation. We don’t mentally veg out and just let the music float us down stream. One reason we have a printed bulletin is so you can look ahead a step or two and prepare for what is coming. Changing emotional gears can be a little abrupt sometimes. If it takes a verse or so to get into the new mood sometimes, that’s fine. 

The key is this:  are you singing the Word of God?  Is the Word driving the words?  Are we understanding and responding appropriately with our emotions to the Word of God as we sing?

No response at all or a deadpan is not appropriate. An artificial insistence on personal happiness isn’t appropriate, either.

Sing the Psalms with your whole heart and voice.


* Psalm 2 in the Cantus Christi, tune POURQUOI FONT BRUIT, from Strasbourg, 1539