Sunday, December 20, 2009

Honor Your Father and Your Mother, Like Christ

Luke 2:41-52 (NKJV)
41 His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. 43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; 44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. 46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. 48 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” 49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. 51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Last week we noted that one of the lessons children teach us most readily is that they are under authority, dependent on the care of others. Consequently, we spent our exhortation last week examining the responsibility of those in authority. What is our task as parents?

But children there is an important lesson for you to learn from our text today. Your parents are in authority. They are in charge. And this is no less true when they are wrong than when they are right. Just as the calling that God places on your parents is to lead the family and so bring honor to His Name, the calling that He places on you is to submit to the authorities in your life and so grow in favor with God and men.

Notice this very distinctly in our text today. Jesus is 12 years old – the actual age of some of you and the approximate age of others. He and his family are on a trip – in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. When the family leaves Jerusalem, Jesus remains behind – spending time in the temple learning and growing. Meanwhile, his parents leave town thinking him to be in company with others in the caravan. When they finally search for him, he is nowhere to be found. And now his parents are anxious. They return to Jerusalem. Three days pass before they finally find Jesus – sitting calmly in the temple, not a care in the world, listening to the instruction and asking penetrating questions.

His parents are understandably frustrated, amazed. “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” Where have you been? Jesus responds with equal surprise – didn’t you know that I’d be here going about my Father’s business? But they didn’t get it, they didn’t understand. Jesus’ words did not click.

Now let me ask you a question: who was right on this occasion? Whose analysis of the situation was correct? You see, here we have a classic time when Jesus could have said, as young men and women are wont to do, “Mom and Dad, you just don’t understand.” He could have said that and spurned their authority, doing what he perceived to be right – which on this occasion was right. But guess what young men and young women – he didn’t.

What did he do? Luke is quite explicit. “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them… And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Though Jesus was correct, though His plan was acceptable, He subjected Himself to his parents and consequently he grew in favor with God and with men.

So, children, what does God expect of you? He expects you to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ who willingly subjected himself to the authority of his parents even though he understood the situation better than them. He honored his father and mother and so he grew in favor with God and with men. No he didn’t get to stay at the Temple; no he didn’t get to have many other stimulating conversations with the teachers; no he didn’t get to hear their kudos personally. But he got something even better – God’s favor and men’s respect.

So young men and young women – what do you want most? Do you, like Jesus, desire the favor of God more than anything else? Do you, like Jesus, desire to earn the respect of those around you? Then achieve both by imitating him and submitting yourself to your parents. Yes, Dad, Yes, Mom, I will do as you say even if I disagree.

Reminded that we have frequently been disobedient sons and daughters, scorning the authority of those over us, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Friday, December 18, 2009

True Representation

Hebrews 2:10-13 (NKJV)
10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both [Jesus] who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of [One Father], for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” 13 And again: “I will put My trust in Him.” And again: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.”

One of the lessons we learn from children is that they are under authority, entrusted by God to the care of others. Their position in their homes is entirely a matter of God’s Providence. He put them there; He gave them their parents; He instructs them to honor and obey their parents under Him. What this means is that their health and well-being are dependent on the conduct of those placed over them. So those placed over them need to understand their task.

Fortunately, we are not left adrift with no awareness of what we are called to do. Our Lord has revealed our responsibility throughout His Word and has exhibited it for all to see in the life of Christ. What then is our task?

Our text today informs us, in short, that our responsibility is to bring our children to maturity. We do this in imitation of our Heavenly Father whose goal is to bring us to maturity, to bring us – as our text today says – to glory. So how does our Father bring us to maturity?

First, note that He appoints a representative over us, our Lord Jesus Christ. And this, parents, is our position in regard to our children. God has placed us there, in a position of authority, as His representative. What this means, is that we are there to do His work in the lives of our children not our own.

Second, note the three things that Jesus does as our representative: He identifies with us, He gives us an example to follow, and He takes responsibility for us.

So, first, He identifies with us. Jesus declares, “I will declare Your Name to My brethren.” Though infinitely superior to us in His Person, Jesus calls us His brothers, treats us as His equals. And this is an important reminder to us parents in regard to our children. Though God has placed us in a position of authority over them, at the most fundamental level our children are our brethren – fellow creatures called to worship and adore the Living God.

And this leads us to the second task of representatives – we are to set an example for those under us. Jesus declares, “’I will declare Your Name to My brethren, In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You,’ and again, “I will put My trust in Him.” Jesus sets an example for us in two ways. He leads us in the corporate worship of God and He teaches us to trust God. And here we come to our second duty as parents. Our duty is not only to identify with our children, but to demonstrate to them what it means to worship the Triune God in company with His people, and what it means to trust Him. We are called to bring them, to bring our children, to glory, to maturity – and the height of maturity and glory is to love and worship God Himself.

Finally, Jesus as our representative, takes full responsibility for us. “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” He is the captain of our salvation, taking our sins as his own, making our progress in grace His own business. It is He who sanctifies us. In other words, Jesus doesn’t treat us as alien from Him; doesn’t say, “Well there they are and those problems are theirs.” He brings us along with Him by taking responsibility for us. “Christian,” he says, “you are Mine; follow Me!” And so what is our calling as parents? It is, like Joshua of old, to declare, “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” This is who we are; God has put me in charge here; I am going to lead this family as God’s representative.

So parents how are we doing? The health of our children has been entrusted to us. Are we being faithful stewards of that trust? Are we identifying with our children, treating them fundamentally as our equals? Are we setting an example of glory before them, being passionate about corporate worship and trusting in the Living God? Are we assuming responsibility for the state of our homes, bringing our children to glory, to maturity?

Reminded that so often we fail to measure up to the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ, that we often fail to do what we are called to do as His representatives, let us kneel and ask His forgiveness.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Domineering Spirits

Matthew 11:16-19 (NKJV)
16 “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, 17 and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”

Children love to play. This, we have seen, is good and reflects the playfulness of God Himself. God’s delight is in all His works, He rejoices at the regularity of the world and declares, “Do it again,” to the sun, the clouds, the rain, the grass, the leaves, and the caterpillar.

Playfulness is not a sin. However, because we are sinful creatures, sin often manifests itself in our play. And it is one of these types of situations that Jesus’ references in our text today. The Pharisees have been criticizing him for associating with tax collectors and sinners; yet sometime previously they had criticized John for his austerity and super holiness. Jesus compares their criticisms to the sinful play of a group of children.

We all know that when children gather and endeavor to organize a game, there are some domineering spirits who strive to make events go just the right way, inevitably with themselves in charge. "OK, we’re going to play house. You’re going to be the servant, you’re the daughter, you’re the son, and I’m going to be the master of the house. Ok, servant go collect some fire wood for the fire." To which the servant says, “But I don’t want to be the servant.” And now the real ruckus begins. You have to be the servant. No I don’t. Yes, you do. No I don’t.

The real question that the protesting servant is asking is this, “Who made you the authority? We didn’t vote. Mom and dad didn’t put you in charge. Why are you telling me what to do? I don’t have to listen to you.” And the question is a fitting question to ask. Who made you the authority? Just because you think you should be able to tell everyone else what to do doesn’t mean that you should. Your desires don’t equal actual authority. And this is what Jesus is saying to the leaders of Israel in his day. You sure do have a domineering spirit; you sure are mandating that I play according to your rules; but who put you in charge? After all, rather than enforce the commandments of God, you are simply imposing the traditions of men.

So, Jesus is asking, why should I listen to you? Is it illegitimate for me to minister to tax collectors and sinners? Does God forbid this? Does He forbid reaching out to rescue and to restore those in need of restoration? Those enslaved to their own sin?

Jesus’ observation on the sinful play of children highlights how often we judge others on the basis of our own fickle ideas rather than on the basis of God’s Word. We want people to do what we expect rather than what God expects. And because our expectations shift depending on our shifting mood, our expectations for others shift as well.

“We played the flute and you did not dance; we played mournful music and you did not lament.” Why aren’t you doing what we expect? Why aren’t you following along with our desires? Quite simply, Jesus replies, because your desires are not God’s desires.

And so we are reminded today to judge others with righteous judgment and to distinguish between our desires and God’s desires. What is it that we are demanding of others? And are we demanding these things because they reflect the eternal standards of God’s law or the fickle desires of our own heart? Beware how you judge others, Jesus commands, for with the same standard that you judge others you yourself will be judged.

Reminded of our propensity to judge others based on our own mood rather than God’s law, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Laughter of God

Psalm 111:7-8 (NKJV)
7 The works of His hands are verity and justice; All His precepts are sure. 8 They stand fast forever and ever, And are done in truth and uprightness.

Last week we noted that the playfulness of children is something in which our Lord delights. He promised that one day the people of Jerusalem would once again observe boys and girls playing in the streets – and that this would be a good thing. And so we as the body of Christ need to learn from these members in our midst the importance of joy, the value of play, the blessing of laughter.

As we reflect on our need to do so, we should realize that the reason the joy and fun of children brings pleasure to God is that they reveal His own laughter in all His work. God never tires of causing the earth to spin like a top; never tires of flapping the wings of a bird; never tires of causing the grass to sprout from the earth; never tires of sucking water out of the earth through the roots of a tree and turning the nutrients into apples that people can eat. All these works of the Lord reveal His untiring joy and laughter, reveal His delight in all His work, His faithfulness and uprightness.

Listen as Chesterton explains in his book Orthodoxy:

A man [typically]varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. it may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
And so reminded that we have sinned and grown old, that we have become bored and complacent with monotony, that we have complained rather than overflowed with thanksgiving, let us kneel and confess our sin.

Playing in the Streets

Zechariah 8:3-5 (NKJV)
3 “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will return to Zion, And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, The Mountain of the Lord of hosts, The Holy Mountain.’ 4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Old men and old women shall again sit In the streets of Jerusalem, Each one with his staff in his hand Because of great age. 5 The streets of the city Shall be full of boys and girls Playing in its streets.’

Two weeks ago we remarked that one of the lessons taught by toddlers is the universality of sin and foolishness. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. Consequently, as parents we need to be diligent to train our children so that the foolishness is driven out and wisdom is put in its place. Permissive parenting, we saw, is no biblical virtue.

Our text today reminds us that foolishness is not the same as childish joy and fun. Driving foolishness from the hearts of our children does not mean that we need to make them into dour, sour, grumpy kill-joys. Zechariah was prophesying at a time when Jerusalem was in ruins, at the beginning stages of being rebuilt. There was much pain and sorrow, much labor and toil. So Zechariah comforts the people and provides for them hope for the future. What will Jerusalem be like in days to come? In what way will God bless the city? One of the things that Zechariah promises is that once again there will be boys and girls playing in the streets – and that this will be something pleasing to God.

So children, note today that God loves your play, loves your joy, loves your delight, your freedom. What doesn’t please him is when you play in such a way that you steal others’ delight, others’ joy. And notice another thing, children. Just as Zechariah promises that children will be playing in the streets, he promises that the old men and women will be sitting around enjoying the scene. So don’t grow impatient when older folks don’t run quite as much as you.

And parents, note today that God loves joy and rejoicing even while he hates foolishness. Learn, like your Heavenly Father, to distinguish the two. Do not discipline your children when they are appropriately exuberant and joyful; discipline them when they are sinful. Likewise, the members of our community who no longer have children, who like to sit around and have serious conversation – enjoy the joy of the young ones in our midst and delight that they reveal the playfulness of our God.

Reminded that our Lord loves to see children playing and promises to bestow this gift upon His people as they repent and acknowledge His authority, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tobacco Czars

Deuteronomy 11:26-28 (NKJV)
26 “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.

You’ll pardon me if, for a time, I take a break from our series on the lessons taught by different members of the Christian community. For some reason the decision by a few major universities to ban tobacco products on their campuses has made its way to national news this past week. The University of Montana – of all places! – has become the latest in a series of schools to propose such a policy, to become effective this spring semester. The student body leaders and many of their professors are rejoicing with euphoric glee – ah, we’re finally ridding the earth of that nasty tobacco.

What we as God’s people need to see is the way in which the passing of such policies represents a concession on the part of these schools to an anti-Christian worldview. After all, let us conduct a thought experiment. Imagine that instead of outlawing tobacco products, the university instead passed policies banning sexual fornication or sodomy. Can’t you just hear the hew and cry already? How dare you infringe on my personal liberty? How can you be so judgmental? You’re just a fascist neo-Nazi!

But note, if you will, the incredible inconsistency. Where’s the cry for our poor smokers out there? For the tobacco farmers who are being viciously persecuted and financially ruined? You see the issue is not whether we as a culture will have certain things that are taboo – this is inevitable. The question is rather which worldview will define that which is taboo. Which god or gods will we listen to as a culture? To whose voice will we give heed?

And it is this very challenge that God placed in front of the people of Israel as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land. He set before them quite clearly the blessing and the curse. If you listen to Me, God said, and to My voice, loving Me, serving Me, observing My commandments then you will be blessed. If, however, you follow after other gods, listen to their voice, give heed to them and to their standards, then you will be cursed.

Our calling as the people of God is to cling to God’s standards, to cherish His law, to praise what He would praise and to condemn what He would condemn. And the banning of all tobacco products because they’re “bad for you” is not something He would praise. “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men.” Rather smoke a pack a day than once steal from your neighbor. Rather chew and spit in the spittoon than once fornicate with your neighbor.

Reminded of our abandonment of God’s standards in favor of our own, let us kneel and confess our sins to Him.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Universality of Sin

Proverbs 22:15 (NKJV)
15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.

Imagine if you will a toddler in a room full of toys. There are toys of all kinds and more than one of each toy. The toddler is happy, playing contentedly in one corner of the room. Into this idyllic scene introduce another toddler. Which toy will the new toddler want? The room is full of toys, multiple copies of each toy. But which toy will the new toddler want? The one that our original toddler was playing with contentedly.

Parents are prone to ask their children, when some nasty behavior starts manifesting itself in the home, “Where did you learn that? Who taught you that?” And, of course, there are times when our sinful patterns of behavior are shaped by those with whom we associate. But the deepest answer to our parental question, “Who taught you that?” is “I learned that quite well from my father Adam.” Solomon tells us in our text today that one of the things we learn from the toddlers who are, mind you, part of the Kingdom of God is the universality of sin.

The great Bishop of Salisbury under Queen Elizabeth, a man by the name of John Jewel noted in one of his sermons:
Behold man's nature, and consider it even from our first birth. How full of affections, how wayward is the young child which lieth in the cradle! His body is but small, but he hath a great heart, and it is altogether inclined to evil. And the more he waxeth in reason by years, the more he groweth proud, froward, wilful, unruly, and disobedient. If this sparkle be suffered to increase, it will rage over, and burn down the whole house.

“Foolishness,” Solomon warns us, “is bound up in the heart of a child.” Only a fool like Rousseau, who abandoned his children to an orphanage rather than be inconvenienced with their sin, could imagine that humans are good by nature and only become evil by observing others’ example. As any parent who actually interacts with his children knows, the evil doesn’t come only from outside. The sin is bound up in our hearts at birth

And so Solomon reminds us that the course of action parents must pursue in order to rescue their children from their own foolishness is discipline. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” As parents we must be diligent to train and correct our children in the course of their life, so that, by God’s grace, they be rescued from the folly they inherited from Adam. The rod of correction will drive foolishness from him.

As any gardener knows, it is not difficult to grow weeds in the garden – they seem to appear quite spontaneously. We don’t need to do anything for them to grow and to grow abundantly. What is difficult is to grow vegetation. Likewise in a child. Children left on their own will be a shame to their father and their mother. As Bishop Jewel remarked, “If this sparkle be suffered to increase, it will rage over, and burn down the whole house.” Permissive parenting is not a biblical virtue. Solomon declares, “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Pr 29:15). If you love your children then discipline them, help them to see the foolishness that is wrapped up in all of us by birth.

So toddlers – in reminding us of the universality of sin and the need for discipline – should point us to our Heavenly Father. If we understand that our children are born in sin and in need of discipline, then we must also perceive that as we grow older the sin doesn’t disappear, it just becomes more sophisticated. Consequently, we too stand in need of correction to drive foolishness from us. But who will discipline us? If we are God’s children, adopted into His family, He promises to discipline us for our good. He uses discipline – trials, persecutions, heartaches – to drive foolishness from our hearts and make us more like Jesus.

Reminded of these lessons taught to us by the toddlers in our midst, let us kneel and confess our sin to our Father.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jumping Rope Like No One's Business

My father-in-law drew our attention to this half-time show at the U.S. Naval Academy. Incredible!

Like a Weaned Child with His Mother

Psalm 131:2 (NKJV)
2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

A couple weeks ago we spoke of the lesson that infants teach us in their hunger. Just as infants cry and pull at their mother’s clothing to get at the milk, so we as the people of God are to hunger and thirst for the Word of God. We are to long for the pure milk of the Word that by it we may grow in respect to salvation. But children aren’t always quite so passionate about eating. Is there anything to learn when they grow up a bit? According to the psalmist the answer is yes.

Psalm 131 is one of the songs of ascent, sung when the men of Israel would journey to Jerusalem for one of the three annual feasts. God had commanded that the men of Israel appear before Him in Jerusalem three times per year. While sometimes whole families were able to travel to Jerusalem, frequently because of the cost and inconvenience involved, only the men were able.

Imagine, then, the fears that would beset families as the men prepared to go. The men would worry about their wives and children – will they be well when I return? will enemies attack while I am gone? The women would worry about their husbands, their children, themselves – will my husband return? what will I do if he doesn’t? what will I do if our enemies attack? how will I protect our home? Fear was a great temptation.

But God had not left them without assurance – He had promised them that He would take care of them during these times; that He would be their Protector and Defender. Exodus 34:23-24 declares, “Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.” God promised that He would protect their homes as they went up to Jerusalem. And so the question became – will we trust Him, will we believe Him?

Around this question began to swirl a collection of songs, called the psalms of ascent. These are Psalms 120-134 in the Psalter. These psalms were especially sung in this time when the men of Israel were called to leave their homes and journey to Jerusalem.

Psalm 131 was sung to move the Israelites to patient trust in the promise of God. And notice the heart of the meditation: Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. The psalmist was a careful student of the people of God – not just the big people, but the little ones as well. And in the life of weaned children, he learned what we are to be like in times of trial.

As husbands and fathers made the trip to Jerusalem and feared for their families, as wives, mothers, and children remained at home and feared what could face them with the men away and their enemies surrounding them, this psalm would have been a great comfort and encouragement. What do we learn from weaned children? To be calm and quiet in the presence of our provider – no longer pulling and yanking at our mother’s breast to get that food. No instead now we know that our mother cares for us, we know that she shall feed us, we no longer fear that she will forsake us; for she has demonstrated her love for us time and again and we trust her.

This is the message learned from weaned children in our text today – our attitude to the Lord God is to be like this little child toward his mother. But often it is quite the opposite. We fuss and whine; we yank at the blouse, pull at the bra, trying to convince God to feed us when he has already promised to do so.

So the call of weaned children is this: trust God, he will provide for you, he will protect you, he will fulfill his promises. Entrust yourself to him and to His loving care. Reminded that we have failed to trust Him, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.

Infants and the Kingdom of God

Luke 18:15-17 (NKJV)
15 Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

For the past couple Lord’s Days we have considered the lessons that infants teach us as the people of God. We have seen that infants, because of their intricate design, gloriously display the grandeur of God, overthrowing all the sophisms of the philosophers. We have also seen that infants, in their very hunger for milk, instruct us about the passion we all should have for the Word of God. Today we learn a final lesson taught by infants – infants display faith.

When a number of Jesus’ followers come bringing their infants to Jesus so that He can bless them, Jesus delivers a dual imperative to the disciples who are endeavoring to forbid this. “Let the little children come to Me,” He commands, “and do not forbid them.” Jesus gives both a positive command – let them come – and a negative injunction – do not forbid them. Notice that if we had only one of these imperatives, we could reason that Jesus thinks merely that these children should be tolerated, permitted to come into His presence. But the dual imperatives destroy such a supposition. He wants these children not merely tolerated but welcomed, ushered into His presence. Let the little children come unto Me.

Why? Why does Jesus deliver these exhortations? Why is He indignant with the disciples? Because, Jesus declares, “of such is the Kingdom of God.” Jesus declares in no uncertain terms that the children of believers are members of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a social club. It is not an adults only club. It is not even an adults primarily club in which children are, I guess, welcome to come along for the ride. Of such as these – infants brought into the presence of Jesus for blessing – is the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, in other words, is not a social club at all but a new humanity incorporating adults, children, young adults, seniors, infants, and even dead people joined together under the banner of the Messiah.

Now many interpret this phrase “of such as these” to mean “of disciples who are like these infants” is the kingdom of God, but this is not the point. After all, Jesus goes on to explain the lesson which infants teach us as the people of God – not infant disciples but actual infants. Why is it that infants are such integral members of the Kingdom of God? Because they teach us about faith, about trust, about dependence. They are wholly and completely dependent upon God, trusting Him to care for them through their parents. And if we do not learn this lesson from them, if we do not learn to trust our Heavenly Father in the same way and so become their disciples in this, then we will by no means enter into the Kingdom of God.

Listen to the words of David in Psalm 22:9-10:
But You [O My God] are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust
while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My
mother’s womb You have been My God.
Infants have something to teach us. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, they declare, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. Let us kneel together and confess that we have failed to learn this lesson from the infants around us.

Hungering like Infants

1 Peter 2:1-3 (NKJV)
1 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

Last week we considered the words of David, acknowledging the wonder of God in little babies. Today we learn that there is more to babies than their incredible design. Not only do their mouths reveal the glory of their Master Craftsman, they also reveal the hunger that is to characterize us as the people of God. For no truth is more manifest in the lives of infants than that they like to be fed and are quite adept at letting others know their need.

When God by His grace converts us and adopts us as His children, it is as infants that we begin our journey. The word of God comes, convicts us of sin, enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and we are born again. Peter notes earlier in his epistle that his hearers have “been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” In general, when Scripture speaks of this new birth it then exhorts us to grow from that point. We are not to remain infants, to remain immature, but are to grow into a full grown man, able to discern between good and evil.

However, in one respect, we are to retain the quality of infants. Peter urges us, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” Even as a newborn infant cries out for milk, we are to cry out for instruction from our Lord throughout our lives.

Infants know when they’re hungry and know what to do in order to let others know as well. The time of day doesn’t matter. The location doesn’t matter. The inconvenience to others doesn’t matter. When that baby is hungry, he cries out. So what of us? Are we disturbing God’s rest to obtain from him instruction and direction? Are we hungering and thirsting for righteousness, pushing and pulling and grabbing everything else out of the way so long as we get that food? I fear not. After all, who wants to be seen screaming in the check-out aisle?

So what does this mean practically? First, are we preparing to receive the preaching of God’s Word every Lord’s Day? Every Lord’s Day God meets with us, instructs us, directs us from His Word. Do we come eager to hear? Rested and refreshed, alert and eager to hear the voice of Christ and to have His Word change us and transform us? Or do we simply come each week out of habit? Perhaps to stroke our ego and make us feel like righteous people? Do we come worn out and frazzled from failing to prepare ahead of time? Peter reminds us – long for the pure milk of the word. Do everything and anything you can to get the full benefit from the food.

Second, are we reading and studying the Word of God on our own? Do we take the Word preached and discuss it as families? Do we read other portions of the Word of God and let them shape and mold us. I’ll guarantee you that an infant wouldn’t be content being fed for one hour once a week. So why are we?

Reminded that we are to imitate the littlest members of our community by hungering for the pure milk of the Word, let us kneel and confess our lack of passion to the Lord.

The Glory of Infants

Psalm 8:1-2 (NKJV)
How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens! 2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

We begin our survey of the lessons taught by every member of the family of God with infants. We could, of course, begin earlier, with the little ones in the womb. But we’ll stick with the ones not hidden in the depths of the earth.

Babies are so cute and cuddly; so small and tiny and apparently so fragile. It always seems to first time parents as if the slightest rustle, the gentlest breeze may land our little one in the doctor’s office. We bundle them up, we scrub all the toys with disinfectant, we wash the food two or three times. They are so weak, so dependent.

And it is this very truth that strikes David as he considers the world about Him. The Lord’s Name, David tells us, is excellent in all the earth. After all, He has set His glory above the heavens. Day to day utters forth speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no language, nor voice where their tongue is not heard. Their line has gone out to the ends of the earth. The heavens tell the glory of God.

Having considered God’s wonder in creation, the first place David turns to behold this wonder, the wonder of God’s Name, is the mouth of little babes. Turn and look upon this child – crafted by the hand of God Himself, carefully knit in his mother’s womb, appointed by God to live and breathe and scream and eat – and in looking on this child behold the wonder of God’s Providence.

For God has not only crafted this child, this dependent child, but has provided food and nourishment for him in his mother’s breast; has not only given the food but given him, this teeny, tiny baby, a tongue that latches on to his mother’s breast so that he can drink his fill and be satisfied. God orchestrated this; God put it together. Behold the wonder and grandeur of God!

And so, David tells us, these little babes, so fragile, so small declare the praises of God, reveal the excellence of His Name, reveal His great power. God needs no rhetoricians; He needs no learned men to vindicate His Name. Every baby born into the world manifests His glory, His strength.

Chapman Cohen once remarked, “Gods are fragile things. They may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense.” Yet modern history has demonstrated that the gods are far more resilient than Cohen imagined, and the living God more so than the idols of the nations. We simply cannot escape His presence, cannot avoid reckoning with Him because all the sophisticated arguments of philosophers, all the conjectures of scientists, all the pontifications of sociologists, suddenly confront the hard reality of a little baby. And God says, behold My grandeur!

So have you looked at a baby recently and considered the strength that God has vested in that little one? We are reminded this morning to see with new eyes and to ask God’s forgiveness for failing to see His glory in the weakest of places. Let us kneel as we are able and confess our sins to the Lord.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Family of God

1 Timothy 5:1-2 (NKJV)1 Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.

God in His grace and mercy and wisdom has called us to be part of a family. Not only has he ordained marriage as the foundation for human society – with children being the fruit of it – but he has also, in Christ, united the Church to one another as family. In the text before us today, Paul reminds Timothy to treat the other members of the Church as extended family. He is to treat older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters. The Church is a family.

Because the Church is a family, there are lessons that all members of the family teach one another. All members of the body of Christ, male and female from infancy to old age, teach and instruct one another. It is for this reason that the trend in the modern church to separate folks according to age is so detrimental. Whether this manifests itself in children’s church, in contemporary versus traditional services, or in youth groups that capitalize on juvenile behavior, each robs the Church and undermines her long term health.

Today, therefore, we begin a short series of exhortations on lessons learned from different portions of the family of God. What do infants teach us? Children? Young boys and young girls? Young men and women? The middle-aged? The aged?

As we look at the Word of God, we will see that every member of the family of God has incredible significance. Each has a lesson to teach – and this, of course, means that everyone has a lesson to learn from them all. And so the questions come to us this morning – how are we doing? Are we considering the important role that we play in teaching the rest of the people of God? And, on the flip side, are we learning from all members of the family?

Paul expects us to treat one another as family – to love and cherish one another, to show respect where it is due, and loyalty at all times. But I fear that this is often not what happens. We hasten to hide away some members of the family. We don’t want the inconvenience or embarrassment associated with them. Old Uncle Charlie gets shuffled down the stairs to the basement and junior gets tossed in the nursery. We ignore Freddy’s pertness and pray that little Sally won’t say “Amen” too loud. But in the process we miss what God is teaching us and fail to see the true wonder of His glory.

Reminded of our failure to treat one another as family, to love one another and be loyal to one another, let us kneel and confess our sins to our heavenly Father.

Tremble, All the Earth

“When Israel went forth from Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became His sanctuary,
Israel, His dominion.

The sea looked and fled;
The Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
The hills, like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, before the Lord,
Before the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a fountain of water.”
Psalm 114

The Scriptures declare to us that the Triune God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, is truly a God of wonders. Far from the empty prattlings of philosophers; far from the idyllic dreams of mystic thinkers; far from the lifeless clay of idolaters is the Living God. He is no idle fancy.

Though modern man envisions himself as master of his own destiny, the Word of God declares that the Sovereign Lord is master of all destinies. It is He who rules the winds and the waves; he who makes the birds to fly; he who makes the seasons to change; he who numbers the days of every living thing on earth—saying, “This long shall you live and no longer!”

The text before us today declares both the wondrous power of God and the response which all creatures are to have towards Him. There is perhaps no greater testimony of God’s power and might in the Old Testament than the Exodus. Here that event is celebrated in poetic verse.

When Israel went forth from Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became His sanctuary,
Israel, His dominion.
The psalmist marvels that the people of Israel, once enslaved and degraded, became the most exalted people on earth—the very temple of the living God, the benefactors of His Kingship. In like manner, Paul celebrates the exalted position of the Church—we are now the temple of God, the place of His dwelling. And who is this God who dwells in our midst—none other than the God who makes the earth itself reel from His awful presence.

The sea looked and fled;
The Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
The hills, like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
What else could nature do as it faced the mighty hand of God? When God said, “Part!” to the waters of the Red Sea, they parted. When God said, “Turn Back!” to the waters of the Jordan in the days of Joshua, they turned back. How could they do otherwise?

And now what does the Psalmist call upon the earth to do? Tremble! Behold Your God and tremble.

Tremble, O earth, before the Lord,
Before the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a fountain of water.”
And if the psalmist calls upon the earth itself to tremble, how much more ought we to tremble in His sight—we who have transgressed against Him and spurned His holy covenant. And so let us kneel and confess our failure to tremble before Him.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Gift of Good Manners

“5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:5,6

In closing his letter to the Colossians, Paul urges a number of common graces upon the believers in Colossae. Knowing that they would be tempted in the cosmopolitan and corrupt city of Colossae to retreat into a holy huddle and be cranky and uptight, Paul imparts to them some closing words of counsel about their actions and their speech.

In regard to our actions, Paul commands us to “walk in wisdom” and to “redeem the time.” Paul urges us to follow the exhortations to wisdom found in Proverbs and other books, particularly in light of the brevity of our lives and the time that the Lord has allotted to each of us on earth. We are to use the gifts and talents that the Lord has afforded us to the best of our ability and for the benefit of others.

This other oriented focus continues in Paul’s exhortation regarding our speech. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Elsewhere he gives the same basic command urging us to speak in such a way that it “gives grace to those who hear.” Our speech, Paul tells us, is not primarily to serve ourselves but to serve others.

And so, what do these exhortations mean for us? First, they remind us that Paul saw no contrast between the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the wisdom literature, like the Proverbs, in the Old Testament. After all, these words that Paul entrusts to the Colossians were nothing new. Solomon had given the same basic exhortation years before.

“24 Put away from you”, Solomon counsels, “a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.”

Notice then that when Paul urges us to walk in wisdom, he is commanding us to have these proverbs dwell in our hearts and minds. Let us teach them to our children and grandchildren that they might learn what it means to walk in wisdom and redeem the time.

Second, in this passage Paul is endorsing the old-fashioned concept of good manners. For what are manners but simple patterns of behavior that attempt to put others at ease and consider their well-being as more important than our own? Opening the doors for ladies, saying hello and goodbye, saying thank you and you’re welcome – we should view all these trifles as attempts to incarnate Paul’s admonition to let our conduct be characterized by wisdom and our speech seasoned with salt.

There is one particular way in which we can be practicing Paul’s wisdom every week as we gather together. We worship in a facility that is not our own but which we are being permitted to use. As guests in this facility, we need to demonstrate good manners. And so, children, you shouldn’t be climbing over the furniture, playing with things that aren’t ours, or carrying your donuts outside the eating area.

And you, parents, take responsibility for your children. Watch over them with all diligence and teach them the importance of manifesting good manners in their treatment of this facility. But let us not do this in such a way that we too violate the command to have our speech seasoned with grace. We mustn’t yell and scream at our children because we have failed to train them in good manners. Instilling manners into our children is not done on Sunday morning – it must be happening all week so that Sunday morning is nothing new. So the exhortation comes to us: we must impart the grace of manners to our children.

Walk in wisdom, redeem the time, speak with grace – these are the reminders that Paul gives to the Colossians and to us. Reminded how we as a people have failed to fulfill these things, let us kneel and confess this to our Father seeking His forgiveness.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Numbering Our Days

Psalm 90:12 (NKJV)
12 So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

John Piper tells the story of an old man converted to Christ through the preaching of Piper’s father. Praying for God’s mercy through his tears, the man cried out, “I’ve wasted it. I’ve wasted it.” So little time he had on earth and he hadn’t devoted it to that which truly mattered.

This past week a friend of mine died. He was 48. A week ago Friday we played tennis together; talked about his children; spoke about the weather; sweated on the court; reflected on John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life. By last Sunday morning he had died and gone on to his reward. This side of the grave we won’t meet again.

Blaise Pascal, the great 17th century mathematician, physicist, and Christian apologist, wrote in his Pensees:
Imagine a number of prisoners on death row, some of whom are killed each day in the sight of the others. The remaining ones see their condition is that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair, await their turn. This is a picture of the human condition…The last scene of the play is bloody, however fine the rest of it. They throw earth over your head, and it is finished forever.
It was this awareness of the transitory nature of life that moved Moses to cry out to God in our psalm today, “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” When we are confronted with death it is our opportunity to remember that our days are numbered. We will not live forever. God has set our appointed time on earth and when the number of those days comes to a close then our time here will end as well. Because God has numbered our days, Moses asks the Lord to teach us to number them as well. Teach us to count the number of days we have here on earth, to consider that the time we have before death is short.

What is the purpose of this numbering? So that we might have a morbid fascination with death? Dress in black and be morose? Be like the ancient Egyptians, who had a wooden corpse in their homes that they might bring it out in the midst of their parties and show their guests, declaring, “Look on this while you drink, for this will be your lot when you are dead”? Is this why we should learn to number our days?

No. The purpose is so that we may gain a heart of wisdom. What does a heart of wisdom look like? First, it reckons with the vanity of life and the inevitability of death. Pascal notes:

Nothing is of more importance to man than his state, nothing more fearful than eternity. It is unnatural that there should be people who are indifferent to the loss of their life and careless of the peril of an eternity of unhappiness. They react very differently to everything else. They are afraid of the least things that they anticipate and feel. The same person who spends nights and days in a rage, in the agony of despair over the loss of some status or imaginary affront to his reputation, is the same person who knows he will lose everything by death and shows neither concern nor emotion at the prospect. It is extraordinary to see in the same heart and at the same time this concern for the most trivial matters, and yet lack of concern for the greatest.
But the heart of wisdom does not betray this folly. It knows the imperative of reckoning with death, of being ready to face eternity. And so, the heart of wisdom trusts in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the only means to reconcile a sinner to a holy God. Nothing in my hand I bring, says the old hymn, simply to Thy cross I cling.

Second, the heart of wisdom lives fully and completely for the glory and grandeur of God. What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. A heart of wisdom knows that we were created to find our great joy and gladness in union and communion with God. And so the man who has learned to number his days has learned to spend every one of them in passionate enjoyment of the Living God.

Unfortunately we often waste our days rather than number them. We move from one day to the next with little thought or reflection, distracted by trinkets rather than devoted to the glory of God. Reminded that we are to number our days, that we are to present to the Lord a heart of wisdom, let us kneel and confess our sins in the Name of Christ.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Who is Lord over us?

“Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be,
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
They speak falsehood to one another;
With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
The tongue that speaks great things;
Who have said, ‘With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are own own; who is lord over us?’
‘Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy,
Now I will arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will set him in the safety for which he longs.’”
Psalm 12:1-5

In our fallen nature we frequently think of ourselves as independent, free from all restraint. We consider ourselves autonomous, a rule unto ourselves. We want to define our own reality, to say what is good and right, what is fitting, what is just, what is lovely. This rebellious spirit is reflected in David’s words today. [Quote] “[The wicked say] With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” [End Quote]

Because we imagine ourselves independent, we use our tongue to achieve our own ends – to serve ourselves rather than to serve God and others. The psalm today identifies three ways we abuse the tongue for our own ends. First, we speak falsehood to one another. In other words, we lie to one another. We fail to honor God and our neighbor by giving the gift of truth. Instead we speak falsehood. Why would we do such a thing? Perhaps we have spoken a falsehood to our brother to get something we want, “Mom says you have to give the lollipop to me.” Perhaps we have lied to our parents to avoid punishment, “No, Mom, I didn’t hit junior with this bloody stick – he’s just whining.” Perhaps we have made excuses to our employer to retain our job, “Really, sir, that wasn’t my fault, Ralph is the one who passed the bad information along to me.” Perhaps we have pretended innocence for hurting our spouse to avoid sexual sanctions. “Honey, I didn’t know that you thought our 25th anniversary dinner was important.” Whatever our situation, whatever our justification, when we lie we are not numbered among the faithful of the land, among the godly who fill the earth. “Lying lips,” Solomon says, “are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are His delight.” [Proverbs 12:19]

Not only do we speak falsehood to one another, we also flatter one another. Flattery is, of course, another type of lying. But whereas falsehoods are like vinegar, flattering lies are like sugar water. They are sweet and syrruppy and tasty to those who hear them – until they discover the bitter poison at the end of them. “A man who flatters his neighbor,” Solomon tells us, “Spreads a net for his neighbor’s feet.” [Prov 29:5] The flatterer is he who speaks to his neighbor not for the truth’s sake, not to secure his neighbor’s well-being, but simply to advance his own selfish agenda. When asked for counsel, the flatterer does not consider, “What is true? What is the right thing to do?” but rather, “What does this person want to hear so that I can get what I want from them? “A lying tongue,” Proverbs 26:28 tells us, “hates those who are crushed by it, And a flattering mouth works ruin.”

The culmination of falsehoods and flatteries is deceitfulness. There is, David tells us, a man who speaks with a double heart – who pretends to be your most earnest and heartfelt friend but who is really reserving his heart for another. He speaks out of both sides of his mouth – his heart is not with you. He is like Judas who betrays His Master with a kiss. Solomon warns us to beware such a man:

“Do not eat the bread of a selfish man,
Or desire his delicacies;
For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
He says to you, “Eat and drink!”
But his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten,
And waste your compliments.”
Proverbs 23:6-8
But as we consider the charge of being double-hearted, is this not manifest in our own lives. How often do we betray those to whom we are supposed to be loyal in order to avoid embarrasment? “No, that snivelling little kid isn’t my brother.” Are we not all prone to deceit? Prone to seek our own advantage at the expense of others?

In the psalm today, David warns us and reminds us that fallen men are selfish creatures. Rather than submit our tongues to the Lord, we use them to gratify ourselves. But in the paradox of fallen man, what we think will gratify us in the end destroys us.

Reminded of our failure to submit our tongues to the Lordship of the incarnate Word of God, let us kneel and confess our sins in His name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Good Life

“How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.
With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O Lord;
Teach me Your statutes.
With my lips I have told of
All the ordinances of Your mouth.
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.”
Psalms 119:9 – 14

What is the good life? And who has the capacity to define it? Is it a can of Michelob on a camping trip? A can of Coke that somehow makes one bounce about the room? What makes something good?

Among no class of men are these questions more urgently and ardently asked than those who are young. Children and young adults are gifted by God with an appetite to have their questions answered, a desire to find and secure the good life. As they gaze out over the future, they want to know, “What will bring me joy and pleasure forevermore?”

Because this is true, Solomon meditates on this question in the Scripture that we have just read. How can a young man keep his way pure? What is more valuable than riches? Where should he find his delight?

Solomon’s repeated and steady answer to these questions is that we find purity, riches, and delight in heeding the Word of the Lord. God’s word is the foundation of all life. His revelation of Himself and explanation of the world around us, is what enables us to make sense of the world and to truly identify what the good life is all about. Finite creatures are unable to identify what is truly good for them. For how do we know, infallibly, that some trend we have jumped on today will end up bringing joy and happiness in the end?

At no time in history have the brokers of the good life been more prolific and skilled in their marketing. Whether the good life is to come through technological advances, organic foods, high protien diets, treatments for balding, or exercise machines – these peddlers never ultimately know that their recipe for the good life will not end in disaster. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but in the end it is the way of death.” We are not omniscient and so we are unable, as humans, to identify the good life. The most that we can identify on our own is what brings momentary happiness or pleasure. But we can never be sure whether these momentary pleasures will bring devastating consequences in the future. One thinks of the radical reversal that has come in the last century over the issue of smoking cigarretes. Once admired as the item of the fashionable, the discovery of its ill effects has relegated it to the addictive pasttime of the down and out. How do you know that the microwave popcorn you’ve been sneaking after the kids go to bed won’t prove your undoing?

Do we then have no hope in the world? Must we live our lives in constant uncertainty, blown about by every scheme for the good life that fills the Sunday paper? Are our youth unable to answer the questions which they most hunger to know? Are we left without a sure foundation?

No – Solomon gives it to us. God has defined the good life. And because He is omniscient, He knows all the end roads, all the results of various actions. He knows that homosexuality is destructive; that sexual immorality saps one of character and strength; that life is more than what enters the belly; that humans can have no greater pleasure than when we find our satisfaction in Himself. And the glorious thing is that He has revealed all of this to us in His Word. We can know what the good life is – for the Creator of all has revealed it to us and makes life understandable and meaningful as a result.

Despite the clarity of God’s revelation, however, we often spurn His revelation. Attempting to run our lives on our own sense of what is good and right, we find ourselves repeating the sin of our First Mother who, judging for herself, saw that the tree was pleasant to the eyes and desireable to eat, and so spurned the Word of God in favor of her own ideas.

Reminded of our failure to rely upon the Word of the Lord and our tendency to trust rather in our own wisdom and wit, let us kneel and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Contentment and Happiness

Philippians 4:10-13 (NKJV)
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

There is an ancient Roman proverb that states, “Who is it that has the most? Is it not he who desires the least?”

What Paul and this short proverb are endeavoring to communicate to us is that our contentment and happiness are directly proportionate to our expectations. We imagine that we need more, deserve more, are entitled to more and so we are not content with what we already possess. We set our expectations so high that they are never met and so we are never content. And our discontent reveals itself in a lack of thankfulness to others and to God. For thankfulness is an expression of contentment—an expression that the expectations we have set have been fulfilled and even exceeded.

These expectations come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes, as in the text before us in Philippians, they are monetary expectations. Paul had learned, he tells us, to be content both with prosperity and with poverty, both with being filled and going hungry, of having abundance and suffering need. As a result, he was able to give thanks regardless of his circumstances.

But our expectations can also be non-monetary. We can set unreasonable expectations upon our spouses, our employers and employees, our children, our friends—and so we never thank them for the meal on the table, for the folded towels in the closet, for the daily labor at the office, for the opportunity to work, for the work performed, or for the frequent sacrifices made on our behalf. It’s his or her job to do all those things, we say to ourselves, and so we never express thankfulness—never look at others with a twinkle in our eye and a full heart and say, “Thank you.” Our expectations are set so high that no one could ever possibly meet them. No circumstances, however favorable, could transpire to make us happy.

But this was not Paul’s situation. He tells us that he had learned the secret of being content. What is that secret? Paul came to understand that what is most important in life is not our circumstances but the God who has given these circumstances to us. Let us ask ourselves, when tempted to be discontent and unthankful – Is God sovereign? Is God in control of every event in our lives both good and bad? Has God orchestrated every moment of our past lives as He sees fit? Clearly the answers to these questions are, “Yes!” And since this is the case, what is our calling? Is it not to trust Him? To rest in His good providence and be overflowing with gratitude? As Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” True contentment comes not by having high expecations of our circumstances but by trusting the goodness of our Heavenly Father.

Reminded of our failure to trust the Lord in any and every circumstance and our failure to be thankful, let us kneel and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tremble, and Do not Sin

“Tremble, and do not sin;
Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And trust in the LORD.”
Psalm 4:4 – 5

The call of God upon us as His creatures is very simple and straightforward – he wants us to serve Him, not man; to trust in Him, not in created things; to love and cling to Him, not to the idols which we create with our own hands. As our Lord Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Each of us is called to make this most determinative and fundamental choice. And it is not a choice that admits of middle paths – there is no third option; no opportunity of pleading that we have been placed in a false dilemma. The dilemma is real; the antithesis stares us in the face; we must choose whom we shall serve. Who will be our God?

The challenge comes: who is your God? Have you given yourself to the gods of this age? To glamour, wealth, power, academic prestige, simplicity, health? Do you sit and worship at their feet?

Or have you given yourself to the Triune God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the fountain of true glamour, of lasting wealth, of real power, of profound wisdom, of unpretentious simplicity, of blessed health? Do you sit and worship at His feet?

It was here that David sat and notice the way he describes the calling of all men on earth:

Tremble, and do not sin; – Fear God, do anything except offend him, remember that our God is a consuming fire. Since sin is that which causes a separation between us and God – if he is our Lord then we must put away sin, we must forsake it to serve Him.

Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still – As one who fears God and not men, don’t let your thoughts go wild; be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and petition present your requests to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. If we meditate on the Word of God, if we let our thoughts race not on our own anxieties but on the Word then we shall be equipped to be still – and this is why our Lord Jesus follows up His remark that we cannot serve God and mammon with an exhortation not to be anxious.

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord – Serve the Lord with gladness of heart; rejoice in his precepts; delight in His law; pray; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Don’t succumb to the allurement of idols – many of them are carved quite cunningly, beautiful with their gold and silver accents – but remember that despite all their cunning beauty they cannot do anything for you.

So what is God’s call upon us as His creatures? David tells us:
“Tremble, and do not sin;
Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And trust in the LORD.”

Reminded of our failure to trust wholly in the Lord, let us kneel and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

The Leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod

In Mark 8, Jesus warns his disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. What exactly is Jesus warning them about? What is meant by their "leaven"?

To answer the question, Mark 8:1-21 must be viewed as a cohesive whole revolving around one basic issue: the nature of kingship and therefore the kingdom. The chapter begins with the feeding of the 4000, announcing in no uncertain terms that the way in which Jesus will manifest his reign among the Gentiles will be fundamentally the same as the way he does in Israel (recall the feeding of the 5000 in Israelite territory earlier). Jesus will rule by serving; He will gain by giving. You see, some might be able to get this with Israel. Sure, they might say, He’ll serve the people of God, He will serve in Israel. But surely with the nations He’ll put them in their place; surely He’ll spread His rule among them by force of conquest; He will squash them, this is what Messiah will do.

But Jesus says NO – I have come to serve, not to be served. I will extend My rule among the Gentiles, I will manifest My rule over the Gentiles, in the same way – by sacrificing and giving Myself for them. I will feed them; I will care for them.

It is in the context of this declaration that we come to the demand of the Pharisees in vv. 11-12. The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees has been intensifying throughout Mark’s Gospel. Here in our verses the Pharisees are once again testing Jesus. Mark is bringing us back to the issue of vindication. In the previous chapter the Pharisees endeavored to vindicate their authority to speak for God by pointing out that they observed the tradition of the elders, unlike Jesus. But this plan backfired. Jesus demonstrated that far from obeying Moses with their traditions, they were actually disobeying him, undermining the Word of God. Now Jesus returns from abroad and the Pharisees, in frustration, demand visible evidence of His authority. Can you prove that you speak for God? Show us some visible sign from heaven! Prove it! Show us!

What lies behind their demand is a false conception of Kingship – the King that we’re looking for will be dynamic, powerful, awe inspiring. He’ll be like (dare we say it and reveal their sin?), he will be like SAUL – tall, stately, kingly, powerful. So show us Jesus! Prove it.

But Jesus spurns their demand. Already, according to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Jesus has faced this temptation. Remember that in the wilderness temptation Satan took Jesus up to the top of the temple and declared, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here and the angels of God will protect you. You’ll get all the acclamations of the crowd! You’ll prove that you really are the Messiah!” And this is the temptation, the demand, that the Pharisees lay before Jesus now. “If you are the Messiah, if you really are the Son of God, then prove it! Prove that you’re the one with God’s approval; that you’re the spokesman for the true Israel. Manifest your power!”

But Jesus repudiates them and their notion of Kingship. No. No sign will be given to this generation. You’ll get nothing for which you are seeking because your eyes are so blinded that you can’t see all the signs that God has already been giving you! You foolish men! You read the signs of the seasons but you can’t even figure out what God is doing right now. Your misconceptions have so poisoned and blinded you that you can’t even figure out who I am. You fools!

And so Jesus in disgust leaves them abruptly. He goes back into the boat toward the other side of the lake, toward the city of Bethsaida. The last time Jesus was on the sea with the disciples, he was walking on the water, revealing to them His glory; but they were too dull to figure it out. They couldn’t see exactly what Jesus was doing.

In our text, we find that they are still dull of hearing. They don’t quite have it figured out yet. For Jesus tries to give them this warning about being like the Pharisees, and all they can think about is bread.

Jesus warns the disciples, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

The leaven of the Pharisees makes sense – we’ve just seen it have we not? But what of the leaven of Herod? Is it not fundamentally the same? We have seen that whatever differences the Pharisees and Herodians may have had with one another – and there were many – both were united in their opposition to Jesus (cf. 3:6). Why? Because for all their disagreements the Pharisees and Herodians were united in their conception of the Kingdom, or at least in their conception of Kingship. Kingship is a display of power, a show of force. Kingship subdues, conquers, destroys, overthrows. Jesus warns the disciples – beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herodians. This is not the nature of My Kingdom. The Pharisees and Herodians had the same basic vision – personal or national greatness at the expense of others. Jesus rejects such a program. “No! In me, as the Scripture says, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And this is a message the disciples themselves stood in dire need of learning. What does it mean to be the Messiah? What does it mean to be one of His disciples? It is this lesson that Jesus is forced to teach again and again and again in succeeding chapters (8:33; 9:33ff, 38ff; 10:13ff, 35ff).

What then can we learn from the passage before us today? What principles does Jesus give to guide us in our understanding of the nature of His Kingship and His rule?

First and foremost, note the whole point of this section: the Pharisees and Herodians had mixed up notions of Kingship. Herod was a cannibalistic king, building his kingdom on raw power. The Pharisees objected to Herod not because his notion of kingship was fundamentally askew but simply because they weren’t the one’s with the power and he was too accommodating to other nations. You see, Herod was a syncretist, the Pharisees separatists. Jesus rejects both of them. He gives an entirely new paradigm of Kingship – the King is one who serves and who gives his life for the benefit of his people. He truly is a public servant.

Jesus displays this in His ministry. He is no Saul. He is not stately, kingly, powerful in appearance. He is lowly. He is like David, a youth, not of remarkable appearance. He is a servant. And so God will raise Him up and exalt Him higher than any other name.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NKJV)
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Notice then that Jesus’ feeding of the 4000 undermines all attempts to carry out the Great Commission by force or cruelty. There is no Islamic jihad here. No spreading the faith of Christ with the sword. Jesus extends His rule by serving; he extends His rule by sacrificing; he extends His rule by giving.

And He calls us as His people to imitate Him, to live the same way, to manifest the same type of giving and sacrificing, to the end that the Nations might know, that peoples might come to understand the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Alfred the Great Academy

My friend Robin Phillips has recently opened a new website offering mentoring to homeschoolers in middle and high school years. Check it out:

Refined in a Furnace

8 Oh, bless our God, you peoples!
And make the voice of His praise to be heard,
9 Who keeps our soul among the living,
And does not allow our feet to be moved.
10 For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
11 You brought us into the net;
You laid affliction on our backs.
12 You have caused men to ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment. Ps 66:8-12

When trials come our way from whom do they come? Shall we curse some blind fate? Shall we lay the blame at the feet of our enemies? Shall we scorn our own folly?

The psalmist today reminds us that trials come upon us, ultimately, from the hand of our loving and personal God – our God who loves us and desires nothing more than to see us grow and prosper.

But why does God do this thing? Why does he bring trials our way? The psalmist provides us with a couple reasons. First, God wishes to refine us as silver is refined. “For You, O God, have tested us; you have refined us as silver is refined.” There is simply no way to get the impurities out of the precious metal silver without heating it up and burning them out. And there is no way to get the sin out of our lives without trials and struggles. Without them, we become slack and lazy, coddling our sin and thinking that truly we are upright people. It is only when God brings trials upon us that we throw ourselves at Jesus feet like Jairus when his daughter lay dying, and say, “Help me Lord!”

Second, He wishes to reveal to us how great His determination to bless us is. He wants to bring us through trial to an abundant and fruitful life. “I have come,” our Lord Jesus assured His disciples, “that you might have life and have it abundantly.” And so we go through fire and water, we get caught in the net, we have affliction laid upon our backs. Why? Because God is a masochist? No – because He delights to rescue us from our afflictions and demonstrate His great power. “You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” God delights to bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey. But we can’t get there without going through the Red Sea.

And so what should our response be to trials that come our way? Well listen to the voice of the psalmist: “Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, who keeps our soul among the living, and does not allow our feet to be moved.”

But what is our response instead? Is it not to grumble and complain? To curse the day we were born? To accuse our God?

Reminded of our failure to trust our Heavenly Father in the midst of our trials and hardships, let us kneel before Him and ask Him to forgive us and grant that we might be as silver refined in a furnace seven times.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Evangelism from God's Perspective

Jason Farley sent me the link to this video with the comment that this is evangelism from God's perspective. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mindless Repetition

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19

In confessional churches there is an ever present danger – the danger of mindless repetition. The prophets in Israel were stern in their rebukes of the people of God for failing to draw near to God in their hearts and substituting external ritual for an inward love for Him. “Woe to those who draw near to me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me.”

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. It is always good to remember why we do this, so consider just a few reasons:

1. Common confession is a fitting response of faith to God’s Word, a declaration of trust in the Sovereign Lord. As God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and in our churches more and more we need to confess--we trust in His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him. The creeds are an excellent way to express this faith--we trust Him.

2. In light of the massive syncretism in our culture, the recitation of creeds is a forceful way to declare whom we worship. We will not bow to America’s idol, some general theistic deity. Neither shall we worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the
universe. We will invoke the blessing of the Triune God and no other. We worship Him.

3. It enables us to verbalize our thankfulness to God for those who have gone before us. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield. When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to our forefathers. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us and we lay hold of it with everything we have. So we thank Him.
While remembering why we do this, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? For “believe” can be used in a variety of ways – as we see in our passage from James today: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.”

And so, how are we doing? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who calls you His own in the waters of baptism? Are you approaching worship each week in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely? Are you reciting the creed intelligently and faithfully or by rote? These are the questions that the different meanings of the word “believe” force us to ask. Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing their meaning.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sleeping and Waking

Psalm 3:1-6 (NKJV)
1 A Psalm of David When He Fled from Absalom His Son. Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. 2 Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.” Selah 3 But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. 4 I cried to the Lord with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah 5 I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me all around.

The text before us today was written by David when he was fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom. Few of us can imagine tasting the bitter fruit of a son who would become our personal enemy. The prospect is frightening and should cause us to be down on our knees, asking the Lord to spare us from such a fate.

You’ll notice that this is where we find David now – upon his knees, seeking help from God. His enemies have risen up against him – and O what a tragic set of enemies to have. David was in dire straits. Absalom had wooed the hearts of the sons of Israel away from David and managed to secure their affection for himself. He had the large army; he had the young and limber muscles; he had the loyalty of the people. David had little to nothing.

Ah, but David had the Lord. And so David comes before the Lord and seeks his assistance. My enemies have surrounded me, O Lord. Many are saying that my faith in you in the midst of this trial is folly. They are saying you won’t answer Me. And isn’t it the same for us? When we are in the midst of trial, do not our enemies – chief among them our own voices of doubt – scream to us, “There is no help for you in God!”

But notice what David declares in our psalm. “But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.” In the midst of the trial David takes refuge in the Lord. You Lord are a shield for me; when I lifted up my voice to You, You heard me. David turned to the Lord and trusted in Him, knowing that come what may the Lord was on His side.

And so notice the incredible peace that this trust in the Lord fostered in David’s life at the time. Here he was fleeeing from Absalom, his own son. His kingdom had been taken away; his glory diminished; his life threatened. And yet what does he say? “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” David was able – in the midst of personal and political disaster – to sleep and to awake in peace, for the Lord sustained him. Though David had little to no earthly comfort, he had the abiding presence of the Lord – and having the Lord was to have everything.

What an encouragement this text should be to us who are in the midst of personal or corporate trial. Need we lose sleep, so anxious and worried for the chain of events that we cannot keep our thoughts from racing? Or need we sleep all the time in order to forget what is before us and hide from the trials that confront us? David sets us a pattern and shows us that we need neither avoid sleep nor wallow in it – for the Lord Himself is our sustainer. If the Lord is for us, who can be against us?

Our confidence in the midst of trial is not in our circumstances. Our confidence in the midst of trial is not our own wisdom. Our confidence in trial is not in the kindness of our enemies. Our confidence in trial is not the certainty of a favorable outcome. Our confidence is in the Lord God, who sustains us, and promises to bless us – though ten thousands of people should set themselves against us round about.

And so, how are we doing? Are we trusting the Lord? When enemies rise up against us, are we despairing? Reminded of our failure to trust in the Lord when our enemies go on the attack, let us kneel and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Do not fret

"1 Do not fret because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
6 He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.”
Psalm 37:1-8

Within our current cultural climate it is easy to grow discouraged and to lose perspective. Whether it is the triumph of unprincipled and immoral men and women in politics, or the support of sinful behaviors in business, the compromise and corruption that have permeated the Church, the wholesale immorality in the entertainment industry, or the miserable failure of our judicial system to secure justice. We look around us at the growth of such wickedness and can be tempted to anger, anxiety, or envy.

David was no stranger to these temptations and addresses them in our psalm today by putting the momentary triumph of the wicked in its proper perspective. It is important for us as the people of God to pay very close attention to David’s words and learn from them how we ought to respond to the wickedness that surrounds us. Ought we to become angry? Ought we to be anxious? Ought we to envy their triumph?

David’s answer to each of these questions is a resounding, “No.” “Cease from anger,” he tells us, “and forsake wrath. Do not fret – it only causes harm.” Why is it that we are tempted to anger when we see the wicked triumphing? Why are we anxious? Is it because we see God’s name being defamed and have a sense of righteous indignation? Is it because we fear what they shall do when they get in power? Because their triumph just doesn’t seem right? Whatever the reason, David reminds us that no matter how great our indignation may, it does not compare with the righteous indignation our Lord Himself has. And so we are called to rest in the knowledge that the very God whose name is defamed, is the one who rules and orchestrates history and who shall cause every man to give an account for His idle words. God sees, brothers and sisters; He hears; He knows – and He tells us not to grow angry or anxious – they only cause harm. Trust Him; believe Him; look to Him.

But sometimes our response to the triumph of the wicked is neither anger nor anxiety, it is envy. Why is it that those wicked folks have that nice house? Why are they making all the good movies? Why do they have control of the paper? Why do they have the nice building? But David tells us, “Do not be envious of evildoers” because their lot really is not enviable. Verses 12 – 17 say:

12 The wicked plots against the just,
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
13 The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn the sword
And have bent their bow,
To cast down the poor and needy,
To slay those who are of upright conduct.
15 Their sword shall enter their own heart,
And their bows shall be broken.
16 A little that a righteous man has
Is better than the riches of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
But the LORD upholds the righteous.
Why then ought we to put away our anger, anxiety, and envy? Because, David reminds us, the triumph of the wicked is temporary. The wicked shall be cut down like the grass; their plans will not be victorious. They shall be destroyed. And so, what is the point of growing angry, anxious, or envious? God has so made the world and He so orchestrates history and eternity, that those who honor Him and His law will prosper while those who rebel against Him and spurn Him will perish. Our Lord Jesus Himself promised us, quoting from later in this very psalm, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Note that the promise is not that the meek shall inherit heaven – as true as this is – the promise is that the meek shall inherit the earth. The triumph of the wicked is temporary. Oh sure, it may last a while – perhaps even our lifetimes – but God shall win for He is Lord. And He calls us to trust Him in these times of history when His ways are being scorned; to trust in His sovereign ordering of history and that everything – even this momentary triumph of the wicked – shall abound the the glory of the Lord and the filling of the earth with the knowledge of Him. As Wycliffe once said, “Great is the truth, and it shall prevail.”

Reminded of our failure to trust less in God’s promises than in our own feeble assessment of our cultural situation, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and begin to fulfill His promises in our own lifetime.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Their Throat is an Open Grave

“7 But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;
In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.
8 Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness because of my enemies;
Make Your way straight before my face.
9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
Their inward part is destruction;
Their throat is an open tomb;
They flatter with their tongue.
10 Pronounce them guilty, O God!
Let them fall by their own counsels;
Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions,
For they have rebelled against You.”
Psalm 5:7 – 10

In the psalm before us today, David reminds us of the power of a deceitful tongue. Throughout his life, David faced the tragedy of those who used their tongues to promote their own selfish ends rather than to promote truth. Their tongues were not faithful and true, but twisted and false. And so David uses a remarkable metaphor to describe the nature of their speech. Their throat, he says, is an open grave. It awaits to consume innocent passers by. Any hapless victim will do. Let him but come near.

The mouth of the wicked is full of faithlessness. The wicked man makes a promise with his lips but does not follow through. “David, if ever you are in trouble, I will help you out. Don’t worry, I will never desert you. I am your faithful companion.”

But no sooner does trouble arise than these men have betrayed him. David turns to them for help but no help is forthcoming. They have deceived him. They have used their tongues not to promote faithfulness and truth but to promote their own advantage.

But note how vividly this contrasts with the example of our Savior Jesus! His words, though sometimes sharp and stinging, were always true, always concerned for the glory of God and the good of His hearers. He came as the servant of all. He did not come to be served, but to serve. And so His words were not spoken for His own good but for the good of others. He did not speak to achieve something for Himself but to describe in faithfulness the life of the man or woman with whom he was speaking.

And so what of us? How have we used our tongues? Are we speaking honestly with our neighbors, friends, and family when eternal questions arise? Are we seeking their good or our own comfort? I fear it is often the latter.

Children, brothers and sisters, how are you doing? Are you building one another up or tearing one another down? Are you looking for opportunities to help one another and encourage one another? Paul admonishes you, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

Those in authority – employers, parents, husbands - are you speaking the truth in love or are you flattering with your tongues? Are you avoiding speaking honestly with those committed to your charge while inwardly boiling with frustration and resentment? An honest answer, Solomon tells us, is like a kiss on the lips. Hard words make soft hearts. Be honest with those committed to your charge and entrust their response to the Lord.

Husbands and wives, are we ministering the Gospel of Christ to one another or laying burdens of guilt and bondage on one another? Are we not called to love and cherish one another? Has not Christ given us the immense privilege of picturing the beauty of redemption in our homes? Yet often our mouths are an open grave; we speak in spite to one another; we look for ways to tear down those closest to us. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

Reminded of our failure to speak faithful words, let us kneel and confess our sins in Christ’s name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.