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.