Monday, December 27, 2010

The Root of David

Isaiah 11:1-5 (NKJV)
1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 4 But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist.

Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NKJV)
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 6 In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Zechariah 6:12-13 (NKJV)
12 Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the Lord; 13 Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” ’

Luke 2:8-20 (NKJV)
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

The passages before us today from the prophets and from the Gospel of Luke share a common theme – the arrival of the Branch of the Line of David. The Tree of David was faltering, falling into sin repeatedly. In Isaiah the tree was diseased, in Jeremiah dying, in Zechariah nearly dead. So God promised a Branch who would be a planting from the original tree of Israel, the true fulfillment of all that which the dying tree of David’s royal line anticipated. It was Isaiah who first heard God’s promise of the Branch who would rule and reign in righteousness. He would not be like the false shepherds in Israel – looking out only for their personal interests, pursuing personal gain at the expense of the sheep. Rather, He would be filled with the Spirit of God, filled with wisdom, knowledge, and discretion – modeling the character of God Himself. But for the time being, Israel endured the darkness of kings like Manasseh and Amon.

Over a hundred years later, Jeremiah picked up on this promise. Disgusted like Isaiah with the selfishness and folly of the kings of Israel, he reminded his readers of God’s promise through Isaiah. One day God would raise up to David a Branch of righteousness. This king would reign and prosper, saving and protecting His people, upholding righteousness and purity in His person. But for the time being, Israel continued to endure the darkness of men like Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.

Over a hundred years later, Zechariah again returned to the promise. Told by God to set a kingly crown upon the head of the High Priest Jeshua, Zechariah announced that like David, the Branch would be a Temple builder. Zechariah announced, “He shall build the temple of the Lord; Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord.” But He would not merely build the Temple, He would serve in it, for He would be not only King but also Priest. That which King Uzziah was forbidden to do – to rule and reign not only as king but as high priest – this King would be able to do. “He shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne.” Why? Because He would not abuse the authority granted to Him but would rule and reign in righteousness and justice. As Zechariah insisted, “The counsel of peace shall be between the two offices.” But for the time being, the offices were divided and our fathers endured the darkness of Persian, Greek, Maccabbean, and Roman rule.

But then an angel spoke to some shepherds. The long-promised Branch of righteousness, the Shepherd of Israel, the One who would rule and reign in justice was to be born. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this was good news not just for Israel but for all people, all the nations of the earth, all the families of the earth. The light has come, the world will change. Then glory filled the sky, the light and life of the Messiah’s rule reflected in the voices and faces of the angelic hosts as they declared that the prophecies of Isaiah and of Jeremiah and of Zechariah were coming to fruition. Praise filled the sky as the angels marveled that the mercies of God would now extend to all the peoples of the earth. The light has come!

So what do these words mean for us? Just this: the darkness of the Judaic Age has come to an end. The Judaic Age – when God’s presence was by and large limited to the land of Israel, closeted behind the veil in the Holy of Holies – the Judaic Age has passed. Now the Age of the Messiah has come – all nations have been given to Him and so the Word of Truth, the light of life, is going forth to all the nations of the earth. The Spirit of God has been poured out on the Church and is now pouring forth from her into the world bringing life and salvation in His wake. God has begun to fulfill the promises He made long ago through the prophets. He has given a King to rule and reign in Justice; He has given a High Priest to minister in the Temple. And this King, this High Priest is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Branch from the Stem of Jesse.

It is this transition from darkness to light that we sung of just a moment ago. In the darkness of the ancient world, amidst the rot and decay of paganism, amidst the folly of apostate Judaism, came the Root and Branch of David.
Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half-spent was the night.

And from this Root, this Branch, planted by the hand of God, a great tree has grown which shall one day fill the entire earth.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

It is the planting of this Branch, the Branch of Righteousness, which we celebrate today. The light has come – let us feast! Our King sits upon His throne – let us rejoice! Our High Priest has offered up a perfect sacrifice on our behalf and offers up prayers and petitions for us continually – let us give thanks! And let us start even now. Let us pray together:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Your birth at Bethlehem
Draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth.
You have saved us, you have delivered us,
You have done far beyond anything we could ask or think.
Accept our heartfelt praise
As we worship you,
In harmony with the Father and the Spirit,
Our Savior and our eternal God.

Does God Love Us or Hate Us?

Proverbs 3:11-12 (NKJV)
11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor detest His correction; 12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

One of the great consolations that attends a deeper awareness of God’s sovereignty and control over all of life – over the good and the bad, the favorable and the unfavorable providences – is the knowledge that no matter what is happening God is in control. God is on His Holy Hill – He shall not be moved. He who causes the constellations to do His bidding shall even so cause the sons of men to go where He wills and do what He desires.

Solomon uses the knowledge of God’s exhaustive sovereignty to comfort his son, to remind his son how to respond to hard providences. He urges him, “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His corrections.” When hard providences come, don’t kick against the goads; don’t shake your fist at God; don’t be like Job’s wife, cursing God and dying.

Why not? Well here it is necessary to make an important distinction. For those who are in rebellion against God, who do not love Him nor desire to serve Him through Christ, the Scripture offers little comfort. As we read in Psalm 7, God is angry with the wicked every day. In so far as we are in rebellion against God, hard providences are not signs of God’s love and care but His judgment. Our response, therefore, ought not to be to comfort ourselves that this suffering has some purpose but rather to repent and acknowledge that we have failed to love and honor our Creator as we ought.

However, provided that our relationship to God is not one of “rebel to lawful Lord” but rather one of “son to father”, Solomon assures us that the hard providences we face are no longer a sign of His wrath and anger but His love. “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”

So what challenges are you facing? What hard providences? Here is Solomon’s word to you: God has you in that situation. Make no mistake about it – God is absolutely sovereign. This situation didn’t catch Him by surprise. He crafted this providence just for you. So the question is, did He craft it just for you because He loves you or because He hates you? That’s the question. Did God put this trial in your path because He loves you or because He hates you? If you are God’s child, trusting in Him through Christ our Lord, then the promise is that He has you there because He loves you. So our call is to trust that He knows exactly what He is doing and that He is orchestrating this for our good.

But we often respond to hard providences in unbelief, do we not? We imagine that we are victims of others’ folly; victims of unseen powers; even victims of our own folly. And no doubt God does sometimes use these means to bring us where we are. But make no mistake – God is the One who brought us here. Hence, the call to endure hard providences is a call to faith – to believe that the God who has given us this hard providence is our Father who loves us and has put this providence in our path for our good and not for our destruction. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, even as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Reminded that we often fail to trust God in the midst of our trials, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Pleading the Blood of Christ

Job 1:4-5 (NKJV)
4 And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly.

Several weeks ago we spoke about various things that separate the men from the boys – and one of the things we mentioned is that men take responsibility. They do not point the fingers at others. They do not make excuses. They avoid undue explanations. They take responsibility.

In our text today we observe Job doing this very thing. His children loved one another and so frequently enjoyed a good time feasting and drinking together, celebrating the goodness of God and His kindness in providing them with such largesse. But Job was fully aware that whenever one attempts to honor God in feasting, there are always pitfalls: tempers can flare, indiscretions can be committed, drunkenness can rear its ugly head, relationships can be strained. And so at the conclusion of the feast Job took responsibility for their condition, reminding them of their sacred obligations to serve the Lord and to honor Him, and pleading the blood of Christ on their behalf in the presence of God.

Pleading the blood of Christ? How did he do that? Well note that after the party Job not only sanctified his children – reminded them of their sacred duties and prayed for them – but he also offered burnt offerings “according to the number of them all.” He didn’t leave out any of his children but made a sacrifice for each of them.

So what did these sacrifices mean? In themselves, these sacrifices were worthless and empty. After all, how could the blood of an animal take away the sins of a man? The animal didn’t sin. Man did. We rebelled against God; we transgressed His law; we spurned His authority. The blood of bulls and goats could never truly take away sin and this is why, Hebrews tells us, these sacrifices were repeated again and again and again. Every sacrifice pointed beyond itself, declared the need for the true Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, pointed to our Lord Jesus Christ, the man who would offer Himself in our place.

Every time Job offered up an animal as a burnt offering for his children, this is what he was saying: “God, have mercy on my son ___________ and forgive his sin for I know that Your mercies are everlasting and that one day Your are going to send a Lamb who will truly take away all our sins. So have mercy on my son and forgive him.” This is what he said every time he offered up an animal; he plead the blood of Christ for his children.

So, husbands and fathers, have you plead the blood of Christ on behalf of your families? Plead with God to have mercy upon their sins even as He has had mercy on yours? This is part of what it means to take responsibility for them.

And children, I want you to notice this day the seriousness with which God takes sin. Sin is no light matter. The psalmist reminds us, “But there is forgiveness with You, O Lord, that you may be feared.” Forgiveness of our sin comes at a terrible price – a price that none of us, not one parent, not one child, not one friend, not a collection of them all – forgiveness comes at a price none of us could ever pay. But Jesus paid it. So children, how seriously are you taking your sin? Do you daily plead the blood of Christ for your own sin knowing that all our sin deserves the wrath of God? Do not treat sin lightly – it sent Jesus to the cross.

All these things remind us of our need to confess the seriousness of our sins and to plead the blood of Christ on our behalf. So let us kneel and confess to the Lord.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dominion Mandate

Here's what it means to be a shepherd! Thanks to Steve Turney for the heads up.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fear an Instrument in God's Hands

Deuteronomy 11:25 (NKJV)
25 No man shall be able to stand against you; the Lord your God will put the dread of you and the fear of you upon all the land where you tread, just as He has said to you.

The book of Deuteronomy has a lot to say about fear – fear of God, fear of men, fear of enemies, and even, as we see in our text today, fear of God’s people. God promises Israel as they are on the cusp of entering the promised land – trust in me, believe in Me, serve Me, fear Me, and I will cause your enemies to fear you and to fall before you.

We witness the fulfillment of this promise in the words of Rahab to the spies that Joshua sent to Jericho. Rahab informed the men that the terror of them had fallen upon the city and that the inhabitants were fainthearted because of them. We see God using fear to bless His people again in the book of Judges. Gideon, for example, sneaks into the enemy camp at night and there hears two soldiers speaking in fear of the way God had raised up Gideon as a deliverer. When we as God’s people fear Him, He grants success to our labors by causing dread to fall upon our enemies.

However, fear is not only an instrument that God uses to bless His people, it is also an instrument he uses to judge us. For if we fail to fear Him, fail to honor Him, to serve Him, to glorify Him, then He causes us to grow fearful of our enemies.
‘And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee; they shall flee as though fleeing from a sword, and they shall fall when no one pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. (Lev 26:36-37)

What we see, therefore, is that fear is a tool God uses – He is the one who instills the dread of others. Sometimes He uses it to bless His people – making others fear them to the advance of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, however, God uses fear to judge His people – making them fearful of others that they might be purified and learn to fear Him once again. Both types of fear come from the hand of God – one in blessing, the other in judgment.

So here’s the question: which are we experiencing? By and large, the people of God in America are afraid and our enemies are not. Unrighteousness is on the increase. The attacks on God’s rule are more and more strident. Why? Because the Living God, the One who rules and governs the affairs of men, is chastising His Church for her unfaithfulness. The problem, in other words, is not out there but in here. We haven’t feared God as we ought, we haven’t served the Lord as we ought, and so He has delivered us over to our fears. There is sin in the camp and so God is judging His people so that we will remember to fear Him, to honor Him, to serve Him.

So what is the solution? Confession, repentance, and faith. We must confess our fear, turn from our sins, and put our trust in the Lord, standing firm against our enemies knowing that the Lord is on our side and so we need not be afraid. So let us begin this morning by confessing our sins to the Lord together.

Church Calendar

Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)
17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Last week we insisted that as we enter into the Advent season, the beginning of the Christian calendar, it is imperative for us to remember the distinction between the Word of God and the traditions of men. But given that the observance of the Christian calendar is not a matter of necessity, why have our elders decided to emphasize it? Why have we decided, among the myriad of things that we could emphasize, to emphasize this? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Isn’t this perhaps putting an unnecessary stumbling block in front of God’s people? Aren’t we straining at gnats and swallowing camels?

As we consider these questions, I would like us to meditate on the meaning of calendars. What do calendars do? They measure time, they organize our lives, they shape us and mold us as creatures made in the image of God.

“Solomon reminds us that there is a season for all things. That is, that timing
is an important feature of wisdom. God tells us that the whole sky that we walk
under was created so that man could understand the season and timing of things.
Then God descended upon Sinai and gave Israel a calendar of holidays as part of
its heritage… which the gospel writer John shows pointed to Jesus. Even Jesus
himself tells us that he comes during an acceptable season. Seasons, timing,
memory. memorial, history, heritage, and holy days are all a central concern to
our God and concern for God’s people. For he divides times, and we are made in
that image.” (Troy Martin)

This centrality of time, the centrality of calendars, was made evident in the French Revolution. For one of the first things that the revolutionaries endeavored to accomplish was to change the calendar, to reorient it – not around the birth of Christ but around the beginning of the French Revolution since that was the most important thing in history.

So what does this all have to do with the Christian calendar? Consider for a moment what the Christian calendar does. First, it dates all things in history from the birth of Christ declaring in no uncertain terms that Jesus is the center of history. Second, it not only dates all things from Christ’s birth, it also orients the entire year around the life of Christ. Advent – awaiting his birth; Christmas – celebrating His birth; Epiphany – celebrating his revelation as Messiah to the Magi and in his baptism; Lent – remembering his suffering; Passion week – remembering his final week of challenge, betrayal, death, burial, and glorious resurrection; Ascension – celebrating his enthronement at God’s right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords; Pentecost – celebrating the outpouring of the Spirit by our Risen and Exalted Lord. Between Pentecost and Advent? Celebrating the work of Christ by the power of His Spirit throughout the course of history.

In other words, the Christian calendar is a reminder that “Christ marks our time, Christ marks our calendar. It is wisdom to know the season of things, and Christ is our wisdom, …” (TM)

Why is this important? Precisely this: our calendars always reflect the god we worship. In the ancient world, it was the lives and doings of the gods that structured time. In the Muslim world, it is the actions of Muhammed and the operations of the heavens that govern the world. In the Western world, a world that still clings to the vestiges of a Christian heritage but is now apostatizing, rejecting that heritage, what gods do we worship? We worship the god of self.
Our schedules are dominated by us. Our thoughts about time are filled with
thoughts about our own time, our own work, our own busy schedule. And should we ever have a holiday, we understand it only as a personal vacation. So today’s
exhortation is an invitation, to remember who marks your steps and determines
your times. You were bought with a price, you do not belong to yourself. Neither
does your time.
(Troy Martin)

So whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Reminded that we have failed to do so, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.

Traditions of Men

Matthew 15:1-6 (NKJV)
1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

The passage before us in Matthew is no doubt familiar, highlighting the tension between Jesus and the religious rulers of the day. As we see, one of the central controversies that divided Jesus and the Pharisees was the issue of authority: By what standard do we declare something to be right or wrong? Whose Word has the authority to bind the conscience and to direct the lives of God’s people? In our passage Jesus insists that in all things we must maintain a fundamental distinction between those things that are human traditions and those that are commandments of God. When we fail to make the distinction between these two things we inevitably run the danger, which the Pharisees failed to avoid, of substituting human traditions for the Word of God or of imagining that our own traditions have equal weight with the Word of God.

Traditions are not inherently bad. In fact, traditions are inevitable. They are one of those things that we cannot avoid. And when we try to avoid having traditions we simply end up with a new tradition – namely, not having traditions. Traditions are not the problem.

The problem arises when we don’t make a distinction between our traditions and God’s commands and we soon become incapable of differentiating them. This then leads us to the point where our traditions take precedence over the Word of God and we find ourselves incapable of seeing the way in which our traditions actually undermine the Word of God. This was the situation of the Pharisees. So much did they laud their traditions, that they could no longer see the way in which their traditions were making the Word of God of no effect – substituting spiritual sounding “This money is Corban, dedicated to God’s service” for the down to earth support of their parents who were in need and hungry.

This morning we have instituted a few changes in our liturgy. It is always good on such occasions to understand why we have done so. Among the various reasons one of the central ones is reinforcing the distinction between the Word of God and our traditions. We are firmly convinced that our basic order of worship is reflective of biblical principles laid out in the Old Testament sacrificial system. We are just as firmly convinced that the details of our worship, while also reflective of biblical principles, are nowhere absolutely commanded in the Word of God. They are our own local traditions – the methods by which we implement biblical principles. As a means of ruffling feathers and making sure that we don’t get so set in our ways that we imagine all the little details of our liturgy are found in Deuteronomy somewhere, we periodically change the liturgy.

And so, as we come into the presence of our Lord this day, let us remember to draw the distinction between the commandments of God and the traditions of men – and let us confess to our Lord that we have too often failed to make this distinction. We will have a time of silent prayer followed by our responsive confession.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baxter on Education

Richard Baxter, the great Puritan theologian, writes some incredibly trenchant comments about education in The Reformed Pastor, pp. 56-59 in The Banner of Truth edition:

"…He is like to be but a heartless preacher, that hath not the Christ and grace that he preacheth, in his heart. O that all our students in our universities would well consider this! What a poor business is it to themselves, to spend their time in acquiring some little knowledge of the works of God, and of some of those names which the divided tongues of the nations have imposed on them, and not to know God himself, nor exalt Him in their hearts, nor to be acquainted with that one renewing work that should make them happy! They do but ‘walk in a vain show,’ and spend their lives like dreaming men, while they busy their wits and tongues about abundance of names and notions, and are strangers to God and the life of saints. If ever God awaken them by his saving grace, they will have cogitations and employments so much more serious than their unsanctified studies and disputations, that they will confess they did but dream before. A world of business they make themselves about nothing, while they are willful strangers to the primitive, independent, necessary Being, who is all in all. Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied. We know little of the creature, till we know it as it stands related to the Creator: single letters, and syllables uncomposed are no better than nonsense. He who overlooketh him who is the ‘Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,’ and seeth not him in all who is the All of all, doth see nothing at all. All creatures, as such, are broken syllables; they signify nothing as separated from God. were they separated actually, they would cease to be, and the separation would be annihilation; and when we separate them in our fancies, we make nothing of them to ourselves. It is one thing to know the creatures of Aristotle, and another thin to know them as a Christian. None but a Christian can read one line of his Physics so as to understand it rightly. It is a high and excellent study, and of greater use than many apprehend; but it is the smallest part of it that Aristotle can teach us.

When man was made perfect, and placed in a perfect world, where all things were in perfect order, the whole creation was then man’s book, in which he was to read the nature and will of his great Creator. Every creature had the name of God so legibly engraven on it, that man might run and read it. he could not open his eyes, but he might see some image of God; but no where so fully and lively as in himself. It was, therefore, his work to study the whole volume of nature, but first and most to study himself. And if man had held on in this course, he would have continued and increased in the knowledge of God and himself; but when he would needs know and love the creature and himself in a way of separation from God, he lost the knowledge both of the creature and of the Creator, so far as it could beatify and was worth the name of knowledge; and instead of it, he hath got the unhappy knowledge which he affected, even the empty notions and fantastic knowledge of the creature and himself, as thus separated…; the duties which we owed to God as Creator have not ceased…. It is the work of Christ to bring us back to God, and to restore us to the perfection of holiness and obedience; and as he is the way to the Father, so faith in him is the way to our former employment and enjoyment of God. I hope you perceive what I am at in all this, namely, that to see God in his creatures, and to love him, and converse with him, was the employment of man in his upright state; that this is so far from ceasing to be our duty, that it is the work of Christ to bring us, by faith, back to it; and therefore the most holy men are the most excellent students of God’s works, and none but the holy can rightly study them or know them. ‘His works are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein;’ but not for themselves, but for him that made them. Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush, if it be not God that you seek after in them. to see and admire, to reverence and adore, to love and delight in God, as exhibited in his works – this is the true and only philosophy; the contrary is mere foolery, and is so called again and again by God himself. This is the sanctification of your studies, when they are devoted to God, and when he is the end, the object, and the life of them all.

And, therefore, I shall presume to tell you, by the way, that it is a grand error, and of dangerous consequence in Christian academies, (pardon the censure from one so unfit to pass it, seeing the necessity of the case commandeth it,) that they study the creature before the Redeemer, and set themselves to physics, and metaphysics, and mathematics, before they set themselves to theology; whereas, no man that hath not the vitals of theology, is capable of going beyond a fool in philosophy. Theology must lay the foundation, and lead the way of all our studies. If God must be searched after, in our search of the creature, (and we must affect no separated knowledge of them) then tutors must read God to their pupils in all; and divinity must be the beginning, the middle, the end, the life, the all, of their studies. Our physics and metaphysics must be reduced to theology; and nature must be read as one of God’s books, which is purposely written for the revelation of himself. The Holy Scripture is the easier book: when you have first learned from it God, and his will, as to the most necessary things, address yourselves to the study of his works, and read every creature as a Christian and a divine. If you see not yourselves, and all things, as living, and moving, and having being in God, you see nothing, whatever you think you see. If you perceive not, in your study of the creatures, that God is all, and in all, and that ‘of him and through him, and to him, are all things,’ you may think, perhaps, that you ‘know something; but you know nothing as you ought to know.’ Think not so basely of your physics, and of the works of God, as that they are only preparatory studies for boys. It is a most high and noble part of holiness, to search after, behold admire, and love the great Creator in all his works. how much have the saints of God been employed in this high and holy exercise."

Taking Responsibility

1 Corinthians 4:14-16 (NKJV)
14 I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

For the last several weeks we have insisted that one of the lessons which the men in the congregation have been given to teach the Church is stability. As the fathers of Israel, they are to be a source of consistency from one generation to the next, not blown about emotionally or doctrinally but holding fast to the traditions just as they have been taught in the Word of God.

Today Paul identifies another dimension of fatherhood – he was the father of the Corinthian congregation, the one who had started this congregation in Gentile territory. Consequently, he had a unique relationship with them. Because he was their father, not merely their teacher, he takes responsibility for them in a particular way. Consequently, we have two letters – both of considerable length – which Paul sent to this congregation, endeavoring to help them to grow in Christ.

So what principle of manhood is revealed here? What do fathers do? Quite simply, they take responsibility for those under their charge. While boys make excuses, men take responsibility. And this is precisely what Paul does for the Corinthians. He writes these extensive letters to them to warn them, to instruct them, to correct them because he bore responsibility for them.

So, men, how are we doing taking responsibility for those under our charge? Have we taken responsibility for the problems in our marriage? While not all the sins in the marriage may be ours, the responsibility for the state of the marriage is – and so we need to take responsibility and, like Paul, move our marriage toward greater Christ likeness. Have we taken responsibility for the problems in our children? While their sins are not our own, their growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ is our responsibility – we are to be shepherding them, directing them, correcting them, warning them, counseling them – the very thing that Paul is doing in our text, “as my beloved children, I warn you.”

And what of you others? Have you considered the weight that is upon the shoulders of your husband or your parents? And have you made that weight a joy or a burden? Wives, are you a crown of glory or a ball and chain?
• Better to dwell in the wilderness, Than with a contentious and angry woman. (Pr 21:19)
• Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. (Pr 31:10-11)

Children, are you a joy and delight, or are you a heartbreak and sorrow?
• He who begets a scoffer does so to his sorrow, And the father of a fool has no joy. (Pr 17:21)
• The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, And he who begets a wise child will delight in him. (Pr 23:24)

Reminded of the call that is upon us as men to take responsibility and as wives and children to make that responsibility a delight, let us kneel and confess that we have failed in our callings.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Let them ask their Husbands at home

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NKJV)
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

For the last two weeks we have observed that one of the lessons men teach the body of Christ is stability. Men provide a sense of continuity from one generation to the next, enable families, churches and communities to weather storms by holding to what is most important, and provide others with a firm sense of identity.

Our text today, in a way, emphasizes this same point and so I want to touch upon it for just a moment. While its message about the women in the congregation is one we will consider in the future, for now I would like you to note what this passage requires of the men in the congregation. In the context of delivering prophetic oracles and judging the oracles that are delivered, Paul urges the women to keep silent in the churches. They were not to exercise judgment over the other prophets since that would be exercising teaching authority over men in the Church – a thing that was contrary to God’s law. So what were these women to do? First, they were to keep silent – since the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets, they were to control their tongues and wait to speak. Second, when they got back home, they were to ask their husbands about the matter – or, presumably, if they were unmarried or widowed, to ask one of the elders outside the church assembly.

And what were their husbands to do? Their husbands were to teach them. And this, of course, assumes what? That their husbands were able to teach them – that they either knew the answer or were capable of getting the answer by asking someone who would know. Notice, therefore, the calling that Paul is placing upon the men in the congregation: we men need to be prepared to teach our families the Word of God. While we may not be the best theologian in town, we are called to be the resident theologian in our home. So we need to learn as best as we are able.

In last week’s sermon we read Ephesians 4 where Paul describes the function of leaders in the Church. Jesus has given leaders to the Church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting…” (Eph 4:11,13). For an analogous purpose, our text today reveals that God has given men to families – men to provide a sense of stability and ballast not only emotionally but doctrinally as well. Our goal as men is that our families not be blown about by every wind of doctrine but stable, able to hold fast to Christ in the midst of the storm.

So, men, what of us? Are we prepared? If not, then what do we need to do to get there? The high and holy calling of manhood is set here before us today. What a privilege to be entrusted with such a calling! Let us rise to it by the grace of God.

And the rest of us, have we given honor and respect to the men in our homes by listening to them, learning from them, and seeking their wisdom? Wives, in particular, have you sought your husband’s counsel? Few things will motivate him to grow more than a wife who loves, trusts, and honors him.

Knowing that we all have failed in this regard – we men have failed to be the resident theologians in our home, we have been lazy with the Word of God; we others have failed to respect the men in our homes and have instead nagged them, or bullied them, or ignored them; let us kneel and confess our sins to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Men and Stability

1 John 2:13 (NKJV)
13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

What is it that separates the men from the boys? This was the question we began to answer last week. What are the lessons that the men in the congregation have to teach us as the people of God?

Last week I remarked on the stability that men provide for family, for church, and for society at large. Men are to be the source of ballast so that come what may – come trials, come hardship, come joy, come sorrow – men provide a clear sense of direction, identity, being.

Today I would like to expand upon this by noting the title that John uses to identify men – “fathers.” The men in the congregation are the “fathers” of the Church. And note that this is not a new designation for the men among God’s people. After all, throughout the Old Testament God was in the business of fulfilling the promises He made to whom? To the “fathers” – to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it is on the basis of the covenants that God made with “the fathers” – the covenants with Abraham, with our fathers under Moses, and with David – that our Lord Jesus Christ took on human flesh for us. And so notice that throughout the many genealogical registers in Scripture – both Old Testament and New – the lists include successive generations of “fathers” who paved the way for the coming of Christ. While including special women here and there, the individuals that provide the sense of stability and continuity with the past are the men.

In other words, as important and indispensible as mothers are, it is through fathers that the history of Israel passed; it was to the fathers that God was faithful; and it is men whom God now calls “fathers” in the Church – fathers whom we are to respect and honor as the source of stability and strength for the Church.

So men have you reckoned with your high calling? Whether or not you are an earthly father, you are a father in Israel. God has called you to be a source of stability and strength in Israel and by means of you is going to pass the faith on to future generations who will look back and number you among “their fathers.” And so, as any good father, our obligation is to lead the way in devotion to the Lord and to His bride, the Church. We should be enthusiastic for worship, zealous for singing the psalms, eager to hear the Word of God, hungry to come to the Supper each week. But if your experience growing up was like mine then it was just the opposite. The women were the spiritual ones; the men abdicated. This ought not to be. We have an obligation to exemplify before the congregation what truly matters, what is worthy of all acceptance. We are to be examples to the flock, to so exemplify the love of Christ for His bride, the Church, that all God’s people be zealous for Her glory and growth to the praise of Christ Himself.

Others – including children, young men, young women, older women – have you shown the fathers in the faith due honor and respect? Our God calls us to “honor our father and our mother” and this includes respecting the men in the congregation generally by expecting of them all that God does. Remind them of God’s calling on them and be encouraged by them to pass the faith on to future generations.

Reminded that we have often despised our fathers in the faith, that we have considered their wisdom passé, that we have rejected their counsel in favor of our own, that we have scorned the gift God has given us in men, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Separating the Men from the Boys

1 John 2:12-14 (NKJV)
12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one.

What is it that separates the men from the boys? This is the question my Omnibus IV students recently had to consider. And their consideration of that question prompted me to return to my series of exhortations on the lessons which we learn from the different groups of people in the church – infants, children, young men, young women, and now men – not young men, not older men, but just plain men – so what is it that separates the men from the boys?

We realize at the outset, of course, that in some senses this is no longer a question of simple age. Many boys become men when in their teens. And many “grown-up” men continue to be boys when they should have left boyhood behind long ago. Manhood is more a matter of character than it is a biological state. So the words we speak will help us identify what it means to be a man and the lessons men can teach the body of Christ.

Among the answers that the students gave there were a few that repeatedly appeared. The first was stability. Men are stable. Having left behind the rashness of youth; frequently having assumed the responsibility for a family; men are called upon to be a rock of steadiness in a stormy sea.

Steadiness is the subject of John’s commendation in our text today. Note that John writes to three distinct groups in the congregation – little children, young men, and fathers. He gives two exhortations to each of these groups. While his exhortations to little children and to young men vary each time, his exhortations to the fathers are identical both times. “I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.” The consistency of the exhortation reveals that John too saw the men in the congregation as the source of stability and strength for the congregation.

What is it that has troubled Christendom in the West for over a hundred years? Is it not the absence of men? And so, lacking a clear sense of spiritual stability and identity, each new generation has pined for some new fad, some new experience, some new source of strength. This same thing has been happening in our families. While mom typically provides the warmth and color for the home, dad provides a clear sense of stability and identity. Dad identifies, “This is who we are. This is what it means to be a member of this family.” But just as men have been absent from church, dads have been AWOL from the family.

So what is it that enables a man to be stable? Here we must note what John writes. “I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.” The source of a man’s stability is not to lie in anything in himself; it is not to lie in his “macho-ness”; it is not to lie in his personal strength – for all these things can change in a moment. Rather, the source of a man’s stability lies in God Himself – the One who is truly stable, who does not change, shift, or move – and it is for this reason that men are privileged to share the name father with the First Person of the Godhead.

So, brothers and sisters, are we learning from the men in our midst the importance of entrusting ourselves whole and entire to the loving arms of our Heavenly Father who is our Rock, our Fortress, the One who grants stability to our lives in the most trying times? Have we learned from them to have a clear sense of center, a clear sense of identity that is rooted in Christ Himself and that does not change when trials come. I am a Christian. I am a servant of Jesus. This will never change. I fear that we have neglected to learn this lesson. How often we are unstable, unsure, and driven about by the wind and the waves. So let us kneel and let us confess our sin to the Lord.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Son of Encouragement

“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Acts 4:36-37

Humans are born faultfinders--slicing and dicing God’s law either to excuse behavior we’d like to engage in ourselves or to condemn things we don’t want others to enjoy. Rare is the man who is so thankful for the gifts of God to him, so awed by the mercy which gives him life and breath each day, so grateful for what God has given him rather than jealous for what He has not, that he loves God’s law, delights in God’s people, and is quick to let them know it.

Joseph, known by his cognomen Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, was one such man. Thankfulness and generosity bubbled out of him. Bump him and joy and gratitude spilled on the floor. And it is this gratitude which we see today – selling a piece of land and donating the proceeds to the work of the Gospel. But this is not an isolated incident – as his name indicates. We see it again later in Acts when Barnabas and Paul cannot agree what to do with John Mark who had deserted them during the course of their first missionary journey. Paul refuses to take him; Barnabas refuses to go without him. And so he and Paul part company--but it is Paul who later acknowledges the blessing of Mark’s ministry. Paul had left him; but Barnabas stuck with Mark and encouraged him and so today we possess the Gospel of Mark. Such was the power of Son of Encouragement’s ministry.

And so, beloved, let me ask you today--have you been a Barnabas this week? Have you been so filled with thankfulness and gratitude that you have seen very little to complain about and much to encourage? Have you looked at the world with the eyes of faith, knowing that if God can save you from the kingdom of darkness then there is nothing that He cannot do?

Husbands and wives, have you praised your spouse this week for all the little things they do for you? Have you shown them how much you delight in them? Parents, have you praised your children as much or more than you have corrected them? Do you look for things to praise or things to critique? Employees, have you encouraged your employers by letting them know how grateful you are for your position? Children, have you thanked your parents for their love and their willingness to bring you up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Siblings, have you spent the week praising the gifts that God has given you in your brother or sister?

Listen, beloved, it is easy to criticize. We are, as I said, born faultfinders. There will always be room for improvement. But Barnabas understood as I think few of us do that the best way to accomplish the improvement is to lavish praise on even the smallest deeds done in faith.

So let us bow before our God, acknowledge our critical natures, and petition Him to forgive us through Christ and to make us all into sons and daughters of encouragement. Let us kneel together.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Woe to the Prophets

“Thus says Yahweh concerning the prophets
Who lead my people astray;
When they have something to bite with their teeth,
They cry, ‘Peace,’
But against him who puts nothing in their mouths
They declare holy war.
Therefore it will be night for you—without vision,
And darkness for you—without divination,
The sun will go down on the prophets,
And the day will become dark over them.
The seers will be ashamed
And the diviners will be embarrassed.
Indeed, they will all cover their mouths
Because there is no answer from God.”
Micah 3:5-7

The passage before us today is a stinging condemnation of the prophets in Israel. Entrusted with the sacred office of the ministry, these men had spurned God’s law and invented their own maxims and sayings. For the sake of a meal, they were willing to sell their goods to interested shoppers. But for those who failed to offer the required payment, judgment was severe. Jihad was nothing compared to the wrath of these offended prophets.

The prophetic office in Israel was, in many respects, similar to the office of the ministry in the church today. There were schools of prophets—seminaries—where these folks were trained in their duties. They were to be schooled in the Word of God; equipped to lead the people in righteousness; enabled to counsel God’s people when in trouble; rebuke them when in sin; chastise them when impenitent. They were to be prepared to apply the Word of God to all of life.

Alas, not all good intentions manifest themselves in actual performance. The schools had become corrupt. Many of the prophets were charlatans. They pretended to speak for God but they really spoke for themselves. These schools equipped them not to minister the Word but to undermine it. They comforted when they should have condemned; they compromised when they should have stood fast; they remained immovable when they should have bowed in repentance. They were prophets of the worst kind.

So what of today? What would Micah say to our prophets? What is it that pours forth from many of the pulpits in America? Is it the rich milk of the Word of God? Rarely. Frequently it is the curdled remains of week-old, luke-warm milk. The Word of God is set aside in favor of the traditions of men. “What? Those old-fashioned ideas? No one believes them any more. We are too sophisticated.” So we sanction vice; we distort the Word of God to suit our fancies; and we do it all for a buck.

And so God comes—God who is not mocked, the same God Micah served—and He steals their wisdom, undermines their influence, depletes their churches, robs their treasuries. The very thing that is happening in historic churches that have abandoned the truth. And they ask, what has happened? Micah tells us. The day has become dark over them; they shall be ashamed and embarrassed; they shall be destroyed.

“Amen!” we say to all this. Praise God our pulpit is different. Aye, do praise God but also fear. The churches whose prophets now spew forth such filth once drank from the clear and living stream of the Word of God; they once were filled with loathing at those churches which in their day had drifted from Scripture. And so what is to keep us from drifting down the same course?

First, we must give ear to the Word of God. The word of God is our life, our salvation, our hope. Whatever you must do, get to the Word of God. Demand that the preaching cling to the Word; devote time to personal study of the Word; saturate your families with the Word. If we are faithful to receive His Word—all of it, all the time—then He shall bless us for it.

Second, plead with God on behalf of this church. Only He can avert the shift to ungodliness and keep us in His paths. Only he can prevent our prophets from giving ear to idle tales. Only He can grant us wisdom to press into the future. And so pray.

This reminds us that we often fail to listen to the Word of God and to beseech Him to protect and defend His Church. Our ears are often closed; our mouths fail to speak. Let us then draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our sins and forgive us for the sake of Christ.

Givers and Graspers

“Many will seek the favor of a generous man, and every man is friend to him who gives gifts. All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends abandon him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone.”
Proverbs 19:6,7

Friendship is a precious commodity. Unfortunately we seldom give sufficient attention to those things which make friendships grow and blossom. The text before us today devotes this attention. And, with Solomon’s characteristic pith, he packs a mouthful into very short space.

The text contrasts two types of men—the one who is generous and the one who is grasping. The former is a man of many friends; the latter of many enemies—indeed even his brothers turn against him. We, of course, would prefer to have some friends as opposed to none and so let us consider this passage for a moment.

Who is this generous man? We are told that he is one who “gives gifts” and one from whom people “seek favors.” We are accustomed to think of these gifts in purely monetary terms. However, the text embraces no such limitation. The generous man is just that—generous, open-handed. He gives of himself; he gives of his time; he gives of his resources. In sum, he sacrifices his own desires to bless others. Consequently, he has many friends. When his co-worker asks him for help, he agrees. When his children ask him to read to them, he reads. If you are a generous child, you do chores for your brother or sister, you ask your mom or dad how you can help them around the house, you clean your room without being asked. The generous man gives—he is always looking for those in need not thinking how much he needs himself. And isn’t this truly the secret of friendship—to be a friend to others rather than to expect that others will be a friend to you?

Now contrast the generous man with the grasping man. “All the brothers of a poor man hate him; how much more do his friends abandon him.” Because Solomon is contrasting this poor man with a generous man, it is highly unlikely that Solomon is thinking solely of a man who is poor monetarily. Rather he is describing one whose poverty taints all his relationships. Th type of poor man Solomon describes is a grasper; he always wants more, always needs more. He is like a leech, never satisfied, ever consuming. He never seems to have enough. He is a bottomless pit. You can give him your fortune; he will still be poor. You can give him your time; he will demand more. You can do him a favor; he will expect another. Whereas the motto of the generous man is “My life for yours,” the motto of the grasping man is, “Your life for mine.” And so husbands and wives make demands of one another and grow embittered because their spouse just isn’t meeting their needs; girls demand that their friends spend more time with them or they won’t speak to them anymore; fathers neglect their families in order to have “time away” by themselves; children refuse to say “thank you” for their dinner. And all these actions, all these actions of the grasping man, estrange friends.

And so let me ask some questions. Do you wonder why your children seem distant? Wonder why your husband doesn’t want to talk as much? Wonder why your siblings can’t seem to get along with you? Wonder why you don’t have any friends? Let me suggest that the reason these things are happening is because you are grasping not giving. Covenant today to turn from your grasping self-centeredness and to become a generous man like our Lord Jesus Christ. The first part of this covenant is confessing to the Lord that we have been graspers. So let us kneel and let us confess our sin to the Lord.

Forgiveness is a Gift

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Philippians 3:7-9

Humans are goal driven, hope driven creatures. Apart from some inherent belief that the future has some meaning, some purpose, our lives reduce to despair. The text today gives us a glimpse of the hope that Paul had for the future.

His hunger and thirst was to be found, in the last day, standing before God not in his own righteousness but only in the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. He counted all his labors rubbish – all the works of righteousness, all the prayers, all the kindnesses – he counted them all rubbish that he might gain Christ and be found in Him. He sold all that he had in order that he might buy the Pearl of Great Price.

Note that Paul’s hunger has both a negative and a positive dimension. On the negative side, when Paul appears before the judgment seat of God, he does not want to arrive there in his own strength or on the basis of his own performance. He does not want to appear before God and have God weigh his good and bad deeds. For were he to be weighed in the balance on the basis of his own deeds of righteousness, he knows that even like Belthashazzar he would be found wanting. He knew that were he to come before the throne of God on his own, he would perish. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags in the presence of the Lord.

But note that Paul did have hope, did have ambition. His hope, his burning desire, was to appear before the judgment seat on the last day, clothed not in his own righteousness but rather clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He wanted to come into the presence of God and say to His Sovereign Lord, “Lord, I know that I have failed to do all that which I ought to have done. I know that I have done that which I ought not. But receive me, O Lord, not for what I have done but for that which Your Son has done for me. I have trusted Him, believed Him, had faith in Him that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So receive me for Christ’s sake.”

Paul’s goal throughout his life was to avoid the folly of coming to rely upon his own righteousness, his own deeds. His goal was to rely wholly and completely on the righteousness of Christ. So even when Paul began striving, laboring, pressing ahead for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus; even when he had it as his ambition to glorify God through Jesus Christ, He was doing this in faith – knowing that none of his striving, none of his laboring, none of his pressing ahead or ambition to glorify the Lord could ever earn forgiveness with God. Forgiveness was and ever would be a gift – and Paul’s ambition, Paul’s goal for his life, was never to forget that.

So what of us? Have we remembered that forgiveness is a gift, a free gift of God offered through Christ? Have we lived in the freedom and joy that this produces? There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Or have we instead begun to act as though our acceptance with God is conditional on our own performance, our own righteousness? Having begun by faith, are we striving, like the Galatians, to be completed by works? Then let us confess our folly to our Lord, asking Him to forgive us for despising the sacrifice of Christ and imagining that we could somehow earn His favor. Let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Remember Saul

“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.’”
1 Samuel 15:24

Our vision of kings is of men who held absolute power—men like Henry VIII in England or Louis XIV in France—men whose word was law. But most kings have been far less powerful; their thrones have been far more precarious. In England during the late Middle Ages, for instance, Henry of Huntingdon tells us that of a total of 36 kings, four died natural deaths.

This is important for us to understand when we come to the text before us today. We are accustomed to discount Saul’s excuse of “fearing the people” as special pleading. “Feared the people,” we cry in disbelief. But he was the king! He could do what he wanted!

But here we betray our misunderstanding. Saul’s excuse was very likely legitimate. After all in destroying the cattle, sheep, and oxen of the Amalekites, Saul was in effect piling up treasury notes and setting them aflame. Not the sort of activity most people will sit around and watch—“Here,” they cried, “is wealth right before our eyes; who is this man to get in the way? Give us the animals or we’ll soon remove you from kingship just as fast as we raised you to it.” Saul was afraid.

But note—Saul was also the king. He had been appointed by God as the leader not the follower. He was to do what God had told him to do—regardless what others might think or do. Saul was given a task—he was to complete it or die trying. But Saul didn’t. He caved in to the people and preserved the best of the spoil. And when confronted about his sin Saul made excuses. He did not come forth in true manliness and take complete reponsibility for his sin. Rather, he tried to make his sin appear less heinous than it was. “I know I sinned,” he said, “but the people made me do it.” It wasn’t really my fault. Forgive me please.

And how does God respond to Saul’s method of repentance? With pity and forgiveness? No, with scorn and judgment. Saul loses the kingdom and falls into madness.

And so let me ask you, what excuses have you been making to God this week for failing to do your duty—for failing to do what God has so clearly called you to do?

Christian, what excuses have you offered for failing to feed yourselves on the Word of the Lord and seek Him in prayer? I don’t have enough time; God knows I love him. Remember Saul.

Husbands and fathers, what excuses have you offered for being unloving and short tempered? For snapping at your children and failing to lead your families? I had a long day at work; my head hurts; my boss treated me unfairly; my children don’t want to have family worship. Remember Saul.

Wives and mothers, what excuses have you offered this week for failing to submit to your husbands? For criticizing them and gossiping to your neighbor? He just isn’t like Sally’s husband; I have a right to vent; I just need to ask for prayer. Remember Saul.

Young men, what excuses have you made for disobeying your parents? For speaking back to them? For letting your eyes linger too long on lovely young ladies? My parents just don’t understand me; I have a right to express my feelings; I was just admiring her beauty. Remember Saul.

Young women, what excuses have you made this week for manipulating your friends and family? For whining and complaining? For flaunting your charms and seducing young men? I’m simply letting my family know what I need; I’m not complaining just persuading; I may never be married if I don’t advertise myself. Remember Saul.

When we come to God all excuses are vain. God sees beyond our shallow repentance; He knows why we do what we do and when we are truly sorry. This was the difference between Saul and David. Both sinned grievously. The difference is that Saul made excuses to Samuel—I have sinned but the people made me do it—while David stopped with the first three words—I have sinned. David made no excuses and God forgave the guilt of his sin. As we come before the Lord today let us confess to him our sin—and put aside all temptations to make excuses. Let us kneel together as we do so.

Who Has the Most?

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:10-13

While I was out of the pulpit Bob delivered a couple of exhortations on contentment. Today I would like to follow up on that theme and make a couple observations from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. There is an ancient Roman proverb that I have mentioned in our assembly before. It 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, they are monetary in nature. 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—including ourselves—could ever possibly meet them. We demand of others what we would never demand of ourselves. Consequently, no circumstances however favorable could conspire 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?” If the answer to these questions is “yes” – and it is – then should we not trust Him? Should we not 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 in the goodness of our Heavenly Father who has given our circumstances to us.

So let me take a moment to express my gratitude for you as a congregation. The time that you gave me away to travel through Oregon down to the Redwood Forest was delightful. The time to read, to think, to pray – to be released from the need to develop a new sermon each week – this time was refreshing. So thank you. Thank you as well for your love for the Lord, your love for His Word, your desire to grow and to prosper, your willingness to listen to the Word of God preached even when I preach too long. Thank you – you are a blessing.

Yet how often am I tempted, how often are we tempted, rather than giving thanks for one another, rather than being content, to grumble and complain about what God has put in front of us. 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, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

Young Women, Beware Vanity

Isaiah 3:16-17 (NKJV)
16 Moreover the Lord says: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, And walk with outstretched necks And wanton eyes, Walking and mincing as they go, Making a jingling with their feet, 17 Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, And the Lord will uncover their secret parts.”

Today we come back and close out the series of exhortations on the lessons taught to us by the young women in our midst. Tragically, as we see in our text, not all the lessons which young women teach are positive. There are particular sins to which young women are prone – and these sins which show up so strongly in young women are sins by which all of us to a greater or lesser degree are tempted.

As we observed a few weeks ago, young women are lovers of beauty – and this love of beauty is a good thing. God has placed in young women an appreciation of fine clothes and jewelry. Accentuating beauty is a good thing.

However, a young woman’s love for beauty can frequently degenerate into the idolization of beauty, into vanity, and it is this sin which our Lord so vividly condemns in the passage before us, a sin which permeates our broader culture – a culture whose women are loose and immodest, vain and self-centered. So listen again:

“Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, And walk with outstretched necks And wanton eyes, Walking and mincing as they go, Making a jingling with their feet, 17 Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, And the Lord will uncover their secret parts.”

As one reads Isaiah one’s mind can’t help but be filled with visions of Hollywood celebrities, Cosmopolitan models, and the beaches of Coeur d’Alene. And note that God’s judgment on this vanity is harsh. To those women who made their beauty their idol and were were intent to show off their goods to the men around them God declares, “I will give you scabs in place of beauty and I will cause you to reveal everything to the passers by.” God’s judgments are always proportionate.

But note that the true tragedy of the prophet’s words is that he is not exhorting the daughters of Canaan but the daughters of Zion. The culture of the Canaanites had become the culture of the Kingdom of God. Rather than be a light to the world, the daughters of Zion had become a mere reflection of the world, mimicking the vanity of the world. Tragically, it is often the same today.

So, young women, beware vanity. It is a sin which our Lord hates and for which we as a people can only expect judgment. Don’t be like the daughters of Canaan – proud, strutting, immodest, offensive, catty, self-centered; rather be daughters of Sarah – chaste, discreet, modest, wise, shrewd, joyful, thankful, humble.

Likewise, all of us must beware the lure of vanity. In our culture, image is everything. We must keep up with the Joneses. We must have the newest, the greatest, the best. We must appear important. God hates this vanity and will judge it.

Reminded of this, let us kneel and confess that we are a vain people, concerned more for image than for substance of character.

All the Earth Shall Worship God

1 Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!
2 Sing out the honor of His name;
Make His praise glorious.
3 Say to God,
“How awesome are Your works!
Through the greatness of Your power
Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.
4 All the earth shall worship You
And sing praises to You;
They shall sing praises to Your name.” Selah
Psalm 66:1-4

When we look toward the future, what do we expect? And how does our expectation shape the decisions and investments which we are making with our time today?

For the last 100 years, the predominant Christian view of the future is what we might classify as pessimistic. It is believed that we are living in the last generation before Christ’s bodily return, that the world is destined to get worse and worse prior to His return, and that there is nothing Christians can, or even should, do to reverse this trend. Indeed, to attempt to reverse the trend would be to postpone the imminent return of our Lord, something no thinking believer should want to do.

The results of this particular vision of the future for the history of our nation have been deadly. Christians retreated from cultural involvement, downplayed the importance of future generations, and prepared for the rapture. The results of this retreat have been tragic. Violent crime has mushroomed, educational standards have plummeted as ignorance has spread, church buildings have been designed for utility as opposed to beauty, Christian kids have been abandoning the faith in droves. America has become, in many respects, an ugly place. And much of this is a result of the church’s view of the future.

How does this pessimistic view of the future mesh with David’s view in the psalm before us today? It is the exact opposite. Notice that David describes his anticipation for the future like this:

“Through the greatness of Your power God
Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.
All the earth shall worship You
And sing praises to You;
They shall sing praises to Your name.”

In light of the power of God, David sees the future full of the worship of God, full of the knowledge of God, full of the praise of God. All the earth shall worship, all shall sing praises, even the enemies of God shall submit themselves to Him. Why? Because God is Almighty.

How does this vision of the future shape David’s exhortations in this passage? For notice that David is issuing a series of commands. Listen again:
Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honor of His name;
Make His praise glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are Your works!

Notice that David is summoning the nations – make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! David calls upon all creation to worship and serve the Lord; to join him as he praises God for His might and power.

This is the same summons we make every Lord’s Day. As we come into God’s presence and sing His praises, we are invoking the nations to come and to join us: smell the fragrant aroma, behold the goodness of God, come see the glory of our King and join us in praising Him. And this praise, which starts here each Lord’s Day, is to eek out of here and make its way into our lives during the week so that folks can’t help but declare – how good and how pleasant it must be to know the Lord.

This morning, then, as we enter the presence of the Lord let us consider the exhortations that David gives us:
• We are to sing – don’t mumble, learn psalms as quick as can
• We are to sing joyfully – Make a joyful shout to the Lord
• We are to sing loudly – Make a joyful shout, sing out His Name
• We are to sing beautifully – make His praise glorious

And so let us fill this building with the praise of God – but let us begin by seeking His forgiveness for failing to live now in light of the glorious future that He has promised – let us kneel and confess our pessimism and doubt to Him.

Remember Jesus Christ

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.” 2 Tim 2:8,9

The text before us today issues a very clear imperative to the people of God; we are to “remember Jesus Christ.” So what does it mean to remember Him?

First, we are to remember who the Lord Jesus Christ is. To remember Christ is not simply to worship some figure named Jesus but to worship the Jesus who actually manifested himself in history and revealed himself to the Apostles. The Jesus we are to remember is “risen from the dead, [a] descendant of David, according to my Gospel.” We are to remember the Apostolic, the historical Jesus.

To remember Jesus in this way requires not only that we embrace the Christ revealed to us by the Apostles, but that we repudiate every notion of Christ which does not harmonize with the real Jesus. We do not have the freedom to worship a Jesus of our own imagining. So we are called upon to repudiate the Jesus of liberalism—who is no more than a jaded image of the liberals themselves rather than the eternal Son of God. We are to castigate the Jesus of Arianism (the Jehovah’s Witnesses), who is the first creation of God, not God Himself clothed in human flesh. We are to reject the Jesus of Mormonism—who is the illegitimate offspring of a philandering father, not the High and Holy One of Scriptural revelation.

It is to remember Jesus Christ, declaring our trust in the historical Jesus and renouncing heretical ones, that we corporately confess the creeds every Lord’s Day. The Nicene Creed, which we are currently reciting, was composed to exalt the Christ of the Apostles and to repudiate other notions. With it we declare our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ of history—manifested for us, crucified for us, risen for us, ascended for us, coming in judgment for us. Every Lord’s Day we have the immense privilege to remember Jesus Christ as we recite these words.

So, how are we remembering Him? Are we reciting the creed with joy, gladness and confidence or are we mumbling the words, caring little for the truths encapsulated in them? Are we giving our attention to understanding the words written or are we content to think about the weather outside in the midst of our recital? For to remember Jesus Christ is not simply to know who He is but to worship, serve, love, and adore Him. It is to follow Him no matter the cost.

Paul’s exhortation, therefore, reminds us that we often fail to remember our Lord Jesus Christ as we ought. So let us kneel and let us confess our sin to the Lord.

Hardening our Hearts

Psalm 95:7-11 (NKJV)
7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice: 8 “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 When your fathers tested Me; They tried Me, though they saw My work. 10 For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

When we hear the Word of God week by week the danger always arises that it begin to seem humdrum – just one more voice in the mass of noise. This is particularly true in our day – technology has made it nigh impossible to escape the drone of voices. Just yesterday I was at Killarney Lake, in the midst of God’s beauty, hearing the musica mundi –the music of the world – when a speed boat came by blasting the latest sounds from its speakers. The voice of God begins to sound like just one more voice in the crowd.

This morning we are warned against this very type of problem, against hardening our hearts to the Word of God. Today if you hear His voice – which we all do in the reading and preaching of His Word – do not harden your hearts. Cultivate an ear to hear and heed what God has to say.

What does it mean to harden our hearts? Notice the parallel that we are given to define hardening our hearts. We are reminded of a story – the story of our fathers at Meribah in the desert. What happened on this occasion? How can this help us to understand what it means to harden the heart? Notice that our Lord makes the story particularly clear by noting that “your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work.”

What then was the sin of our fathers? You know the story. God rescued them from Egypt by an outstretched arm. He sent plagues on Egypt, granted our fathers favor with the Egyptians in the midst of these plagues, and then brought them out of the land. When they were in danger of destruction at the hand of Pharaoh’s army, God parted the waters of the Red Sea and let our fathers pass through on dry land while swallowing up Pharaoh’s chariots in the sea. An astounding act of God’s power and mercy! And yet, and yet, within a short time the people of Israel began to grumble, began to complain, began to long to return to Egypt. Why? Because the harsh reality of wandering through the wilderness drove from their minds a consideration of what God had already done for them and of what God had promised to do for them yet. Here then is our definition. To harden the heart to God’s Word is, in the midst of life, to forget what God has done for us already and what God promises to do for us in the future.

So what about you? What trial are you passing through in the wilderness? And how are you responding to it? Are you clinging in faith to the Father who rescued you from your sin and sorrow by sending His own Son to take on human flesh and to die on the cross? Are you remembering that the same Father who sent His Son also sent the Spirit upon our hearts that we might cry out Abba, Father? The Spirit who promises to work in us that which is good and well-pleasing in His sight?

Or are you instead hardening your heart? Have you forgotten the way in which our Lord rescued you? Forgotten the promises He has made to you? Drowned them out in a sea of noise and voices such that His Word is no longer clear? I fear that each of us finds ourself too frequently longing to return to Egypt. And so let us confess our sin to the Lord. Let us kneel and ask his forgiveness for hardening our hearts.

Women of Beauty

Ezekiel 16:9-14 (NKJV)
9 “Then I [the Lord] washed you [O Israel] in water … and I anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. 14 Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord God.

The passage before us today describes the significance of God’s redemption of Israel. Though he found her helpless and unclean, He rescued her, protected her, drew her to Himself, washed her, and decked her with beauty. Following the Exodus from Egypt, He gradually raised Israel up to glory. He brought her through the period of the Judges; He gave her the Davidic and Solomonic ages; He gave her wealth, splendor, beauty – for she was His beloved, His bride.

A couple weeks ago we remarked that one of the lessons we as the people of God learn from the young women in our midst is the manner in which we are to long for the wedding day – the day when Christ shall return in glory to be admired among His saints. Today we learn a related lesson. For it is as a girl is transformed by God into a woman that her beauty begins to shine – and this beauty, God tells us today, is something He put there to teach us about the Church.

While the typical spectacle presented before our eyes in the animal kingdom is that the male species is endowed with color and beauty and awe, in humanity it is the beauty of the female that is routinely praised in Scripture. Men are strong; men are courageous; men are wise. But women are beauteous and fair. And this beauty that young women begin to manifest serves to picture for us what God is doing with His bride, the Church.

After all, the picture of God’s work among Israel is reframed by the apostle Paul in his admonition to the Ephesians, an admonition we have already considered. The Lord Jesus is sanctifying and purifying His bride, the Church, intending gradually to raise her up to greatness and glory – why? “that he might present her to Himself a glorious [radiant, beautiful] church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” In other words, the beauty which young women possess and which they endeavor to accentuate with perfumes, jewelry, special diet, and clothes is to remind us of the beauty of the Church for which we are to be laboring.

As we have seen in the book of Nehemiah, our calling as the people of God is to remove the reproach of Jerusalem, to make her more lovely and glorious, beautiful, as a bride adorned for her husband. Reminded that we have failed to do so, let us kneel and let us confess our sins to God.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Longing for the Wedding Day

Song of Solomon 3:9-11 (NKJV)
9 Of the wood of Lebanon Solomon the King Made himself a palanquin: 10 He made its pillars of silver, Its support of gold, Its seat of purple, Its interior paved with love By the daughters of Jerusalem. 11 Go forth, O daughters of Zion, And see King Solomon with the crown With which his mother crowned him On the day of his wedding, The day of the gladness of his heart.

Young women love weddings – from serving as bridesmaids to walking as the bride, from enjoying others’ weddings to anticipating their own, from designing wedding dresses to choosing out just the right one for their wedding. Weddings are the transition point for many young women – the transition from being young women to being married women – and so many years are spent in anticipation.

Knowing this hunger, the daughters of Jerusalem are invited in our text today to witness the wedding procession of King Solomon:

Go forth, O daughters of Zion, And see King Solomon with the crown With which his mother crowned him On the day of his wedding, The day of the gladness of his heart.

This hunger that young women display for weddings is to teach us something as the people of God. For God in His wisdom describes the ultimate consummation of the Messianic Kingdom as the final enjoyment of the wedding feast – the day when the Church will be presented to her Groom a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. King Solomon is a mere type of the Greater King Jesus. And the day of His wedding will be the day of the gladness of His heart.

Consequently, we are to anticipate that day and strive for it with all our might. We are to make the bride – the Church – more lovely, more beautiful, more glorious. We are, as we shall see this morning, to remove her reproach, and prepare her to wed the Groom.

There are many who think that this loveliness will just happen: the wedding day arrives and – poof! – a beautiful bride magically appears. But any man who is married and any woman who has been married and any young woman who dreams of being married knows that this is a farce. It takes an immense amount of labor, invested for months and even years, to reach the day on which the bride is adorned and beautiful. Months of preparation go into a mere hour or two of ceremony. Preparing for weddings is hard work.

The bride must consider what she shall be wearing, what the attendants shall be wearing, the jewelry that shall adorn her, and how she can best honor the Groom. All these details and thousands more have to come together. And this is the picture given to us of the ultimate destiny of Christ and the Church. We are to be planning for that Wedding Day in the same way in which a young woman prepares for hers. We are to meditate upon the glory that will be ours, consider the joy that shall be ours, and give attention to the garments of holiness in which we shall be arrayed. The anticipation of this great day will demand an incredible amount of labor on our part as we make the Church more glorious by making ourselves more holy.

So reminded that we are called to labor for the beauty of the New Jerusalem and that that beauty is amplified by our own holiness, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to pursue that holiness with passion.

Centrality of the Psalms

James 5:13 (NKJV)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at the world in which we live – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”

James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray. We are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. “Lord, I don’t understand; God help me; Father, lift me up; My God, my god, why have you forsaken me, why are you so far from my groaning?” When we are suffering it is not simply a good idea to take our pain to the throne of God, we are commanded to do so. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom you direct your cries. And where do we find examples of what faithful cries to God in sorrow look like? In the psalms.

Balancing this imperative comes James’ imperative for times of joy. When we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer. When we are joyful there is only one proper response in James’ mind: praise. And where do we find examples of what faithful praise to God in joy looks like? In the psalms.

Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter for the life of God’s people. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray the psalms. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing the psalms.

So here’s the question for us – do we know our psalter well enough to fulfill James’ exhortation? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?

I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalter. This is a new experience for us. Many of the psalms may be strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand and believe. But is the problem with the psalter? Hardly. It is with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms.

Consequently, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more excellent in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. We have psalm sings every month so that we can learn them, we sing the psalms in our corporate worship together so they become intwined with our corporate life, and we are hosting again our Savoring the Psalms BBQs this summer to revel in them. All these things are specifically geared to help us fulfill the exhortations given to us by James – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God expects us to cry out to Him with the psalms and to praise Him with the psalms, let us kneel and confess that we have neglected to do so.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Family Camp 2010

I will be speaking Labor Day weekend at our 2010 Family Camp. The camp is going to be held on Lake Coeur d'Alene at Camp Lutherhaven. Christ Church in Spokane, Holy Trinity Church in Colville, and Trinity Church here in Coeur d'Alene are sponsoring the event. If you would like more information, call the Christ Church office at 509-329-0314.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Leadership & Self-Deception

Just finished reading Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the box by The Arbinger Institute. Its analysis of self-deception and the way in which interpersonal conflicts are fostered and intensified was excellent. Very helpful analysis of anger, bitterness, resentment, and the way in which we use others' faults to excuse our own.

The major philosophical idolatry of the book is its focus entirely upon self-betrayal rather than the betrayal of God. This idolatry is also evident in its assumption of the basic "goodness" of man - assuming that we basically want to treat others well and simply deceive ourselves into doing different. Further, the emphasis upon our instinct or feelings as a reliable source of action is naive. These instincts are formed by the culture in which we live which itself is saturated with religous assumptions. Given different cultures, different things will be instinctual - strike us as truly "humane." Hence, it is imperative that we have some ethical standard which guides and directs our instincts else we may do something inhumane in the name of humanity. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Prov 12:10b).

Despite these underlying flaws, the book's usefulness far outweighs its faults. It is engaging, informative, and easy to understand.