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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pillars Sculpted in Palace Style

Psalm 144:11-15 (NKJV)
11 Rescue me and deliver me from the hand of foreigners, Whose mouth speaks lying words, And whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood— 12 That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; That our daughters may be as pillars, Sculptured in palace style; 13 That our barns may be full, Supplying all kinds of produce; That our sheep may bring forth thousands And ten thousands in our fields; 14 That our oxen may be well laden; That there be no breaking in or going out; That there be no outcry in our streets. 15 Happy are the people who are in such a state; Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!

Here in our text today, our Lord Jesus identifies why it is that he prays for God to rescue Him and His people from His enemies, from those not in covenant with Him, who are prone to deceit and falsehood. And the first thing that He identifies, the main reason why He wants God to protect and guard us, is for you young folks out there. He prays so that the sons and daughters of Zion may grow into maturity in the midst of their youth. “That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daugthers may be as pillars, sculptured in palace style.”

Jesus’ prayer reveals to us not only his desire for our protection from enemies but also His vision for young adulthood. Our Lord hungers for you young adults, young men and young women alike, to grow into maturity. He wants young men to be like plants grown up – fruitful, strong, resistant to disease – in your youth. He doesn’t want you to wait until your twenties or thirties like so many. He wants you to be mature now – so how are you doing striving for it?

Likewise, he prays for the daughters of Zion that they may be as pillars, sculpted in palace style. Since we have been doing a series of exhortations on the lessons young women teach us, it is fitting that we get a sense of Jesus’ vision for young womanhood here. First, note that he wants you to be pillars. And what is the purpose of a pillar? Pillars hold things up. They are strong, steady, stable. Notice in this young ladies, that Jesus’ vision for your calling in the Church is to be a source of stability, strength, wisdom, and gravitas. Young women – at one level because of your sensitivity to art, beauty, and spirituality, at another because of your immense influence upon young men – Jesus’ has put you in our midst to hold us up in your labors, in your prayers, and in your purity.

But beware that as a pillar you truly are what you portray yourself to be. Our word sincere comes from two Latin words, sine – which means without – and cera – which means wax. A sincere person is a person without wax. For you see ancient Rome, just like modern America, had her unscrupulous contractors. And these builders were often contracted to make marble columns. But it was quite a task to find the right kind of marble and craft and polish it to perfection. So some builders would take shortcuts. They would fill the gaps and cracks in their piece of marble with wax. Only when the column collapsed would the trickery be revealed – and it might be a few years out. So make sure that you are a sincere pillar.

But not only does Jesus pray that you would be pillars, he also prays that you would be one sculpted in palace style. Jesus knows that pillars come in various designs. A rough yewn log pole can be a pillar. Not very lovely but it does the job. That’s not the kind of pillar for which the Lord prays. He doesn’t want just a sturdy pole, he wants a beautiful column, one whose beauty makes all those around stand in awe. That pole barn you saw on your way to worship may be just as sturdy as the Acropolis in Athens – but who would dare claim it is just as lovely? I remember Douglas Wilson telling the story of the atheist Edward Tabash’s visit to Moscow when Tabash remarked at dinner, “I’ve never met so many beautiful, confident women.”

So what does this beauty look like? Peter tells us, “Do not let your adornment [your beauty] be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” This is the beauty that our Lord Jesus desires for you – a beauty which shall be a source of strength, stability, and glory for the Church of God.
Reminded that our Lord Jesus prays for us, that he prays for our young men and young women to be mature even in their youth, let us seek the Lord’s forgiveness for failing to value maturity. Let us kneel together.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Virtue of Scorn

Isaiah 37:22 (NKJV)
This is the word which the Lord has spoken concerning [Sennacherib, the King of Assyria]: “The virgin, the daughter of Zion, Has despised you, laughed you to scorn; The daughter of Jerusalem Has shaken her head behind your back!”

Sometimes Christian girls are far too nice. We have become hesistant to hurt others’ feelings; hesitant to tell men what we really think of their scandalous behavior; hesitant to shower scorn on those who deserve it. So let me speak this morning on the biblical virtue of scorn.

One of the things most evident in the relationship among the sexes is that men frequently overestimate their charms while women underestimate theirs. I recall a cartoon with two frames. The first showed a decidedly corpulent fellow, midsection protruding between shorts and dirty t-shirt, with unkempt facial hair who looked as though he hadn’t showered in a week. As he gazed at himself in the mirror, he couldn’t help but exclaim, “Go get ‘em tiger! You handsome devil!” Meanwhile the other frame showed a woman of stunning beauty, all dressed up, having meticulously groomed herself – hair, makeup, and all. As she gazed at herself in the mirror, she couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh, I look so terrible!”

In our text today Isaiah pictures Sennacherib as a typical man – puffed up with himself, imagining that he is God’s gift to the female sex, sure that all the ladies will be swooning at his feet. For Sennacherib was treating the people of God this way. He was sure that Jerusalem would fall under his sway and so he tells them to acknowledge his greatness before he has to prove it. But here is the Word of the Lord to him: You are such a buffoon that the daughter of Jerusalem is laughing you to scorn! You are God’s gift to women – a gift to cause them to laugh. The virgin daughter of Israel is shaking her beautiful head of hair at your foolishness. For what was God preparing to do? He was going to crush Sennacherib’s pride, killing his army in a single night and sending him packing back to Assyria.

Here’s what I want you young ladies to see this morning. One of the lessons which you are to teach us as the people of God is how to scorn those who are full of themselves and rabidly opposed to God. Consequently, there are times when a young woman should scorn a man. Mr. Collins deserves your derision. Gaston is fool despite his three fauning admirers. Willoughby is a cad. When a fool presents himself before you, longing for your approval, longing for your admiration, sure that you will fall at his feet and acknowledge his charms, disappoint him. Scorn his advances.

And here’s a word of encouragement – your scorn can be a means of salvation. Nothing is more likely to cause a man to examine himself closely and evaluate himself than the scorn of a woman. Nothing is more likely to inspire a man to greatness than the prospect of earning a woman’s admiration. So young women – cultivate the biblical virtue of scorn and use it well. Do not be captivated by a fool.

And we as the people of God are called to learn this lesson from the young women in our midst. When the enemies of God vaunt over us, when they are swollen with pride and imagine that we shall soon fall under their sway, yes – even when they mock us and persecute us and kill us – we are to shake our heads in scorn knowing that God is on our side. Need we fear Sennacherib with his mighty host? No! Our God who sits in the heavens laughs, “As for me, I have installed My King on Mount Zion.” So we too can laugh, “As for us, our King is installed on Mount Zion. He is the King of Kings and Lord of lords and you shall have to answer to Him.”

Reminded that we have failed to cultivate the biblical virtue of scorn, that we have feared our enemies, showed pity where we ought not, indulged fools and answered them in accordance with their folly, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Trinity Sunday 2010

John 4:21-24 (NKJV)
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

The text before us today is frequently misconstrued. It is imagined that Jesus is contrasting the external, formal worship of the Old Testament period with the heartfelt, internal worship of the New. At one time people worshiped externally, now all worship is “in spirit and truth” – that is, heartfelt and genuine.

The difficulty faced by advocates of this approach is not the insistence that worship is to be heartfelt and genuine. That is most certainly true. The difficulty is that this was no less true in the Old Testament than in the New. “Sacrifice and burnt offering you did not desire,” David declares. “The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit.” Heartfelt, genuine worship was to characterize the Old Testament no less than the new?

What then is the change Jesus is anticipating? There are actually two changes. First, Jesus insists that the corporate worship of the people of God would be decentralized. No longer on Mount Gerizim in Samaria nor on Mount Zion in Jerusalem would corporate worship be confined – rather corporate worship would be spread throughout the earth. Note that he is addressing corporate worship, for that was what happened in Jerusalem and, idolatrously, on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus is announcing that wherever the servants of God gather together in the Name of Christ and lift His Name on high, there is Mount Zion, there is the City of our God, there is the place of corporate worship. Jerusalem in Israel is no longer the center of God’s dealings with man; the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Church is the center.

Second, Jesus informs us that not only would corporate worship be decentralized, it would be explicitly Trinitarian. When Jesus rose from the dead and sent forth His Spirit, the worship of God’s people was forever transformed. It became explicitly Trinitarian – worshiping the Father in Spirit – the very Spirit whom Jesus promised would come and lead His people into all righteousness – and in Truth – the very Truth who took on human flesh and declared to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday the Church has historically emphasized the Triune nature of God. It is this that Jesus does in our text. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is not an exhortation to heartfelt, genuine worship – that exhortation had been given throughout the Old Testament. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is to worship the Triune God not some vanilla deity. It was this transformation that Jesus anticipated and announced in His words to the Samaritan woman. “The time is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.”

So what does this mean for us? It means that this morning as we gather together to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, as we gather to worship the Triune God, we are entering into the presence of God Himself. Brothers and sisters, the roof has been ripped off and we have been ushered into the presence of the Most High. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven…” (Heb 12:22-23) And, like Isaiah, who entered into the presence of God in the Temple, the first thing that should strike us is our own unworthiness – in ourselves, we are not worthy to be here. And so let us kneel and seek His forgiveness through Christ.

The Law and the Spirit

Isaiah 59:21 (NKJV)
21 “As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord, “from this time and forevermore.”

There was once a boy who imagined that when he was 18, when he reached the age of majority, he wouldn’t have to do any of the things his parents had taught him to do when he was young. This boy was particularly irked that his parents made him brush his teeth each evening. Getting the toothbrush out of the drawer, squeezing the tube, brushing for a minute – it was all such a nuisance, so time consuming. And what was the value of it anyhow? He just ate the next day and got his teeth dirty again. What’s the point.

Eagerly the lad awaited his 18th birthday. His 16th came and went; his 17th came and went; and finally, his 18th birthday arrived. He was free. He got a job, moved out of his parents home, and commenced his long coveted practice of not brushing his teeth.

Ah, he thought with pleasure on his first night in his new apartment, this is the life. no one to tell me what to do. no more brushing my teeth at night. Joy and gladness wrapped their way around his heart. And joy and gladness stayed with him – for a time. But soon the consequences of his decision began to be felt. His teeth took on a decidedly brown appearance; he found it hard to get a date; his teeth began to ache from the cavities that filled them. In the place of joy and gladness came doubt; in the place of doubt, frustration; in the place of frustration, anger. Until the day he found himself facing the mirror, extracting his long-neglected toothbrush from the drawer, scrounging for that toothbrush tube with the dried paste around the top, squeezing the requisite amount onto his brush and scrubbing with all his might. But try as he might, he couldn’t get those stains off and he couldn’t fill those cavities.

Many have imagined that the purpose of the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the people of God was to free them from the burden of God’s law. Such people are foolish and na├»ve, totally misrepresenting the relationship between the OT and the NT. Our text today makes this plain.

“As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord, “from this time and forevermore.”
The Spirit was given not to free us from the law but to make our hearts free to obey it. The problem isn’t the law; the problem is ourselves.

So, children, have you reckoned with the corruption of your hearts? Have you considered that God gives His Spirit precisely to enable you to obey your parents? Adults, have you reckoned with the corruption of your hearts? Have you considered that God gives His Spirit precisely to enable you to love and cherish His ways?

Reminded that we frequently pit God’s Spirit against His law, that we frequently imagine that maturity means freedom from responsibility rather than the love of the same, let us kneel and let us confess our sins to God.

Ascension Sunday

Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” …11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

As we worship the Lord today on Ascension Sunday, I want to call to your mind some of the remarks we made last year in connection with this passage of Paul in Ephesians 4. Ascension Sunday celebrates – along with Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost - one of the most pivotal events in the life of Christ and, hence, in the history of the world. On this day, Jesus ascended into heaven and took His seat of authority at the right hand of God Almighty, ruling there as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And from this position of authority, He sent forth His Spirit upon His disciples – an event we shall celebrate next week in Pentecost.

In our text today, Paul indicates one of the implications of the Ascension for the people of God. When Christ ascended on high, was enthroned in state, sat down at the right hand of God Almighty, he was then the victorious conqueror, in a position to distribute spoil among his followers. “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”

And what is the nature of the gifts he bestows upon His retainers? Ah his gifts are numerous and glorious – for His gifts are not merely objects but persons. He gave apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – from other places we learn that he has given helps, works of mercy, humility, joy, contentment, peace, self-control, wisdom, virtue. Glorious gifts He has bestowed on His retainers.

Why? Why has he given these things? Here is the startling message of Paul. He has given them “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, the gifts that Christ has given to us are to be given in turn for the benefit of the whole body, for the Church.

So what does Ascension Sunday mean for us? First, we must take note of the gifts that our great King has granted to us. What gifts has the exalted and enthroned King bestowed upon you? He does not leave anyone out. Second, having acknowledged the gifts, our first response should be to thank the Giver. Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father and poured out gifts upon the Church; he has poured out some gift on each of us; and so our calling is to thank Him both for the gifts which He has given me personally and for the gifts He has given to my neighbor– our Lord Jesus thank you for calling the Twelve and giving them to the church; thank you for Paul, for Athanasius, for Clement, for Gottschalk, for Helena the mother of Constantine, for Zwingli, Bullinger, Peter Martyr. And coming closer to home, we say thank you for George over there and for Freddy – for the gifts you have given them so they might bestow them on the body. Having given thanks to Him for the gifts that He has bestowed upon us and upon the rest of the body, our final task is to use the gifts He has given us for the body. Our calling is to imitate our King and give gifts in turn.

But frequently our attitude and actions are far from this. Frequently, we complain that we have not been given the gifts that others have received and we endeavor to horde the gifts, increasing our own cache rather than to bless the body. Reminded of this, let us kneel and confess our sins to Him.