Monday, January 25, 2010

Young Men and Young Males

Psalm 119:9 (NKJV)
9 How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.

What does it mean to be a young man and not just a young male? We have many young males in the world. You can see them strutting along the streets; speaking disrespectfully to their parents and teachers; scorning authority; blasting their music in their cars; starting fights; chasing females; causing trouble. But what does it mean to be a man and not just a male. For maleness is a matter of biology – anyone with certain anatomy is a male. But manliness is a matter of moral fiber – and has less to do with your anatomy than your character.

So you young males out there – do you know what it is to be a young man? This is the question David poses today. How can a young man cleanse his way? How can he be a young man after God’s own heart? How can he grow in favor with God and with other men? How can he demonstrate his worth? David’s answer is simple: By taking heed according to God’s Word.

Remember that two weeks ago when we read John’s remarks in his first epistle, he said, “I have written to you young men because you are strong and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one.” In other words, the most important thing you can do to become a young man and not simply to be a young male is to consider, meditate upon, memorize, and practice God’s Word. Lord, what do you want me to love and esteem? What do you want me to cherish? What does it mean to be a young man after your own heart? It is this type of meditation which leads to John’s conclusion, “and you have overcome the evil one.” The key to victory is faith in and reliance upon the Living God who has revealed Himself and His will in His Word. And this book is the pathway to manliness.

Reminded that we often confuse maleness with manliness, let us kneel and confess our sin to our father, asking Him to bestow manliness upon our men – young and old alike.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Taste of Sabbath

Well my first book has been published - a curious admixture of excitement and dread have attended the event. For those interested, here's the cover:
The book can be ordered from Canon Press here. Doug Wilson kindly recommended the book here.

Disarming the Principalities and Powers

Colossians 2:13-15 (NKJV)
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

This Lord's Day we explored the inauguration or beginning of the Kingdom of God through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. One of the issues discussed was the conquest of the demonic forces, the principalities and powers, that at one time ruled men and nations. These minions of the devil were, according to Paul, disarmed when our Lord was crucified. Imagining themselves the victors, they were defeated. Augustine explains this winsomely. Below is a quotation I read in the sermon - rearranged by me to make the oral hearing of it easier to follow. I pulled the quotation from David Chilton's The Days of Vengeance: A Commentary on the Book of Revelation:

The devil was conquered by his own trophy of victory. The devil jumped for joy, when he seduced the first man and cast him down to death…. [He] jumped for joy [again] when Christ died; [but] by the very death of Christ the devil was overcome: he took, as it were, the bait in the mousetrap. He rejoiced at the death, thinking himself death’s commander. But that which caused his joy dangled the bait before him. The Lord’s cross was the devil’s mousetrap: the bait which caught him was the death of the Lord… By seducing the first man, [the devil] slew him; by slaying the last man, he lost the first from his snare. The victory of our Lord Jesus Christ came when he rose and ascended into heaven; then was fulfilled what you have heard when the Apocalypse was being read, “The Lion of the tribe of Judah has won the day.”

Diversity of Glory

Proverbs 20:29 (NKJV)
29 The glory of young men is their strength, And the splendor of old men is their gray head.

Well it’s basketball season. This week Gonzaga played Saint Mary’s and the highlight of the game was watching Gonzaga freshman Elias Harris. Harris had 31 points and 13 rebounds – and a good portion of those points appeared to be accomplished as Harris looked down on the basket rather than up at it. At one point Harris jumped so high the announcer remarked that he appeared to be climbing his opponent’s back.

Harris’ performance was another reminder – as we saw last week – that the glory of young men is their strength. And as we also remarked, Solomon recognizes and celebrates this strength. But the very strength of young men exposes them to a particularly nasty temptation – that of scorning those who no longer possess or who never possessed such strength. As a result of the Fall, those who are strong are prone to despise those who are not. And so the second section of Solomon’s proverb serves as an important reminder to young men that glory comes in various shapes and sizes: The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head.

So young men learn the lesson today: not all glory comes in a shape you can immediately appreciate. Just because something does not strike you as “cool” doesn’t mean that it’s not glorious and wonderful in the eyes of God. An old man has lost the strength he once possessed but he has gained another which is splendid – his grey hair – which you are to esteem because God does. A woman is not typically as physically strong as a man but she has other strengths which are splendid and glorious in the eyes of God. A child is not as strong as a young man but he has other strengths which we have already considered, strengths which display the glory of God and which you are to acknowledge and embrace.

In other words, those whose glory is their strength have a hard time seeing the different type of glory that God has placed in others. God calls all of us to glory in the diversified strengths he has placed in the body. Rather than disparage the weak, we are to honor, respect, and protect them. And young men, you especially need to cultivate this grace of admiring different types of glory. This time in your life is the time when you need to appreciate the silliness of your younger brothers and sisters not scorn it as something you did when you were “young and immature.” This time in your life is the time when you need to learn to respect the strength that God has placed in a woman not dismiss your mother as irrational. This time in your life is the time when you need to honor the grey headed not mock them as holdovers of a by-gone age.

At no time in history have these lessons been more necessary and more challenging. Despite our language of diversity, multi-culturalism, and acceptance, we have become a people intoxicated with the strength of youth. And so young men you are going to have a very challenging time learning these lessons in your youth. But isn’t this what you want? Didn’t you ask for a challenge? Isn’t your glory your strength? Then show it by honoring the different types of glory that God has placed around you.

Reminded that we all are tempted to scorn the different types of glory that God has placed about us, let us kneel and confess our sin to our Father.

The Glory of Young Men

1 John 2:13-14 (NKJV)
…I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one… 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.

We have now finished our consideration of the lessons which children teach us. And so we begin to consider young men and young women – no longer grouped together as young people but distinguished and differentiated because God in His Providence uses this time in a young man’s life to notify him that that child he’s been playing with next door is different.

John writes to the young men in his audience for a very specific reason and highlights the strengths which young men possess. You young men out there have definite strengths, lessons to teach us as the people of God. Unfortunately, these very strengths expose you to certain temptations and weaknesses as well. And so let us consider what you teach us – both positively and, at times, negatively.

One of the first lessons that young men teach us is the glory of strength. Something happens when boys become young men. They start comparing muscle mass, challenging dad to feats of strength, working out to develop six packs and biceps. They challenge themselves and their friends with new and unsual tests. And these types of tests are not wrong but good and right. Pushing one another further, challenging one another, not being content with 10 pull ups but pushing for 20 – these traits are good. Solomon himself tells us that the “glory of young men is their strength.” God has given this strength to you young men and so ask God to use it to stretch yourself, to challenge yourself and your friends.

But John also encourages you to put this strength to work not only physically but spiritually. The Church stands in dire need of young men who are not content with the muddle headed, mealy mouthed, limp wristed spirituality that is passed off as pious today. Too many young men think that spirituality means getting some feel good spiritual high, having warm fuzzies about Jesus, or sharing their personal struggles just like the girls do.

John highlights none of these things in his words to young men. Rather, John highlights the “strength” which is the glory of young men. “I write to you young men, because you have overcome the evil one…I write to you young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

So young men – challenge one another. Push one another. Fred, let’s memorize Ephesians together – I bet I can memorize it faster than you. Let’s pray regularly for our parents – I bet I can be more consistent than you. Let us be sexually pure – if you go after some girl dishonorably or start looking at porn I’m going to let the elders know.

Young men our culture wants you to think that you are incapable of true greatness; that the extent of your ability is to be addicted to entertainment and “big boys toys.” God thinks different. God knows you are quite capable of excelling; He knows you are strong; and so He tells you – fight the good fight, overcome the evil one, let my word dwell in you. For that is what you have to teach the body of Christ.

Reminded that we have failed to appreciate the strength of young men and have instead striven to emasculate them, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.

Teaching us the Gospel

1 John 2:12-13 (NKJV)
12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake… I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father.

For the last several weeks we have considered the various lessons which children teach us. As members of the Kingdom of God, Christ has placed children here to teach all of us various lessons – lessons about trust, about sin, about authority, about obedience. We close our meditations on children with the words of John in his epistle:

I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake… I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father.

Children, you are here in the Church to teach us about the Gospel. Here is the glorious good news. Through no merit of your own God has brought you into the covenant community, welcomed you in baptism, declared to you, “You are My child, You are one of My people.” Your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake – not because God is first and foremost concerned about your happiness, your joy, and your peace – but because first and foremost He is concerned about His Name. And precisely because He is concerned about His Name, He welcomes you, forgives you, loves you working for your greatest happiness, joy and peace. He chose, before the foundation of the world, that you would be here, that you would be born to Christian parents, that you would have the inestimable privilege of growing up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

So what is to be your response? To know the Father, to love Him, to trust Him. “I write to you, little children,” John says, “Because you have known the Father.” Children, you are here to teach us adults to know and love and trust the Lord. Relatively free from the cynicism that so early descends upon humanity, free from the despair which wraps its tendrils around our hearts and minds, free from the bitterness that clouds and destroys our judgment – you are here to teach us to trust the Father, to believe that He causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.

So children – teach us. Exhibit for us what faith and trust look like. When you are facing trials, when your family is facing hardship, direct your mom and dad, your brothers and sisters, to the face of Christ. You know the Father; help them to remember the Father as well. And adults – learn. Learn from the younger saints that God will indeed care for us – so what need to fret? What need for anxiety? What need for worry? Will not He who cares for all the beasts of the field care for His own children? Of course he will.

Reminded that God is the One who calls us to Himself and invites us into the company of His people; reminded that He does so so that we might be a people who know Him and love Him as do the youngest members in our midst, let us kneel and confess that we have often strayed from our first love.

The Blessing of Simeon

Luke 2:33-35 (NKJV)
33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

As we consider the blessing of Simeon upon the child Jesus I would like to read to you a couple paragraphs written by Doug Jones and then make some comments. “Simeon,” he writes, “was a devout man who had waited a long time for the Christ. Even though we expect this to be a moment of great joy and celebration, Simeon delivers a message of danger. He tells Jesus’ mother, Mary, that Jesus will be a tremendous troublemaker. Simeon knows his Old Testament. He knows that the prophets don’t promise a Christ as someone who gets along with everyone and never upsets the powerful. Simeon speaks of the “consolation” or comfort of Israel, and when Isaiah uses that language we see that the Christ is coming to “contend with him who contends with you” (Is. 49:25) and to “feed those who oppress you with their own flesh” (Is. 49:26). In a similar message, the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah that “I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:9,10).”

“We might think that this would be a shocking and troubling revelation for Jesus’ mother. It means certain doom for her Son. One doesn’t take on King Herod and the Roman Empire without provoking a deathly reaction. Simeon even promises Mary that “a sword will pierce through your own soul.” Disturbing claims, but this isn’t really news to Mary. She, herself, had sung similar words about her Son’s dangerous work. She knew that in Jesus, the Father, “has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty” (Lk. 1:51-52). She knew Simeon’s words were true. Jesus would be a premier troublemaker for the enemies of God. He came to pull them down, to overthrow them by the Spirit, and to lift up the people of God. The birth of Jesus is just the beginning of this path of the “fall and rising of many.” The world would never be the same. The enemies of God had little clue about the dramatic consequences of Christmas.”

And the question comes to us this morning – do we as the friends of God understand the dramatic consequences of Christmas? The King has been born. Further, the King has rescued His people and now reigns from His heavenly throne. So Herods and Hitlers, Parliaments and Congresses, Kings and Presidents, Obamas and Bushs, Mayors and Governors are summoned to bow before Him and to acknowledge that He is Lord. No earthly rule is supreme; all are relativized by the Lordship of Christ. And as we summon folks to acknowledge and submit to the Lordship of Jesus, a sword may very well pierce our own souls as well. For the message is no more popular today to man in his unbelief than it was in the days of Rome. Yet this is our message and it is this we proclaim until every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Reminded of our tendency to forget the dramatic consequences of Christmas, let us kneel and ask our Lord’s forgiveness.