Sunday, November 30, 2008
It’s not simply an isolated story alongside many other stories. In fact, it is the central story around which all else revolves. To miss it, is to miss everything. It is a story that starts before human history began. For you see, Christ was “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4). “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’ ” (John 8:58).
It’s a story that embraces all of human history; for we were “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.” Human history is the history (or the story) of redemption. Moreover, it is a story that is still being told. This is the good news—the Gospel—God delivering on His promise. To understand this story is to understand where we came from, where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
On the other hand, as Christians, we at the same time live in world wholly unlike the one I just described. God’s Word tells us to live with contentment and even joy in the midst of these very trials. In the midst of the ugliness of a fallen world, we are instructed to see with different eyes and hear with different ears: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). More than that, we are commanded to give thanks in and for everything: “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:15-18). The answer to this curious mystery lies in the fact that we—the redeemed of God—have been and are being rescued from the former world of sin and misery.
We have begun that process, here and now, whereby we will indeed arrive at our final destination; a place free of sin and misery. While we are not waiting for pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye, we have already begun receiving the benefits of redemption: “…giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12-14). This new life is set in contrast with the old: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Eph. 5:1-4).
Even when we are troubled by the evil and the dreadful things of this world, we are exhorted to: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4-7).
As we come to our loaded boards today and behold the sights and aromas and tastes and textures of God’s goodness, let us see with new eyes that God has indeed prepared a Table for us in the presence of our enemies. It is one more token of redemption begun. It is the appetizer before the marriage feast of the Lamb. Let us give thanks!
Monday, November 24, 2008
1676 Thanksgiving Proclamation
On June 20, 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, held a meeting to determine how best to express thanks for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. By unanimous vote they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving.
The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present War with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgments he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions.George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favor, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God’s Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being persuaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other ransgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Two things follow from this. First, if care is shallow, possessions will be discarded. (They slip away, too, and they wear out, but that isn't our doing.) The man who buys a boat will soon enough find out whether boating is one of his real cares. Our possessions make demands upon us; they form us as much as we form them. Most of us have an attic or a basement in which we bury the remains of our former fascinations. We once felt deeply about photography or golf, but over the years we learned differently. Closet and dump now hide the corpses of our shallow cares. With mere things, of course, the learning process is quite painless; all we lose is some time, a little money and perhaps a small quantity of face. But when it is our care for people that proves to have been trifling, the results are usually tragic. The discarded home-movie outfit is one thing, the discarded wife or child quite another. In either case, however, possession proves or disproves care.
Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Such friends care more about their friends than they do themselves, and thus are willing to risk their own hurt for the sake of the other. They do not hide behind excuses when they see a need for correction. Rather, they risk their temporary discomfort for the long-term good of their friend. They inflict faithful wounds: “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Pr. 27:5-6).
Monday, November 17, 2008
No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God...But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe . . . The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.
And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.
—C. H. Spurgeon—
Friday, November 14, 2008
The community teaches us to share, to hold hands, and to look both ways before crossing the street. It teaches us patience (e.g., longsuffering), and as a result we become more content and thankful. Independence leads to a spirit of discontent. Interdependence puts us in our place and makes us useful and happy. In the community I learn how to do things better, and I also learn how not to do things. Vicarious learning is a blessed shortcut. When I lose my balance (as I often do), the community pulls me back to center and lets me try again, and again, and again…
Proverbs 18:1- "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment."
The desire of the fool is not to gain wisdom for the sake of being more righteous and just, but rather is through a proud desire to exalt self by being thought wiser than others, and so, looked up to as above the generality of men. In his own mind, the fool separates himself from others, as being superior to them. All his efforts to gain wisdom with such a attitude, is simply an endeavor to glorify himself. All heresy has more or less originated in the self-conceit which leads men to separate themselves from the congregation of the Lord (Ezek. 14:7; Hosea 9:10; Heb. 10:25).
It reminds me of what Paul said (in another context): "For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape"
(1 Thess. 5:3).
Thursday, November 13, 2008
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” This wealthy and successful man suffered an unparalleled reversal of fortune; losses at virtually every level imaginable, all of which apparently came upon him suddenly. His suffering, however, seemed to last for a considerable time. Even though his wife counseled him to “Curse God and die,” the Bible tells us that “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” That doesn’t mean that Job didn’t have some questions, confusion, and uncertainty concerning the meaning of God’s providences. Why were things happing the way they were? He couldn’t figure out (at the time) what God was up to.
Look, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. —Job 23:8-12
Job understood a fundamental principle, that “man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Commitment to that idea is what sustained Job in his great trial. He knew God loved the righteous and that the story was not yet over. Job had his moments; but he walked by faith and emerged on the other side.
The prophet Jeremiah likewise complained: “Righteous are You, O LORD, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?” (Jer. 12:1). Moreover, David, observes the incongruities of the circumstances of the wicked and the righteous. Psalm, 37 addresses “The Heritage of the Righteous and the Calamity of the Wicked.” Verses 23-24 assure us that “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand.”
How do we know God loves us when we are going through long and difficult trials? Job understood what Peter would write about much later: “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (see also 1 Peter 1:6-7). Chastening and testing is one sign of His love. But the greatest sign of His love is our rescue from our sins—our salvation. “God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We are all doing much better than we deserve. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). Even in the midst of our trials God has surrounded us with His love as demonstrated in our families and in our church. He gives us daily joys and pleasures. He gives us purpose and hope.
Having the long-view (as Abraham and other saints did), requires walking by faith. Joseph didn’t know how his story ended until he got there. In the pit, as a slave, and in prison God was still with him. God was also with him later in the palace. Every story in the Bible tells us of the trials of God’s people and the love and faithfulness of God toward them. Let us hold fast as well, and let us walk in their path.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
We are all insecure, and we’re insecure because we’re afraid we will be found out. We spend much of our lives guarding our insecurities; defending and attacking every threat. When someone gets near them we think we have become masters at evasion, diversion, and denial. We are not as good at covering as we imagine we are. These are the things that haunt us. These are the things that can control us.
The gospel has come to set us free. It sets us free, not all at once, but in stages. We have to grow in the grace of God. We remain broken people; broken, yet redeemed. Paul answers his own question (a question that we all share with him), “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!...There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” God knows us—He knows our insecurities and fears better than we do—and He loves us in spite of our weakness. To be fully know and fully loved is complete security. Rest in Him!
The Father-God of the Bible is not a sweet, feminized, absentee deity. He is the Father of fathers. He is the patriarch. “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15). Thus, we start the first day of every new week by gathering around the family Table and being fed by our Father. The Lord’s Table is the archetype of our family tables. Since the Lord’s Table is where hungry children are fed by their heavenly Father, so too, we must gather our families around our tables and fed them.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
In Acts 2, every day believers met together in the Temple courts, broke bread in one another’s homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Hebrews 3:13 suggests that many years later, Christians were still meeting daily. For this to become a part of our daily living we must develop covenant consciousness; a way of thinking that begins with the congregation rather than the individual—thinking in terms of “we” instead of “me.” It is in the context of the covenant community that we find rest and restoration.
The way we develop the covenant community mindset begins by believing and obey our loving heavenly Father. We must resist the temptation to withdraw and instead, do our duty. Our duty is to trust and obey, even when we don’t feel like it. We have all taken public vows before God and His people to be committed participants in the covenant community we call church.
Here are a few important points for us to remember if we are to comprehend and implement life in the Christian community so that we and our families will know the blessings of God for many generations.
1. The Lord’s Day: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…” This day distinguishes the covenant people of God from the world.
2. Worship: “Forsake not the assembly of yourselves together…” The corporate worship of the one true God is central to the covenant community.
3. Fellowship: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” If we are not in the homes of other church members, and other church members are not in our homes, then we cannot possibly know one another the way we should.
4. Time management: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” We cannot manage time, but we can manage ourselves. When we become so busy with work, or other activities, that we begin to neglect our families and our covenant community, then our orientation is not covenantal, but has become misdirected. Maintaining covenant priorities requires constant vigilance.
5. Communication: Our identity as a called people is strengthened by our common interests. Pray for one another. Teach and admonish one another.
6. Geography: “Doing good to all men, especially the household of faith.” Daily interaction among our fellow Christians provides abundant opportunities to love one another.
Foolish and immature husbands expect of others what they are unwilling to do themselves. They pervert the intended order by abandoning their duty to lead through love and sacrifice, and instead, they expect to be served first. They assume the role of responder rather than leader. The sad irony is that they are still leading, because their position as the head is an inescapable position of leadership. The whole system starts to break down. He is soon complaining that his wife (and his children), are disrespectful, or cold, or hostile. How can he lead such a group of difficult people? He is waiting for them to lead. The fruit of this household is hatred, anger, conflict, short tempers, bitterness, and selfishness because this is the fruit that was first seen in the husband and father. Everyone else is responding to him.
Now every husband will fall short of being the kind of example he should be; sometimes significantly short and for a long periods of time. The house is a mess. So, now what? Confession, repentance, forgiveness, redemption—that’s the gospel message. God changes people. He changes husbands and wives and children. He is a builder of homes. He changes each of them by the power of the Holy Spirit and by way of His living Word. He uses pastors and teachers to equip the saints and He uses other Christians to instruct and encourage. This is why He put each if us in His church to live in His temple built on the Cornerstone of Jesus Christ and assembled with many living stones. He accomplishes some changes instantly and others incrementally over time. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” (Eph. 2:10).
As the bride of Christ, the Church responds with respect for her loving husband and is transformed. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
Monday, November 10, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
The burnt offering reminds us that Christ, Who is our burnt offering, continually offers Himself to the Fatehr on our behalf, and the value of His sacrifice has not changed. It is as fresh before God today as on the day upon which it was offered. As a result of Christ’s sacrifice, we are as fit for glory now as we ever will be. It is a happy and reassuring thought to know that the burnt offering burns all night; the sweet aroma of it is as acceptable before God at this moment as it was on the day when the sacrifice was offered.
Likewise, what the Lord desires and requires from His people is not occasional, but continual. Each morning we should imitate these ancient priests, by putting away all that might make us dull toward God. And so, as the Leviticus 6 tells us, “The fire shall be kept burning on the alter continually.” We must continually renew ourselves before God. And so, we come on the first day of each week to the Table of the Lord to renew covenant with Him.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board
Take marriage for example. Why do some husbands and wives not get along well? Because they sin against each other. In other words, they either do toward one another what God forbids or else they do not do what God requires. But do they really know what to do? Have they taken the time to find out what to do?
Sometimes I hear protest that “I tried that and it didn’t work.” But this is God’s Word—it’s true—it always works when we do it the way He says to do it. Perhaps we did it our way instead. Perhaps our understanding of what He forbids or requires is superficial and we need greater depth of understanding. We should assume that we are the problem; not God’s instructions. We need to know how to do it. Have I really gotten the log out of my own eye? Have I done to others what I would have them do to me? Have I cultivated the attitude and mind of Christ? We could go on and on, but the point is that the Bible gives us a great deal of instruction on how to do what God instruct us to do. We too often sweep over such things as though they were unimportant. How we do things is vital to success.
Sometimes we know what to do. We even know how it is suppose to be done, but we need some help doing it. We need examples. We need encouragement. We need forgiveness. We need patience. We need prayers. We need practice. We need a lot of things. God, the Holy Spirit is described as a paraclete i.e., One that comes along side to comfort and to aid. A self-conscious relying on the work of God’s sanctifying Spirit is essential. God also gives us His church with pastors and teacher who equip the saints. Moreover, the saints themselves are helpers, who help by example, prayer, encouragement and instruction.
The big challenge for counseling is whether or not the counselee wants to do what God requires. Old sinful habits die hard. Frequently, people want a counselor to fix an immediate problem—to put a band-aid on it and make it stop hurting—so they can get right back to their old bad habits. The apostle Paul writes: “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:20-24).
We do not always work. A concentrated effort to know, understand, and diligently do what God’s Word counsels always works.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Father-hunger is really the hunger for love. True love provides; it provides everything. The father’s first duty is to love—to love first. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Central to love is giving, or sacrificing for the sake of the beloved. John 3:16 sets this before us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”And so, earthly fathers—if they are to fill the emptiness—must likewise give of themselves; sacrifice themselves for the sake of their families.
We love because we are first loved—we hate because we are first hated. Since earthly fathers represent God the Father, loveless, hateful fathers produce resentment against God the Father—God-haters instead of God-lovers.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
--John Quincy Adams
Monday, November 3, 2008
A great husband—a great lover—accumulates love by the small and great acts of sacrifice over long periods of time. We love because God first loved us. Our wives love because we first loved them. The antithesis of this kind of giving is selfishness, and the world is full of selfish husbands—they are lovers of self. Lovers of wives are something else altogether. Brutish men imagine themselves to be great lovers. Indeed they are. But wives are not the objects of their love; they are only the objects to be used in service of the husband’s self-love.
Jesus Christ is the greatest lover; the greatest husband. He is the model. He is the model of self-sacrifice. He meets our needs exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Great lovers go first.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
The Roman Empire, like many others empires and nations, has come and gone. More nations will come and go. But the kingdom of God, like leaven, continues to grow. “And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isa. 9:6-7). “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15).
The rise of the effete, and even effeminate, minister as the picture of frailty emerges from the late nineteen century and carries through to our own day of metro-sexuals, gender-blenders, and worse. The chest-thumping counterpart to this has also added to the problem. The macho-man is a self-centered father who has no sense of what it means to love and sacrifice. Absent, abdicating, or abusive fathers have left a void in the hearts of children. All of this has led us to our aimless, postmodern, emasculated moment—“Who’s to say? Who’s to lead? Who’s to protect?” We are left without authority, guidance, or protection. All of these are fatherly provisions, and we are left empty and hungry.
Famines produce great suffering and death. The symptoms of being malnourished are evident in our increasingly gaunt society. How many of society’s ills: crime, violence, suicide; and personal conflicts: hatred, loneliness, bitterness, fear, aggression, immaturity, sexual confusion, and self-destruction; how many of these stem from fathers who have turned their hearts from their children and left them hungry, hurting, and hostile?