Sunday, January 31, 2010

Being Faithful With Children (part 4 of 7)

God closes the last book of the Old Testament with conditional promises of blessing and curse:

Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse" (Mal. 4:4-6).

If there is not repentance for this covenant-breaking, God promises swift and severe and judgment―curses on the individuals and upon the land, leaving them "neither root nor branch." "…lest I come and smite the land with a curse." Notice also that the specific requirement was to "Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel." As Abraham was to command his children and household to "command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice." So, we must understand that the law is the perfect expression of that very justice and righteousness he was to teach. Joshua 1:8: "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth…" Love for God is expressed by keeping His law, as Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). It is not some vague or sentimental standard that God requires when it comes to covenant household. It is His word, and His word alone that is to provide the our instruction:

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood [infancy] you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:14-17).

In the opening of the New Testament (Luke 1:17) an angel tells Zacharias that his son, John the Baptist, would be that prophet, Elijah, who would "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children." It is clear that household fidelity is at the heart of the work of the gospel. When men and women are converted to Christ, the primary place where the power of the redemptive work should be seen is in the restoration (i.e., redemption), of the covenant household. The family relationships are set in order according to the pattern of God's word. Not only do fathers (and mothers as their husband's covenant companion), focus their affection and attention toward the godly raising of their children, but also the children come to have their hearts affectionately directed toward their godly parents.

Scintillating Diamonds

"There is the darker backcloth to the Good News, namely, the penal and corrective judgments of God, upon which the scintillating diamond of the Gospel shines with a thousand facets. The judgments are also the Word of God; and only he who preaches and teaches the whole Bible, dark and light, rightly dividing the Word of truth, fully proclaims the Word of God. After all, we see a rainbow only on the clouds."

William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Private with God

"A soul is never so much in private with God as when sitting in church being sifted, searched, corrected, fed and nourished by the ministry of the Word."

William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Being Faithful With Children (part 3 of 7)

God has provided us with some unhappy examples of failures to keep covenant with Him. If we let our children grow head-strong, and if we grow afraid of insisting that they comply completely with our instruction, then we have abdicated in our responsibility and have given them up to ruin—covenant curses are all that remain. Do you remember the sad story of Adonijah the son of Haggith? In 1 Kings 1:6 we read, "And his father had not rebuked him at any time by saying, 'Why have you done so?'…" God brought that spoiled son to an untimely and a terrible end. And even in the case of the priest Eli, we read: "In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever" (1 Sam. 3:12-14).

God spoke through the prophet Malachi and chastised His people who had become unfaithful in their duty and responsibility to produce godly children. They were still producing children, but not the right kind of children. Specifically, husbands were being unfaithful to their wives and children and corrupting the covenant household. God warned the He would soon bring judgment if His people did not repent:

Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth" (Mal. 2:14-15).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Being Faithful With Children (part 2 of 7)

Simply being born into a covenant Christian household has never been and never will be sufficient to secure the promised blessings of God. So, what advantage is there to being born in a covenant household? The apostle Paul answers with a resounding, "Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2). It is no small advantage to be born into a family where the Bible is present. Yet there is a dramatic difference in having the word of God in our households and in diligently teaching that word to our children (Deut. 6:7). If you are seriously ill, living in a hospital offers tremendous advantages. Yet, if the doctors and nurses in that hospital are incompetent or lazy, and do not apply the available remedies to the patient, the advantage has become a curse. When our children sin, and of course they will sin, we must be ready and eager to apply the word of God to them with all its power—to expose and root out the corruption as well as to bring about the necessary healing remedy. Nineteenth century American theologian, Robert L. Dabney expounds on this point:

These then are two facts which give so unspeakable a solemnity to the parent's relation to his children. He has conferred on them, unasked, the endowment of an endless, responsible existence. He has also been the instrument—if the unwilling, yet the sole instrument—of conveying to this new existence the taint of original sin and guilt. Can the human mind conceive a motive more tender, more dreadful, more urgent, prompting a parent to seek, for the beloved souls he has poisoned, the aid of the great Physician?. . . .How can you O Christian! Fail to bring your child to the great Physician of souls, to be healed of the deadly contagion you have conveyed to him?

Cats and Dogs

"A true Christian fellowship is a palace where stray cats and dogs can find a home. It is a hospital, where the only sin is to hide your wounds from the doctor and nurse. And the true pastor's job is to strip all the fearful ones, however gently, patiently, faithfully, and all the hypocritical ones of their camouflage and cloaks. Grace and truth come by Jesus Christ."

William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Being Faithful With Children (part 1 of 7)

Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. (Psalm 128:1-4)

A piece of the truth, turned into whole cloth, can produce some ugly garments. While it is generally a good thing that a lot Christians have rediscovered the biblical teaching concerning the blessing of having many children—"Happy is the man that has his quiver full of them" (Ps. 127:5)—nevertheless, more is not always better. "Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble" (Prov. 15:16). Sheer quantity is not a replacement for quality, and "to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48). We do not want to be like the couple who had twin sons and jokingly said, "We gave them biblical names: Jacob and Satan." It is essential that our children, regardless of how many we have, become blessings and not curses to our households, the church and the world.

When God called Abraham, and promised him great blessings, including the promise to make him a blessing to the nations of the world, it was a conditional promise (Gen. 12:1-3). God did not tell Abraham that He would bring all these blessings to pass no matter what Abraham did, but rather God predicated these blessings on Abraham's faith, which was to be demonstrated by his works. God reiterates his promise to Abraham in Genesis 18 and then reveals the conditions for the promised blessings: "…and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him" (Gen. 18:18-19). If, and only if, Abraham faithfully commanded his children and household to keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, would God make the children of Abraham a blessing to the world. This conditional promise is true for every household.

Odd Sheep

"Next to the ministry of the Word, the most fruitful pastoral duty is to help all sorts of odd sheep to live together, and show them how to live in the world amongst goats without becoming goats. One of the great lessons of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is how the saints should fit together. The greatest sin there is to refuse to fit in, and want to stick out like a sore thumb, drawing attention to oneself."

William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

By Christ but not for Christ

"This being a world not only of sin but of the fruits of sin, it is constantly strewn with the wrecks of God's judgments; that's what ruined lives are. There are some who want their lives sorted out even by Christ if He will be so kind, and by Christ's minister, too. After all, that's what he is paid for! By Christ but not for Christ. The whole world wants Christian fruits, but not Christian roots―cut flowers only!"

William Still, The Work of the Pastor

The Fool and Unbelief

"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good." ― Psalm 14:1

Folly and sin are good buddies; they like to hang out together. Adam and Eve questioned the authority and wisdom of God's Word and fools have followed in the footsteps of their first parents. We're all atheists when it comes to sin. We at least have to get God out of the room for a few minutes (if not the universe), so that we can do it our way. Frank Sinatra, speaking of the end of his life, assured us that he had no regrets:

For what is a man? What has he got?
If not himself ― Then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.

Yes, and the rich man did it his way too (Lk. 16). He thought he had crossed the finish line only to find out he had just begun. "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you" (Lk. 12:20). It's the ultimate rude awakening. "Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool" (Pr. 17:10). Like the two-year-old covering his eyes or plugging his ears, the fool must first fool himself.

7 Yet they say, "The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob understand." 8 Understand, you senseless among the people; and you fools, when will you be wise? 9 He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? 10 He who instructs the nations, shall He not correct, He who teaches man knowledge 11 The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile. 12 Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord, and teach out of Your law.

―Psalm 94:7-12

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jack and the Beanstalk

"In the end the Word preached, which they came ultimately to hate, broke them; and knowing it was breaking them, they demanded it be changed and turned into a soothing syrup to heal them. It could not be, of course, for even the gentlest word rent them, and when the fantastic beanstalk of unwitting presumption was felled to the ground by the axe-blows of the Word of God, down came the poor Jacks with it; I was blamed for doing irreparable harm to delicate and sensitive personalities."

―William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Foolishness and the Child

"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him" ―Proverbs 22:15

The child is not born a fool but he does have the seed-money for making one. Foolishness is the stuff fools are made of, and thus "a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Pr. 29:15). It is the central task of childrearing for parents to expunge that foolishness and to see it replaced with wisdom. "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom" (Pr. 4:7).

Now foolishness is often clever and cloaks itself in many forms. The wise parent can see past the disguises―even the cute ones―and is quick to unmask the pretender. Children start in sin and absolute ignorance, which is where foolishness germinates best. When fertilized and watered with selfishness and shortsightedness, foolishness blossoms and bears an ugly and bitter fruit.

Now the seed of this foolishness is located in the heart of the child; it's in the core of his being. We all know that the heart is hard to get at. We are told that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but the way to the foolishness in the heart of the child is through the seat of his breaches; body and soul are connected. Loving discipline drives foolishness out of the heart. Spare the rod and spoil the child. And if the child is spoiled―if he is indulged in his foolishness―then a full-grown fool is made and the end is sad.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Satisfied, Happy and Useful

"All that many spiritually sick people need is a good balanced diet and a disciplined routine. My principal surgery, clinic, vestry hour, consulting room―call it what you will―is the pulpit and teaching desk. If, in the end, I cannot get people to see this, I despair of them ever becoming what Christ means them to be; they will certainly never become the satisfied, happy and, more important, useful people they could be."

―William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Fools and Their Folly

Drawing on the wisdom of the Scriptures, as well as that of other godly men, I hope to write several blog posts that expound upon fools and their folly.

We all start out with a strong dose of foolishness, since “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Pr. 22:15). Thus, each of us has some wisdom to gain from the biblical instruction regarding foolishness. While all of us have acted foolishly, making foolish decisions, foolish comments, etc., the Bible reserves the label “fool” for a special class of people who can be characterized by repeated and sustained foolishness. It is describing the character of a particular kind of person.

Just as wisdom and humility are joined, a close companion to fools is arrogance; “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Pr. 12:15). Foolishness is most often associated with the young, but it’s never as ugly as when it grows old. In Scripture, wisdom is set over against folly, but being smart is not the same thing as being wise. When the Bible speaks of the folly of fools, it’s not referring to your G.P.A. or your I.Q. Folly is always a moral issue.

The fool is a fool because he has forsaken the source of true wisdom in God in order to rely on his own self-suffi­cient smarts. He is unteach­able (Pr. 10:8) and despises instruction (Pr. 15:5); whereas the wise man heeds the counsel given to him; “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Pr. 12:15). The fool has utter self-confi­dence; “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Pr. 28:26). A fool cannot think of himself as mistaken (Pr. 17:10). He professes himself to be wise, but from the opening of his mouth it is clear that he is (in the biblical sense) “a fool”—his only wisdom would consist in keeping silent (Pr. 17:28). “The heart of fools proclaims foolishness” (Pr. 12:23), and the fool flaunts his folly (Pr. 13:16), and returns to it like a dog to his vomit (Pr. 26:11). Not really wanting to find the truth; he really wants to be self-justified in his own imagina­tions. Thus he will not depart from evil (Pr. 13:19), and all his knowledge­able talk reveals nothing but perverse and lying lips (Pr. 10:18; 19:1). He may talk proudly, but “A fool’s mouth is his destruc­tion, and his lips are the snare of his soul” (Pr. 18:7). He shall not endure the judgment of God (Ps. 5:5).

How does a person become such a self-deluded fool? A fool despises wisdom and instruc­tion, refusing to begin his thinking with reverence toward the Lord (Pr. 1:7). He rejects God’s command­ments (Pr. 10:8) and even dares to reproach the Almighty (Ps. 74:22; Job 1:22); “The devising of foolish­ness is sin” (Pr. 24:9). The fool will not be governed by God’s word because he is lawless, just as his thinking is lawless (i.e., sinful, 1 John. 3:4). Rejecting God’s word or law, the fool respects his own word and law instead. Scripture describes people who do not know God, His ways, and His judgments as foolish (cf. Jer. 5:4). The fool lives in practical ignor­ance of God, for in his heart (out of which are the issues of life, Pr. 4:23) the fool says there is no God (Ps. 14:1; cf. Isa. 32:6). The man who hears Christ’s words and yet builds his life on a rejection of that revelation is called a fool (Matt. 7:26).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Straightening Souls

"But it is not even in the private chats which follow the preaching of the Word that souls are straightened out, so much as in further sitting and listening to the Word. How often people have said that they spent a week wrestling over some spiritual or moral problem and then, coming to church, have had it all solved in the ministry of the Word. So much so, that many have accused the preacher of preaching at them."

―William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Goatland

The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become a entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be evangelist and pastors, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God.

―William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Professing to be Wise

"Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink" (Isa. 5:21).

"Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Rom. 1:21-22).

Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University and the University of Melbourne, and a well-known animal rights activist, is quoted in The Dallas Morning News, 11-27-05:

"During the next 35 years, the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological and demographic developments. By 2040, it may be that only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct….When the traditional ethic of the sanctity of human life is proved indefensible at both the beginning and end of life, a new ethic will replace it. It will recognize that the concept of a person is distinct from that of a member of the species Homo sapiens, and that it is personhood, not species membership, that is most significant in determining when it is wrong to end a life. We will understand that even if the life of a human organism begins at conception, the life of a person — that is, at a minimum, a being with some level of self-awareness — does not begin so early. And we will respect the right of autonomous, competent people to choose when to live and when to die."

In an essay by Dr. Singer, titled "Practical Ethics," he tells us that any argument used to dehumanize the fetus disqualifies newborns as well. In other words, there is no relevant difference between fetus and newborn; neither one has acquired self-consciousness, hence, neither is valuable. He recognizes that once you advance the principle that human beings have no intrinsic worth, there is no basis for protecting newborns or fetuses.

Singer further contends that a variety of non-human animals are rational, self-conscious beings that qualify as persons in the relevant sense of the term. Consequently, dogs, cats, and dolphins are valuable persons, while fetuses, newborns, and victims of Alzheimer's disease are not. As for the doctrine of the "sanctity of human life," he tells us that it is nothing but speciesism, an irrational prejudice rooted in outdated religious traditions.

This stands over against the Word of God. The Bible teaches the human value is intrinsic not instrumental. Humans have transcendent value because they are made in God's image. (Genesis 1: 26-27; James 3:9). Because humans have intrinsic value, the shedding of innocent blood is strictly forbidden. (Exodus 23:7; Matthew 5:21). Psalm 51: 5, 139: 13-15, and Luke 1: 41-44 (to name a few) demonstrates conclusively that the unborn are human.

The arguments that are most often used are based upon the false wisdom of men—our reason, not God's Word. Those arguments are cloaked in the sheep's skin of love for life and the desire to improve life. But the animal still smells and acts like a vicious wolf. Our world wants life, but on its terms—not God's.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Eat it Whole

"I despair of some who come to our church and who read our literature, because what they hear and read is only one item of their spiritual diet. Indeed, they eat very little of anything but like children play with their food. That is why they are so thin. They juggle with it as if it were something to sell, not eat, and are not very sure which item is the best selling line.

Eat it, eat it whole. All or nothing. For it is only "all or nothing" devourers of the Word of God who will ever be or do anything for God."

―William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Small Beginnings

The divine conspiracy was hatched within the walls of the womb. God took human form; and He took it not simply as a baby, but as the tiniest of all human beings, a mere biological speck, so small and so undeveloped that it could be mistaken for a laboratory artifact, a research specimen, an object for human experimentation. But this speck was God; this complete genetic human organism, in its primitive and undeveloped form, was so much "one of us" as to bear the existence of the Creator. He dignified humanity by taking the form of this creature He had made in His image. And He did it at the most inauspicious and feeble point in the human life story. At the heart of the Christmas celebration lies the fact of all facts, that God became a zygote.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sheep are for Sacrifice

Israel's sheep were reared, fed, tended, retrieved, healed and restored―for sacrifice on the altar of God. This end of all pastoral work must never be forgotten―that its ultimate aim is to lead God's people to offer themselves up to Him in total devotion of worship and service.

―William Still, The Work of the Pastor

Imbalanced Discussion

In a recently published opinion in your paper titled, "Balanced discussion of abortion rights," John Young writes to his son (and to the rest of us), assuring us that abortion is a "medical necessity," and arguing that the procedure is particularly suitable when conception is the result of rape or incest. He tells us that his chief concern, however, is that the state should not force "a pregnant women to gestate—to carry a pregnancy to term."

Mr. Young is right if we will but grant him one presupposition: The "product of conception" is not an innocent, living human being. If this is true, then we can dispose of it at will. We can deal with the inconvenience of pregnancy the way we might deal with the inconvenience of too many kittens or the threat of too many rattlesnakes. Tumors are simply removed when they present a threat, and so too, this "protoplasmic mass" we call a fetus can be surgically removed and dumped. If Mr. Young is correct, then abortion is little different than pulling a bad tooth—problem solved.

If, however, Mr. Young's presupposition is false, and a pregnant woman (however she became pregnant) is carrying an innocent, living human being, made in the image of God, we have an entirely different proposition. To destroy such a life is the intentional killing of an innocent human life. We can cloak it in medical terms and euphemistically turn it into a "clinical procedure," but renaming it does not change its true nature. Neither the mother nor a doctor nor anyone else can justify killing an innocent human being no matter how inconvenient this life might be.

As doctors seek to preserve life, no doubt some lives cannot be saved. Life is full of difficult and sad circumstances, but we are not free to solve these problems at the expense of others. As some men sexually violate women we should deal justly with them and also justly with their innocent victims. Kill the rapists, not the babies. Protecting innocent life from violence is a primary duty of the state. It is unfortunate that while overstepping its mandate in many directions it falls short in the lives of the most needy.

Pastor Randy Booth, November 20, 2003