Saturday, March 28, 2015

Exhortation for Chris and Grace

People get married for many reasons. But the foundational reason we marry is because we need something. Maybe we are lonely and want a companion. Maybe we want someone to fill our sexual needs. Maybe we get married because we want someone to share the financial burden. Maybe we get married because we want children and believe they will fill some hole in our lives. Maybe we get married because our parents or friends push us towards marriage and we are trying to make them happy. Maybe we get married because we want to get away from our parents. Maybe we get married because we are tired of eating frozen pizza every night.

In all these situations we marry because we need something. We look to marriage and more specifically to our spouse to fill some hole in lives. We enter marriage as consumers. Our spouse is there to provide us with something. This consumer approach to marriage causes several problems. 

First, we suck our spouses dry. The reality is that no human being, no matter how great or how wonderful, can meet all of our needs. We all function from a deficit. In reality we are all a cup that is 1/3 full. No matter how much we pour the other person will never be full. No matter how much our spouse pours into us we will never be full. Our ledgers are in the red.  

Second, we end up viewing our spouses as vending machines. My husband is there to provide…fill in the blank. My wife is there to provide…fill in the blank. They become objects. Their purposes is to satisfy me, much like Kroger's purpose is to give me bread and milk. 

Third, our spouses struggle because we are focused on our needs instead of their needs. If we view our spouses as

The problem with this is that no matter how hard we try we cannot meet our spouses needs and they cannot meet our needs. But we try and they try. Each time we come up short. We end up more and more empty. One day we wake up and find out our spouses are not enough and, perhaps more painfully, we find out we are not enough. A person who is empty cannot be expected to fill others. But what if we could get full? What if instead of entering marriage with a list of needs for my spouse to meet, we entered marriage full with  of ways we will meet our spouse’s needs. What if marriage became about giving from our overflow instead of giving from being 1/3 full? What if there was never a shortage?  Well the good news is that we can become full. 

How do we reach this place of fullness? There is only one way, Jesus Christ. There are two verses I want to bring to your attention this afternoon.

John 4:13-14 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Chris and Grace, only through Christ can you be full. That woman at the well had tried to get full. She had tried five husbands. But she was still empty. Christ said that he could fill her up so she never thirsted again. Those who trust in him are full. They have abundant life. Those who do not believe in Him are empty. You cannot fill each other up, if you are empty. You cannot pour out if you are half-full. Chris the only the way you can fill Grace, is if you are full. Grace the only you way can fill Chris is if you are full. That means your love for Jesus, your trust in Him, and your confession of your sins is the glue that holds your marriage together.  When Christ fills you several things happen.

First, you focus on filling your spouse instead of meeting your own needs.

Second, you view your spouse as someone to be loved, not something to used. You no longer approach marriage as a consumer, but rather as a giver. 

Third, when you hit dry, hard spots you will not drain your spouse.  Marriages are usually good when things are going well. But when hard times hit then the strength of a marriage is tested.  Now imagine our cup illustration. Imagine that things are hard and you are only 1/3 full. What if you ask more of your spouse at that time? Her cup is getting lower, but  you are demanding more. Your cup is getting lower, so you are giving less. What happens? You both end up empty and blaming the other person. Bitterness sets in. But when you are filled with Christ, you can give until you are dead. This does not mean that you are always happy or that there is never any tragedy in your life. It does not mean that your marriage is all roses and no thorns.  But it does mean when difficulties arise you will not destroy the other person in the middle of your pain. 

What does it mean to be filled with Christ? It means faith in Him. It means worshiping Him with His people. It means quick repentance and quick forgiveness. It means being sanctified by the Spirit.  

Chris and Grace do not enter marriage as consumers. Enter it as those who are filled to the overflowing with Christ. Then you will spend your years giving to one another instead of taking. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Burn Your Idols or Burn Your Children

The word 'burn' is rarely used in the Chronicles. However, its uses are instructive. Twice we find men burning idols. In I Chronicles 14:12 David defeats the Philistines and burns their idols. In II Chronicles 15:16 Asa burns his mother's idols. In a similar act of cleansing, Josiah takes the bones of the priests of Baal and burns them on the altar as he purges Israel of all her idols (II Chronicles 34:1-7).  The Lord command Israel to burn idols when she entered the promise land (Deuteronomy 7:5, 12:3), David, Asa, and Josiah were following the explicit commands of God in burning idols.

There are two other examples of burning in Chronicles, but this time it is not stone or wood that gets burned. It is flesh and bone. In II Chronicles 28:3 Ahaz burns his children in the fire "according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord has cast out before the children of Israel." In II Chronicles 33:6 Manasseh causes his sons to pass through the fire as act of worship.  The Lord warned Israel of this in Deuteronomy 12:29-32:
When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.' You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. "Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. 
Recently Israel approved state funded abortions for women ages 20-33 for any reason at all. Israel, the nation beloved by GOPers around the world, now has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world. In 2013 there were over 980,000 children killed in the womb in America. There are 40-45 million abortions worldwide each year,  roughly 125,000 abortions per day. What is the reason we kill our children? What is at the root of this holocaust? As terrible as abortion is, it is just fruit, not the root of the problem. The root that gives us abortion is idol worship. We love pleasure. We love freedom. We love money. We love our houses peaceful and clean. We love our vacations and our toys.  We love convenience. We worship the great trinity of pleasure, freedom and money. Therefore we kill our children.

Until we burn our idols like David and Asa we will continue to kill our children. Until pastors encourage their parishioners to stop loving the world and start loving God then we will continue to kill our children. Until we teach our sons and daughters that God made them to be fruitful we will continue to sacrifice our children, Until we want children more than we want money or time or pleasure or cleanliness we will continue to burn them. Often those who do not abort their children worship the same gods.  We may not burn our children, but we still love pleasure and money. We still whine and complain about our children. Or refuse to have any or carefully limit how many we have. Or send them off to the state to educate them because it is too hard to do at home or costs too much to send them to a private Christian school. Many people who oppose abortion with their mouths support it with their lives. Even though we may not abort our children, the idols of pleasure, money, freedom, and convenience are often set up in our homes and our churches.The church must burn these idols and cleanse her sanctuaries of these abominations before she can speak with authority in the public square and abortion ends in this land.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review: Intellectuals

IntellectualsIntellectuals by Paul Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book that is devastating to many of those that modern thinkers hold in high esteem, such as Rousseau, Marx, Tolstoy, Sarte and Brecht. Johnson knows a lot, has studied a lot, and is willing to call these men (and one woman) what they were: mean, greedy for fame and often money, immoral, hateful towards women and children, and above all persistent liars. Truth for them was malleable, especially when their reputation was at stake.

One reviewer said that Johnson ignored their good contributions, which is not true. He notes that if Tolstoy has stuck to writing he would have been fine. He says that Hemingway's devotion to his craft was unsurpassed. But the point of the book is that they did not just write or speak. They thought they were messiahs who had some special destiny to guide humanity in truth. The theme is not what they did well, but how their lives were staunchly immoral, despite their accomplishments.

As I look around our world the thoughts and ideas of these men still echo, but it has shifted to Hollywood. Today it is not philosophy professors or even playwrights who shape thinking, but actors, directors, and the movies they make. Fascination with sexual freedom, the love of money, the shading of the truth in the name of Humanity, the desire to identify with the workers, excusing violence when it accomplishes their ends, and the vicious intolerance of all opposing viewpoints was characteristic of intellectuals and is now characteristic of Hollywood and our ruling class in general.

Unfortunately, Johnson's book assumes, what can no longer be assumed, a standard of right and wrong that has long since be lost. Most who read it today will be fascinated, but ultimately will say, "So what that Hemingway was a drunk adulterer? Who cares that Marx lied? Who cares that men claimed to be pacifists, but often supported violence to accomplish their goals? What is that to me? I like their books and their ideas and their movies. And isn't my opinion and feelings what really matters?" That response goes to show that, at least in America and Europe, the intellectuals have won.

View all my reviews

Tear Your Hearts, Not Your Garments

We love outward shows of piety and righteousness. We like people to know when we do something right. We also like people to know that we have repented when we do something wrong. We like visible shows of piety. But Joel 2:13 reminds us that the goal is a change of heart, not a change of clothes. You can make all sorts of signs of repentance. You can weep, moan, kneel, do penance, pray, and yet your heart remain untouched. Outward signs of repentance do not mean there has been inward change. 

We like shallow repentance. We like easy answers, with little digging and little pain. We want to be forgiven and yet keep our sins. But Jesus tells us to pull out our eyes if they cause us to sin.  Joel tells us that tearing our coats are easy. Giving a little extra money is easy.  Kneeling is easy. Tearing your hearts? Not so easy. Gouging out your eyes? Not so easy. Cutting off a hand? Not so easy.

The good news is that Jesus is kind. He will grant us repentance if we seek for it. The real question this morning isn't, "Will Christ grant us a heart to repent, forgive us, and help us turn from sins?" The real question is, "Do we want a repentance that deep?" Or do we just want to look repentant? 

Exhortation before the confession of sin: March 15th, 2015. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Heart of a Serial Killer

I am not sure how closely TV matches reality, but if the show Criminal Minds is near the truth then FBI profilers have an interesting job. In the show, a group of behavior analysts try to catch serial criminals (usually killers). The focus is on the psychology of the criminals, not the forensics of the crime. What is it that makes these killers tick? Why does that guy burn down houses? Why does that woman kill other women? Why does that man rape and kill women and then carefully bury them with their arms cross? Mixed in is a lot of Freudian non-sense. I am not necessarily recommending the show. I am not sure about shows that claim to be against violence, but often glorify the violence they claim to oppose.

What I found interesting about the show is the criminals do what they do to fill a need. A common phrase on the show is, "The criminal does [fill in crime here] to fill a need." Determining what need the criminal has will often help them catch the criminal. Of course, lurking in the background is secular psychology and no concept of sin, repentance, and salvation. However, it got me thinking about how we all try to fill our needs and the results of trying to fill those needs. In the show the needs are often emotional.  A man needs power so he rapes. A woman hates her father so she burns down houses with unfit fathers. A child abandoned by his mother beats another child. A man needs control so he kidnaps kids. And so on.

We want there to be a chasm between us and those criminals. Sounds outlandish doesn't?  Abusing others to meet a need in ourselves is not what we do. Right? Right? Of course, we do.  That is one of the reasons the show makes sense. Humans function from a deficit. We are all running on empty. All of us are needy.  The show merely gives us the big, bloody, terrifying truth about all of us. We use other people to fill our own souls. We take from others to give to ourselves. Our cup is half-full so we suck from those around us.

Many of the criminals on the show believe they are doing good. As Christians we can take the same approach. We do good things and ask others to do good things, but the reason is to fill some hole in us. Christians don't kill others. But we manipulate them to get what we want. Christian parents do not usually physically abuse their children, but they chain them in other ways, such as making house rules into God's rules. Christian wives do not usually shoot their husbands, but they will use verses such as Ephesians 5:25 to make sure their husbands don't lead, but give in to their whims. Christian husbands do not usually treat their wives in wicked ways sexually, but they will view them as objects, there to satisfy their needs. Our hearts often function in the same way as those serial killers. We are empty and needy and therefore we take from others.

The answer, the only answer to our emptiness, is Christ. He is the only one who fills our needs. With Christ we are full. Therefore we do not need to take. With Christ we do not want (Psalm 23:1) and therefore we are free to give to those around us. If you are not being filled by Christ then you will stay empty. If you are not being filled by Christ you will drain those around you dry. You will wither and those around you will wither. If you are empty, look to Christ, who gives water that quenches all thirst (John 4:13-14).

Friday, March 13, 2015

Seeking the Lord in the Chronicles


The Chronicles have always been some of my favorite books. Maybe I got that from my father, who loves the stories there, especially David's mighty men.  As you study a book, you begin to recognize themes, threads that tie the book together. Chronicles has several different themes, but one that I did not anticipate was that of seeking the Lord. In the very first narrative section (I Chronicles 10:1-14) we see that Saul was killed by God because he failed to "seek guidance" from the Lord. So from the very start the author wants us to realize that one of Saul's great sins was failing to seek God. David repeats this theme when he says that during the days of Saul men did not "seek" the ark of the covenant. Here are the two verses. The translation is ESV. The Hebrew word used is "darash."
1 Chron 10:14  He did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.
1 Chron 13:3  Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul."
This idea permeates the book. After David's failed attempt to bring back the ark he says:
Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule (I Chron. 15:13).  
In other words, David, just like Saul, had failed to seek the Lord before bringing back the ark.

The other uses of "seek" in I Chronicles are listed below.
1 Chron. 22:19  Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the LORD."
1 Chron. 28:8-9  Now therefore in the sight of all Israel, the assembly of the LORD, and in the hearing of our God, observe and seek out all the commandments of the LORD your God, that you may possess this good land and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you forever. And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.
All of these verses are David giving commands to people. In 22:19 he addressing the leaders of Israel and encouraging them to seek the Lord and be a help to his son Solomon. In 28:8-9 He is addressing Solomon as he prepares to take the throne. Notice that I have "searches" in bold in 28:9. That is the same word as "seek." It gives us a better idea of what the word means. Those who seek God are not passive. They are searching for him, searching out his laws to see what he requires, searching for his face in prayer. Seeking God is not like wandering in the woods. It is like searching for hidden treasure.

Here are some other uses of the word in II Chronicles.
2 Chron 12:14 And he [Rehoboam] did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the LORD.
2 Ch 14:4  and [Abijah] commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.
2 Chron 15:2  and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, "Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
2 Chron 15:12-13  And they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul,  but that whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.
2 Chron 16:12 In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.
All the references in 15 and 16 are to King Asa and his reign.
2 Chron 17:3  The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals,
2 Chron 19:3  Nevertheless, some good is found in you [Jehoshaphat], for you destroyed the Asheroth out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God."
2 Chron 20:3  Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
2 Chron 26:5 He [Uzziah] set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.
2 Chron 30:19  who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness [Hezekiah praying for the people].
2 Chron 34:3  For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek [Josiah]  the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images.
Here a few other points from these texts.

Seeking God begins in the heart (I Chron 22:9 and II Chron 12:14, 19:3, 30:19), but it leads to concrete behavior, such as the rejection of idols, obeying God's word, prayer, and humility.

Seeking God and his commandments are not quite synonyms, but they are closely related. We see this parallel in II Chronicles 14:4 where Abijah commands Judah to seek God and keep his commandments. The two ideas are in parallel with each other.

Good leaders seek God and call those under their authority to seek God. Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah all called upon Israel to seek God. Parents, pastors, dare I even say it, magistrates are to call upon their people to seek God.

The opposite of seeking God is seeking help from some other source. Asa sought help from physicians instead of from God. Jehoshaphat refused to seek help from the Baals instead he sought help from the Lord.  This means prayer is one of the essential ways seek his face. We do not rely upon man or our own resources, but we cry out to the Lord to rescue and deliver us.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Decapitated

Here is a quote from Calvin's Institutes, Book II, Chapter VIII. He is explaining why the worship of God (the first four commandments) is the foundation for righteous living (last six commandments). It is very easy to focus on moral living without focusing on the worship of God. Calvin rightly says you should not do this.
The first foundation of righteousness undoubtedly is the worship of God. When it is subverted, all the other parts of righteousness, like a building rent asunder, and in ruins, are racked and scattered. What kind of righteousness do you call it, not to commit theft and plundering, if you, in the meantime, with impious sacrilege, rob God of his glory? or not to defile your body with fornication, if you profane his holy name with blasphemy? or not to take away the life of man, if you strive to cut off and destroy the remembrance of God? It is vain, therefore, to talk of righteousness apart from religion. Such righteousness has no more beauty than the trunk of a body deprived of its head. Nor is religion the principal part merely: it is the very soul by which the whole lives and breathes. Without the fear of God, men do not even observe justice and charity among themselves. We say, then, that the worship of God is the beginning and foundation of righteousness; and that wherever it is wanting, any degree of equity, or continence [self-restraint], or temperance, existing among men themselves, is empty and frivolous in the sight of God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adventure Trumps Safety

I am enjoying Edwin Friedman's book A Failure of Nerve. In it he attacks several common leadership ideas and replaces them with a different paradigm. One key idea in the book is that leaders take risks. An environment which limits risk ultimately limits leadership.  Risk means the possibility of failure and pain. Risk is not doing something you know everyone agrees with and will be happy about. A lot of us think we are taking risks, when really we are not.

He also hammers on what he calls "displacement." What he means by this is that people refuse to take personal responsibility, but instead "displace" their responsibility by blaming someone or something else. He points out that often the thing blamed is important, but it becomes too important in the person's emotional well-being. He ends this section with this quote, which is thought provoking.  The bold is mine.
Today the issues most vulnerable to becoming displacements are first of all, anything related to safety: product safety, traffic safety, bicycle safety, motorboat safety, jet-ski safety, workplace safety, nutritional safety, nuclear power station safety, toxic waste safety, and so on and so on.  This focus on safety has become so omnipresent in our chronically anxious civilization that there is the real danger we will come to believe that safety is the most important value in life. It is certainly important as a modifier of other initiatives, but if a society is to evolve, or if leaders are to arise, then safety can never be allowed to become more important than adventure. We are on our way to becoming a nation of "skimmers," living off the risks of previous generations and constantly taking from the top without adding significantly to its essence. Everything we enjoy as a part of our advance civilization , including discovery, exploration, and development of our country, came about because previous generations made adventure more important than safety. 

Idols Kill Joy


We know idol worshipers will eventually pay, but they sure have fun in the mean time. We often think of sin as a wicked thing, but a wicked thing that brings us pleasure and joy. Yes, sex can be an idol, but it is a fun idol. Yes, worshiping money is a sin, but having money is so much fun. Yes power and control can be a idol, but it it is so much fun to run the lives of other people.  I know coveting is idol worship, but boy it is such to joy to look at those things I want and long for them.

However, Hosea paints a different picture.  In Hosea 2 God accuses Israel of giving silver and gold to the Baals, the idols of the day. Israel is running around worshiping idols. This involved theft, sexual immorality, and power plays. But this does not lead to fun. Instead God says he will put an end to all Israel’s mirth (Hosea 2:11). Mirth is an old word meaning laughter, joy, cheer and merrymaking.  We look out at sin and we think, I know it is wrong, but wouldn’t it be fun. But the reality is that idol worship leads to joy evaporating. When we worship idols, feasting, merrymaking, wine, laughter are all destroyed. Two things I want to remind you of this morning as we prepare to confess our sins.

First, have you lost your joy? If so, then there is an idol somewhere that is eating at you. Find it, repent of it, and kill it.

Second, as a church one way we know we are worshiping God is the presence of joy, laughter, and mirth. Sundays are not easy days, but they are joyful days. Do you like to feast? Do you like to fellowship? It is odd, but when we laugh together and fellowship together and eat together, we are putting idols to death. 

Exhortation Before Confession of Sin: March 8th, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bavinck on Organizing Theology

Here is the final paragraph from Part I of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics Vol I: Prolegomena. This chapter is entitled "The Method and Organization of Dogmatic Theology." Throughout the chapter Bavinck explains what men have used in the past to organize theology. He then gives this concluding paragraph to explain how he organizes his dogmatics. To be clear early in the chapter he says  Scriptures are the sole foundation of theology. The question he is now answering is how should we organize theology. All parentheses are his.
Accordingly, the order that is theological and at the same time historical-genetic in character deserves preference. It, too, takes its point of departure in God and views all creatures only in relation to him. But proceeding from God to his works, in order through them again to ascend to and end in him. So in this method as well, God is beginning, middle, and end. From him, through him, and to him are all things (Rom. 11:36). But God is not drawn down into the process of history here, and history itself is treated more justly. God and his works are clearly distinguished. In his works God acts as Creator, Redeemer, and Perfecter. He is "efficient and exemplary Cause of things through creation, their renewing Principle through redemption, and their perfective Principle in restoration (Bonaventure). Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in Christ; it is the system of Christian religion.  And the essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation  of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a Kingdom of God. Dogmatics show us how God, who is all sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Eph. 1:10). It describes for us God, always God, from the beginning to the end-God in his being, God in  his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics therefore is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God's virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a "glory to God in the highest" (Luke 2:14).
While the quote is long and decontextualized, it shows why Bavinck does not think Christ can be the organizing principle of theology. Dogmatics begins with God, which obviously includes Christ, but is not limited to Him, then proceeds to creation, redemption, and ultimately glorification. This method keeps God and his works related, but distinguished. It also allows for full development of the Trinity and their works while again allowing them to be interrelated, but distinguished.
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8