Thursday, November 30, 2006

Holy Trinity Weekly

After a week of Thanksgiving feasting, we are back. This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the Year of Our Lord. So, Happy New Year!

The history of the Advent Season reveals the true heart of the people of God preparing for Christmas. Begun as early as the fourth century, different parts of Christendom observed the weeks leading up to the Nativity with a mixture of penitence and joy. Some, recognizing the humiliation of the Incarnation and its cause: the sinful state of the world, fasted and sought God's mercy for themselves, their neighbors and their nations. Others, recognizing the brilliance of God and the
victory of the Incarnation could not help but decorating with lights and colors and composing music and poetry fit for the birth of the King. This legacy is all wound up together in Advent which by turns is somber and penitent remembering the Hebrew boys slaughtered by wicked Herod, remembering our wickedness and our need for a Savior, and yet wound through this is the heart of faith which in spite of
the sorrows and evil of life sees the long-expected Seed, the true Isaac, the Laughter of God, bringing peace and joy to the World.

As you prepare and begin to celebrate in your families and as we gather for worship in these weeks, seek to hold these two elements together: a sober recognition of the Fall but always with a slight grin and twinkling eyes, like a joke awaiting the punch line, like the darkness of winter punctuated by smiling, dancing lights.

The sermon text for this Sunday will be from our first lesson: Jeremiah 33:14-16. Our other lessons will be I Thessalonians 3:9-13 and Luke 21:25-36.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Books and Culture on Sufjan

Come on and feel the Sufjan Stevens.

I'm fairly new to Sufjan. I enjoy what I've heard so far, but I tend to agree with the musical analysis of these guys. I appreciate the lyrics; and certainly appreciate his dislike for the "Christian Music" scene. I also really dig the concept album idea. I don't buy albums for one or two songs; I have a personal standard of insisting that all or nearly all of the songs be favorites before such a buy. So I'm already inclined to listen to albums as albums.

My son can already recognize when Sufjan comes on the iPod at home. He immediately says, "All things go! All things go!" (no matter what song comes on). I ask him, "Who's this, River?" And he says, "Sufjan!" So far, my son recognizes Jamie Soles, Johnny Cash, and Sufjan Stevens without prompting. I've tried to round out his musical education with a little J.S. Bach (which we listen to regularly), but he's been a little slower on that one.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Onward Christian Soldiers

Thomas Epting died on Friday. He was sixteen years old. After battling leukemia as a young boy, Thomas was healed for several years before a relapse of cancer with five brain tumors. I did not know Thomas well at all. I only had the privilege of meeting him once. The other elder of Holy Trinity and myself visited him and his family to pray for his healing just three or four weeks ago. He was not wasted away as I had halfway expected him to be, but looked like a fairly healthy teenage boy. It was his face and posture that clearly showed a very sick young man. He was pale and his head hung down somewhat as he sat in a reclining chair. He did not say too much, but his few words were kind and appreciative of strangers who meant him well. His eyes were closed often during our time, but he followed the conversation and occasionally added a comment or two. He read the prayers with us as we prayed for peace, strength and healing. His left side was paralyzed by that time, and he moved very little. There was a place in the prayers for a particular word of encouragement or exhortation by the minister to the sick. It was not required that I say anything; it was merely an option given in the fine print. But I felt compelled to say something, to read something to this young man staring death in the face. We were praying for healing, but we were doing this by faith, seeing nothing to indicate that it was happening in the things that are seen, but believing that God was able to do such a thing. I finally decided to read him a war song; we all knew he was in a grave battle and I hoped to encourage him, to give him courage as the war grew grim and fierce. I read him the words to King Alfred’s War Song:

When the Enemy comes in a’roarin’ like a flood
Coveting the kingdom and hungering for blood,
The Lord will raise a standard up and lead His people on,
The Lord of Hosts will go before defeating every foe;
defeating every foe.

For the Lord is our defender, Jesu defend us.
For the Lord is our defender, Jesu defend.

Some men trust in chariots, some trust in the horse,
But we will depend upon the name of Christ our Lord,
The Lord has made my hands to war and my fingers to fight.
The Lord lays low our enemies but he raises us upright.
He raises us upright.

For the Lord is our defender, Jesu defend us.
For the Lord is our defender, Jesu defend.

A thousand fall on my left hand, ten thousand to the right,
But He will defend us from the arrow in the night,
Protect us from the terrors of the teeth of the devourer,
Imbue us with your Spirit, Lord, encompass us with power;
encompass us with power.

For the Lord is our defender, Jesu defend us.
For the Lord is our defender, Jesu defend.

From all accounts Thomas had a faithful and courageous testimony to the very end. I’m thankful to have met this young soldier and feel blessed to have been in the presence of one who is now standing in the throne room of our King. I trust and pray that his heart burned a little brighter as he faced his enemies like King Alfred and the many Christian soldiers that have gone before him.

I remember shaking his hand as I was leaving. His grip was still strong, and we held hands for a moment longer than most parting handshakes. For my part, I meant all the strength and encouragement a simple handshake could possibly convey, and I do not doubt that he meant all the gratitude he could muster in that lingering grip.

Thanks be to God.


Eating and Drinking the Life of Jesus

"Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? "Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Mt. 7:9-12)

We have seen today that Fathers are to feed and nourish their children in the culture and instructions of Jesus. What is the culture and teaching of Jesus? We see in the gospels a lifestyle of eating and drinking with sinners, healing the sick, and teaching the masses. And all of these good gifts were given by the Father to a nation that would eventually put his own son to death. We are called to this table, but this table also promises to nourish us with this life of Jesus. And the life of Jesus is one of selfless gift giving. We began our study on Royalty in the Family with the duty of gift giving. But sinful hearts want to see the justice now; what if I confess my sins and he/she doesn’t care? What if I start respecting my dad, and he just keeps acting like a jerk? What if I start really loving and cherishing my wife and she keeps running her mouth? What if I start feeding my children the gospel in love but they continue to spit it out in my face? You mean: what if the Father sent his Son for the salvation of the world and then got rejected and killed? Well, beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus, that’s exactly what happened. But the resurrection of Jesus was his vindication, and it is our vindication as well. This means that you are called to give these good gifts of love and respect and obedience even to death. Even to death. Even if no one ever knows, even if you go to the grave scorned and hated by the whole world. This is the life of Jesus you are eating and drinking. Do you have the courage for this kind of life? Do you have the guts? Are you man or woman enough for this? God thinks so because He is at work in you by His Spirit perfecting all that you are. Do not shrink back. Come: you are the Kings and Queens of a royal people: you are the princes and princesses of nobility. Come and eat and drink with thanksgiving. And look around at one another as you do so; we are feasting on the life of God, the Eucharistic, thanksgiving life of God.


Growing a Royal Culture: The Children of Nobility: Ephesians 6:1-4

Weeks and years can and should be spent studying the area of the covenant household, the Christian family, and today we are condensing even more the relationship between parents and children. But if Paul can condense his teaching into four verses; it is permissible to condense our consideration to one sermon. Paul’s instructions are essentially two-fold. First to children and then to fathers: Children honor; fathers do not provoke. This is your royal callings; you are nobility as you take up these duties in faith.

To Children of the Covenant:
Paul begins by exhorting children to obey. For support he cites Deuteronomy five, where Moses has re-given the law and given a promise with it. The original publishing of the Decalogue in Exodus 20 gives essentially the same information. But Deuteronomy makes it clear that there are two distinct but closely connected promises that are attached to the command to bestow honor upon parents. The promises are long life and a good life in the land. Notice that Paul equates honor and obedience. Children, descendents, posterity, etc. are to obey by honoring and honor by obeying. We know from Scripture and other historical evidence that first born sons received a double portion of their father’s inheritance because that “honor” would later become support for their parents (cf. Mk. 7:11-13). This establishes the principle that honor is always required but it can and does look differently throughout a lifetime. Children must grow up understanding this; and parents must not put obstacles in the way of children fulfilling this calling. And Paul says that this obedience is “right/just/righteous”.

The second promise is a good life in the land that God is giving us. This promise is empty if you do not believe that we are being given this land or if you don’t think the land is worth inheriting. But “[life] going well with you in the land” is directly related to eschatology, your expectations of what the world is going to come to look like over the next centuries and millennia. And this entails cultivating a “contempt for the cool”. “Cool” is evasive, fading, and ignorant. Of course nothing is wrong with looking nice, but it is stupid to think that the latest fashion fads are any different than they have ever been. Covenant children should grow up with a healthy cynicism for trends and fads, especially ones that claim the opposite of what they are: “unique”, “different”, “rebel”. Covenant children must grow up despising this kind of double speak.

Covenant Children, we are being given this land. That is why we gather here for worship. That is why we celebrate the Eucharist; that is you were baptized. We truly believe that we are being brought through another great Exodus in Jesus Christ. Come with us in faith into the land. Do not wish to go back to Egypt; do not fall in the wilderness from unbelief. Come with us into the land; fight with us; do not be cowards; do not envy the godless.

To Parents:
Paul exhorts fathers in particular here not because mothers do not have an important role to play in the raising of faithful children but because fathers are held responsible for their families. This means that fathers must recognize this responsibility. This does not mean that fathers are held liable for the guilt of their children’s sin, but it does mean that father’s are held responsible for it (Ez. 18:20, Ex. 34:6-7). The father will not be punished for the sins of his son, but the fact that a son is carried away in sin is the father’s fault. This is terrifying, but this is God’s way and it is his intent for this to be a blessing. This means that fathers must be sin confessing warriors. You must confess your own sins and the sins of your household. You must do this not as nit-picking cranks, but as honest, faithful fathers and husbands following the example of faithful Job (cf. Job 1:5). If things are not going well in your home whether your child is six months or sixteen, get on your knees and do some soul searching confession.

Further, you are called to raise your children up not provoking them or making them angry, but in the nurture/culture/lifestyle and instruction/warning/admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). This means that you must raise your children up in the spoken and unspoken ways of the faith. You must show them and tell them. Proverbs 22:6 says that training of a child stays with him even when he is old. The proverb is intentionally ambiguous referring both to the specific “instruction” and the “way”. But the point is that there is a “way of life” and a “way of the mouth” that make up the training, and those will stick for better or worse. These two ways must also include both positive and negative direction; this is just logical and biblical coherence. Choosing one thing is a simultaneous rejection of everything else. This is always implicit and must be made explicit for children.

Application & Conclusion
Finally, I exhort you parents, but particularly fathers to imitate God the Father in delighting in your children (e.g. Mk. 1:11, 9:7). This means that you must imitate the Father by saying this out loud. This is not an invitation to pride or boasting (let him who boasts, boast in the Lord). But this means respecting your children and having grateful hearts to God out loud. It is not thankfulness and respect to only having thankful/respectful feelings in your bellies. Have those, but you must say and act accordingly. Delight in your children; do not be blind to their weaknesses, but determine to see God’s blessing in their lives and praise them loudly. If you don’t, then you are not delighting in them and you are blaspheming the Triune God.

In our text, the word Paul uses for “bring up” or “raise” primarily means to “feed” or “nourish” (e.g. Eph. 5:29, Rev. 12:6). Are you feeding your children with the nurture and admonition of the Lord or are you starving them? Are you feeding them or are you stuffing it down their throats? Is the Christian life being presented as a feast or famine? A banqueting table full of joy or barren land with grumbling and harping? Covenant children, much has been said to your parents, but you must recall that you are called to be royalty, nobility. Regardless of how your parents are doing or will do, your royal calling is joyful obedience in the Lord. The Christian faith is a call to inherit the land, to take possession of vineyards and cities, spoils of our King. Therefore all of you forgive as you have been forgiven, confess your sins, turn from them, and come join the feast.


Not a Family Pet

Do not come here confessing the same sins week after week. If you have been, then confess that sin again honestly and in faith, and the sin of not really confessing your sins. When you confess your sins truly and honestly, you must also repent of them. The word “repent” means “to turn away from”. If you are confessing the same sin week after week then you are not really confessing sin: you are merely reminding yourself and God of all the offenses that are alienating you from God. If you really do want to repent but haven’t been able to on your own then ask someone like your parents, your spouse, or one of your elders to help. If you confess your sin and then ask for help, you have truly confessed and you have begun to repent, you have begun to turn away from that sin. Of course sometimes it takes several stabs to slay that particular dragon in your life, and you may have to confess a particular sin more than once. But do it and be done with it. Put the sin to death like the enemy it is; do not keep bringing it to church like some kind of family pet. Jesus said that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! Whatever it takes, do it! Sin is for confessing and forsaking: get out your sword and start hacking.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Eucharistic Guardians

We’ve talked about house building and house guarding today, focusing on how wives are to be the guardians and rulers of the house. And we have said that it must all begin and end in thankfulness: gratitude from first to last, over and over. It should come as no surprise that this is exactly how Christ has told us, His bride, to keep and guard His house. He has given us this meal, the Eucharist, the Great and High Thanksgiving Meal which we celebrate week by week together, offering our thankful hearts back up to God for the body and blood of Christ which is our life and salvation. This is how we guard and rule the house of God, right here, sitting down as Kings and Queens, princes and princesses of the royal priesthood of God, singing His praises with thankful hearts. So come eat and drink; God is building us up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. So come eat and drink and worship the Lord with thanksgiving.


Growing a Royal Culture: From Garden to Garden City: Titus 1:10-2:10

We saw last week that the marriage covenant is an image of the covenant of Grace, the relationship Christ has with his Bride, the Church. Husbands are called to imitate the gracious reign and rule of Christ by bestowing gifts upon their wives to the end that they are presented as glorious and beautiful. This means that the people of God, throughout the ages are the bride of Christ being made glorious and beautiful. Looking back, we can see God’s work of preparing and adorning his bride.

House Guardians
Paul is writing to Titus who has been left by Paul on the island of Crete as pastor of pastors. His job was to appoint qualified elders in every city (1:5ff). Apparently things have been kind of bumpy for Titus. There are insubordinate people in the churches “subverting whole households”, lying, and using Jewish traditions to defile the people of God (1:10-16). Paul tells Titus here that he needs to start a long sermon series on the Christian household covering old men and women, young men and women, slaves and any other position in life he can think of (2:1-10ff). Our particular interest today is with Paul’s instructions regarding what older wives are to teach the younger wives, particularly with the duty of being “house guardians” (2:5). This is one word in Greek, a compound word with “house” and “ouros” which means guardian, keeper or warden. The word in other contexts can mean “boundary” or even the canal by which a ship would be launched into the sea. There are a couple of root verbs that this word comes from one which has to do with “seeing” and one that has to do with showing “care or concern”. Interestingly, it’s also related to a word for time from which we get the word “hour”.

The Garden Sanctuary
Eden was the first house that God prepared for His people. There are many lessons to learn from this first house for God’s bride. But one of the most significant is the idea of progress. Every day creation is pronounced good, but every day God comes back and does more. Therefore Christians must have this as their standard of excellence: from glory to glory, from good to good. Finally, God created humanity to be his bride, to continue the work that He began in the world: ruling, glorifying, filling, and guarding (1:26-28, 2:15). This is the task of all of humanity still, but by analogy it is the task of wives who image the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:24-27). Notice that the only other “creature” given the task of ruling are the sun, moon, and stars; we are enthroned in Christ in the heavenly places like the rulers of heaven. Wives, you are the heavenly ruler of your house.

The Tabernacle Sanctuary
This Garden House was lost through sin, and it is not until the tabernacle do we see God’s continued commitment to making a dwelling place for himself in the world with His people. This house images that original house having three spheres representing heaven, earth, and the seas (ie. Most Holy Place, Holy Place, and Courtyard). The furniture and decorations also mirror that original house having cherubim guarding the sanctuary, a stylized tree with the heavenly lights, a table with the produce of the ground, and a glorified humanity guarding and keeping the house (e.g. Aaron’s garments) (Num. 3:32). Notice two things about this house: there is continuity and there is glorification from the previous house. As God matures his people, their house matures. This principle is really the same as the progress we saw in the Creation week, but it applies to our homes too. Homes with young children will look and function differently than homes of grandparents. Secondly, the Tabernacle and the Mosaic/Levitical system were very concerned with distinctions. Clean and unclean, holy and profane, holy places and outside the camp were central to keeping God’s house pure and clean. Christian wives are free to organize their homes to suit their needs and gifts best (in consultation with their husbands), but the character of God shows us that His bride must learn this discipline. Homes that have no organization proclaim a disorganized Church, and declare a chaotic bride of Christ. If God’s people must approach him with discipline, orderliness and joy, why would we think that a Christian home would be different?

The Temple Sanctuary
Finally, we should notice that the Solomonic Temple is the pinnacle of the Old Covenant house motif. Again we see all of the elements of the Garden and the Tabernacle but with more glory and now more permanence. It is made of wood; it is in one place, and it is heavy, grounded. The word glory means “heavy”—one of the glories of the temple is its heaviness and stability. It is also glorious in its richness. Consider two things: the Temple is awe inspiring for the nations; it welcomes seekers from afar. The Christian home should be such a glory, not in a gaudy, competitive, or trendy way. It should be glorious for its stability, its discipline, the obvious care and labor put into it. And it should be welcoming to the world (ie. neighbors and friends), not a museum that everyone is afraid to touch, but a warm, welcoming home. Secondly, remember that God left the temple and it was destroyed. The house of God was glorious and beautiful, but for all of that, God’s people filled it with wickedness and God left. Christ called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs, and that wasn’t a compliment.

Application and Conclusion: Your Home
The two extremes are either to forget about the externals to the neglect of the internals or vice versa. The wedding ceremony is the metaphor for marriage. The wedding is both glorious and beautiful inside and out. There is no false dichotomy here.

But the last temptation is to take these points and start applying them to others. You are not the Holy Spirit; you are not the husband of other women. You, as a Christian wife, answer to your husband and ultimately to God himself. Use care with your words; these principles will look different, and different families will need to work on different things.

And do not despair or be overwhelmed with your task: Begin with giving thanks for what you have already been given. Romans says that the fundamental difference between unbelievers and Christians is thankful hearts. Cultivate gratitude this week as we celebrate, but cultivate a deep relentless thankfulness for your husband, your kids, your house, your furniture, your colors, your dishes: just keep going down the list and when you’re done, start over again. This is the most effective way of guarding your house.


Bottling the Spirit

Do not save all of your sins up for Sunday. If you come here with a pile of sins to confess then you must confess all of those sins and the sin of waiting until now to confess them. This confession in this service is to remind you to be always confessing your sins immediately as you are confronted with them. And in the off chance that you walked in here this morning huffing and puffing about something or another make it right now. And if you snapped at your husband or wife or one of the kids at the soonest opportunity ask their forgiveness. Confession of sin does not happen only once in the Christian life. There is not just one cataclysmic conversion with tears and long laundry list of sins to confess and viola! You’re a Christian and it’s all good. Sometimes God does confront people like Paul in a sudden mid-life sort of way which presents the need for a great mountain of confession at that point. But the entire Christian life, which normally lasts from your baptism when you were a newborn baby to your last dying breath in old age is an entire life of conversion, an entire life of confession and repentance. Saving sins up for Sunday is a miniature version of revivalism, the heresy that thinks it can put the Spirit of God in a bottle only to be unleashed on Wednesday nights from 7 to 9pm. You are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Do not quench the Spirit by saving sin up, and thereby cluttering up your Temple. Confess your sins regularly, constantly, continually offering the sacrifices of God which are a humble and contrite spirit.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Of Honor and Leviticus

Just got out of Early and Medieval Church history class not too long ago. Dr. Fairbairn pointed out the convergence of several manifestations of the ideal of 'honor' or rectitudo, the recognition of the right ordering of things. This is what medievals considered the 'rightness' of God, angels, humanity, creation in their orders, in their place, in their callings, and the honor of each for what and where they are. This medieval cosmology, if I remember right, is a central theme in Lewis' The Discarded Image, and it is often referred to in British Literature classes as the Elizabethan World's 'Great Chain of Being'. Dr. Fairbairn pointed out that Urban II preached the First Crusade on the basis of God's honor, and this was a theme well known to the populous in terms of chivalry, keeping the code of the Christian knight, the honor of the Arthurian ideal. He also pointed out that this was also behind Anselm's work on the Atonement that saw the Fall of humanity as a distortion of the harmonious rightness of God's original order which ultimately was damage to God's own honor. The substitionary Atonement was God's own means of rescuing humanity for his own honor and glory, setting the order of the universe to rights.

With that on the back burner, I'm studying for my Old Testament exam which is tomorrow on the Torah. It occurs to me that this is largely the same argument that Mary Douglas has presented in Purity and Danger concerning the distinctions of clean and unclean in the Israelite purity codes. She argues that there is a fundamental idea of 'wholeness' or 'completeness' that defines the cleanliness of animals, an essential rightness or wrongness in certain species that identifies them as clean or unclean based on their anatomies, eating habits, or other idiosyncrasies.

If this is a fair parallel, we may have a sort of Hebraic or ancient world cosmology at work in the High Middle Ages giving credence to such monumental episodes as the crusades and Atonement theology.


Monday, November 13, 2006

40 Pounds, Jesus, and the Queen

My son stalks into the room carrying my tape measure. His toddler head rolls around on his small frame looking for the proper object of study. His eyes alight on a small shelf near the foot of our bed. He marches to the subject, pulls the measuring tape from its socket, tilts his head and announces to the room, “40 pounds!”

My son walks up to me smiling. “You look like Jesus, dad.” I’m not exactly sure what to say. While we aren’t Nestorians, we don’t have a plethora of icons or images lying around either. And while he does have a small picture Bible I don’t think we’ve spent too much time dwelling on the physique of the artist-rendered man portraying our Lord. In fact, one pious (or not so pious) bible story book tactfully manages to block or cut out the face of the Christ-figure in every picture he’s present in. But my son nevertheless says I look like Jesus. I’m not exactly sure what he means. So I ask him. “What do you mean, son?” He shrugs his shoulders and says, “Jesus was a good man, dad. And you’re a good man, dad.” I’m grateful for the compliment, but I’m still not sure exactly where to go with this new information. In fact, while I was undone by my son’s initial annunciation, I’m far more skeptical now of the whole thing. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably go hunting through the house to find out exactly what my son had been doing just prior to this new revelation about his father’s Christ-likeness. If I know my son at all, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this glorious inspiration occurred hot on the heals of some high handed sin. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get my chance, and in the mean time I’ll try to take advantage of my new found theophanic status.

My daughter is a drama queen. She pulls faces like only a three month old can pull. And you believe her every time. She’s broken hearted; she’s despairing of her life; woe is her. We believe her. You believe her. We are all suckers. She is a goddess, and we do her bidding. Actually, we don’t really, but sometimes we try and then she makes some fatal mistake. Sometimes it’s a loud noise or a particularly intense moment in the music in the background, but her bulging eyes and puckered face and rolling tears will stop like a switch and she’ll peer out at her surroundings with a slight scowl, slightly annoyed that someone has interrupted her impromptu colical monologue. Then we watch her. She doesn’t see us, but we’re watching. She’s blowing bubbles, cooing, and looking at her fingers with déjà vu eyes like artifacts from a world she’s been to long, long ago. She looks up at the fan; that fan and she go way back. He’s always been there for her. When her parents left her to fall asleep on their bed, when they left her there crying in the late afternoon sun while they bustled about ignorantly in the kitchen preparing food for their bellies. But the fan has always been there; sometimes moving, sometimes still but a friend in the straits of a three month old’s life. She squeals and blows a raspberry for the fan. She twists to the right; she turns left, arching her back and extending her puff pastry legs. Her mother and I finally resume our tasks and she catches the movement in the distance. As though pause had only been momentarily pushed, the previous scene resumes and the baleful lament is once again offered up to host of high heaven.


Promiscuous Kindness

These are the gifts of God for the people of God. God is generous. God is open-handed. God is promiscuous with his kindness; he is unscrupulous with his grace. He’s given us all things in Christ Jesus, and on top of that, He has given us His Spirit working out gifts in our lives. And he seats us here week after week spoiling us with good bread and good wine, his body and blood for our joy and nourishing. This God does not invite you here begrudgingly; he isn’t going over all your failures or weaknesses. He’s not reminding you of how you really could have done that better. He’s inviting you with open arms; He delights in you. He rejoices over you with singing and dancing. He is not ashamed to call you His own. And this is not something you’ve earned. It’s all a gift. So come with joy to receive the gifts of God. Rejoice in receiving these gifts because God is rejoicing in giving them to you. Come eat, drink, and rejoice.


Growing a Royal Culture: Ephesians 5:22-33: Noble Husbands

While this text includes exhortations to wives, our purpose this morning is to look at what Paul exhorts husbands to. In particular we want to consider what it means to be noble. What does it mean to be royalty? What does it mean to be a king? One very basic role of kings is to bestow gifts (Est. 2:18, Prov. 19:6, Dan. 2:48, Eph. 4:8).

Loving and Giving
Paul tells us that the husband is the head of the wife and then proceeds to explain what that means. It means that husbands are to love their wives and give themselves for them. This love is primarily giving. Exodus 21:10 records the basic gifts that a husband is required to continually bestow upon his wife: food, clothing, and sex. While the context is clearly dealing with a man who wants to take a second wife, it makes it clear what the primary duties are to that first wife. Those gifts may not be diminished; they are ongoing. And what husbands need to remember is that these are gifts. You are bestowing presents on your wives, and they are to be given with joy and delight not stinginess or grumbling.

Sanctifying and Cleansing
Why? To what end must a husband give? For two things: First that he might sanctify and cleanse her by the water of the Word. Perhaps there is an allusion here to both the Word of God and baptism. But the point is that the ‘loving and giving’ is the prerequisite for sanctifying and cleansing. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means by which God’s Word saves us. The death and resurrection of the Word made flesh guarantees and establishes its efficacy. Likewise, husbands are called to be a sanctifying and cleansing force in their homes, but this is a worthless effort if they are not first giving themselves to their wives and children.

For Glory and Beauty
Why? To what end must a husband give? That he might present his bride to himself glorious and beautiful without blemish. The pattern in Scripture is always from glory to glory, and we are not Gnostics: glory is evidenced. Husbands, your goal as husbands is to so give yourselves to your wives that they are made more lovely, more beautiful, and more glorious. The Song of Songs pictures the bride through the song as a garden enclosed, a sanctuary of flowers and fruit. This sanctuary is not glorified by ignoring it. It is glorified by delighting in it. Love bestows loveliness. And neglect of this kind of love is a form of self abuse. Christ presents his bride to himself glorious, and we are to do the same. It is not a Christian virtue to not care if you have a beautiful wife. Christian women should be the most beautiful women in the world. If Christ is not shooting for anything less, neither should we.

Conclusion and Application
One temptation for men is to either want an easy 1-2-3 checklist or to just throw their hands up in disgust. And the two are often directly related. The man says, “I tried, I tried, and nothing happens…” and so in frustration he gives up. I bought her a shirt, I gave her the money and tried to be tender, but she didn’t like the color, she said it wasn’t enough, and then when I went to hug her she went limp. Now maybe his wife has some issues, but the problem is that he hasn’t really tried to love a woman. He’s tried to engineer a result; he’s tried to manipulate the numbers by rearranging the values. He’s treated love like calculus, and when he doesn’t get the desired results, he curses the entire enterprise. But that is the way of law not of grace.

Another temptation may be to see all these gifts and then despair because you have neither the time or the money to come up with them all. I may be a king, but not that kind of king, sort of like a Christian woman reading Prov. 31 for the first time and bursting into tears because she hasn’t got any spare real estate or a fleet of ships. But these are principles, they are not snap shots. Every husband can clothe, feed, and physically cherish and love his wife. Some husbands will send their wives to the store with more to spend than others. But husbands must send their wives to the store. Cupboards may be filled differently than others as God enables, but they must be regularly filled. Sometimes if a careful look is taken at the checkbook the priorities can become very plain: hunting trips, movies, beer, or books or whatever the husbands favorite toys are, and then well there’s just not much left, sorry hunny.

But this is your calling as a Christian husband, a member of the royal priesthood, the nation of kings and priest to our God: bestow these gifts. Bestow these gifts as gifts because grace has come through Jesus Christ, grace upon grace, gift upon gift.


Cheap Bargain Basement Special

When we do not confess our sins, we of necessity turn the Christian life into a system of earning our salvation. There may be many reasons for not confessing sin: we are afraid of the consequences, we are embarrassed, or we come up with a thousand other logic-chopping excuses for why it just doesn’t really matter. But whatever our self-justification is we ultimately must come to the conclusion that it won’t really matter in the end because we’re still “saved”. But why won’t God hold that sin against you? How do you know? Because you believe in Jesus? Because you were baptized? Because you eat at his table? Because you know Reformed theology? Because you’re dressed nicely, your home is in order and you haven’t killed anyone or robbed any banks? But all of these are things you have or have not done. You’ve turned the free and precious gift of God into a cheap bargain basement special. Consider any of the sins that you are still clinging to, unconfessed, unrepented of. What kind of ‘good works’ are you doing to try to compensate for them? What kind of deal are you trying to make with God? But the Scriptures say, Let your good deeds perish with you because you have thought that the gift of God can be purchased! (Acts 8:20) Confess your sins, all of them, let them all go now. Repent of this wickedness, and come worship the Lord.


Thursday, November 09, 2006


The Christian Almanac records that November 11 is remembered in the Christian Church as Martinmas in honor of Martin of Tours, a faithful bishop who was martyred on this day in 397 as well as Martin of Umbria who was also martyred on this day in 655. Both men endured great suffering, persecution, and personal humiliation for the sake of the gospel. According to legend, Martin of Tours once cut his own coat in half and shared it with a beggar. Apparently that part of his coat was later saved and preserved as a holy relic in France and even carried into battle by some kings. The cloak was later kept in a "chapelle" after the French word "chape" which meant "cape". The man in charge of the chappelle was the "chapelain". Of course we get the words "chapel" and "chaplain" from these happy occurrences.

Even this somewhat quaint story illustrates the significance of little acts of faithfulness. A coat for a beggar, speaking the truth, confessing sin or whatever other little act of obedience God may call us to is part of the great story of redemption. We now use the words chapel and chaplain throughout the world as a result of one man's charity, and one day the world will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea as the result of the grace of God working in the lives of countless millions.


Confession and Success

While the confession of sin may not result in success, unconfessed sin certainly will not.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Raised for our Justification

In Romans 4 Paul says that Christ was crucified for our offenses and was raised for our justification. This is perhaps one of the most important statements about justification in all of Scripture. It establishes two very significant truths about this doctrine. First, that justification is a judicial act of God that so completely acquits of sin and every offense that we are not longer even under the power of death. Second, justification is something that took place in history, almost two thousand years ago. While we truly speak of our justification as the reality of God applying Christ’s resurrection to us in a personal way, we must never forget that our justification is in fact Christ’s justification. Christ was the innocent one, the just one, the righteous one, and therefore the grave could not hold him. Therefore, having faith in Christ means believing that his justification is our justification now, and that we will ultimately be raised from the dead like him. But this meal is a resurrection meal: it not only points back to crucifixion, it also points forward to marriage supper of the lamb, the great banquet following our resurrection. But we're eating it now! This means that this meal also signifies our justification. If we are eating the resurrection meal, then we have been raised up together with Him already and have been seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Therefore rejoice: Christ was crucified for our offences and He was raised for our justification.


Mark 16: The Resurrection of the King

Here we come to the end of the gospel, the resurrection of King Jesus. The final identification of who this man was. This is God in flesh, and therefore death could not hold him.

A Note about Manuscripts
Some of your Bibles may have verses 9-20 bracketed or perhaps you may even be missing them. Two of the earliest manuscripts that we have do not include the last 11 verses of Mark. The King James and versions that follow the ‘Received Text’ follow the critical work of Erasmus and before him the Byzantine tradition of manuscripts. While it would be foolish to be dogmatic about these things, there is value in placing greater trust in the church rather than the academy’s modern notions of ‘biblical’ or ‘textual criticism’. Mark may have added this portion to a later manuscript or authorized another disciple to complete the text. Or it may in fact be a much later addendum, but who are we going to trust?

The First Witnesses
Mark records that the first witnesses of the empty tomb are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. They intend to anoint the body of the Lord, but find a young man in white garments instead. While there is no explicit identification of the “young man” it is striking that the last reference to such a person is in the garden just after Christ’s betrayal and arrest. There, he left his clothes and fled naked; here he is seated peacefully and clothed in glorious raiment. While these two characters may not be the same person, the imagery is clear. Adam’s shameful nakedness has been clothed in a long white robe. The narrative of this episode ends with the women fleeing in fear and not telling anyone; this reminds us of the secret motif found elsewhere in the gospel. Yet, this time it is disobedience. Apparently Mary Magdalene came back to the tomb or perhaps never left altogether, but she is remembered as being the first witness of the risen Lord (v. 9-10).

Two or Three Witnesses
In the law, God required independent, collaborating witnesses to establish legal fact (Deut. 19). This high standard of justice is no less present here where there are two independent sources testifying to having seen Jesus alive (Mary and the two disciples). While the other gospels place emphasis in different ways, Mark is quite emphatic about the disciples’ unbelief. And this is what Jesus’ rebuke consists of when he finally appears to all of them, not believing those who had seen him. It is no accident that this rebuke is followed directly by the great commission. This rebuke is implicitly directed at those who would hear the preaching of the disciples, the likely first readers of Mark’s gospel.

Confirming the Word through Signs
Some have taken Christ’s words concerning signs to be a prescription for what belief looks like, and where these signs are missing belief must be absent. But we know that this is not the case because Acts records what belief looks like and it is not always accompanied by these signs and never all of them (e.g. Acts 13:13ff, ch.16-17), although all or most of these signs do show up at some point in the book of Acts. Church history confirms that these signs did often confirm the word of missionaries, and in Acts we see mini-Pentecosts breaking out as the gospel goes out from Jerusalem. But Mark’s last statement is important: these signs were confirming the Word. These signs are descriptive of what God sometimes sent (and sends) when the Word needs confirmation, but that is quite different from saying that these signs are prescribed for every last believer.

Conclusion and Application
Signs confirm the Word: this is the pattern of the sacraments confirming and attesting to what the word declares. Baptism affirms that we have passed from death into life through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Eucharist affirms that we are members of the New Kingdom and that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first fruits of heaven on earth. Genesis 1 attests to this patter: first the word then the created reality. The New Creation follows this same pattern as well: first the cross then the resurrection, first faith then good works.


A Realm of the King

This week our nation will hold elections and pass laws and select officials to rule over us. For many this is on of the great holy days of the year, the great religious feast and festival to their god Demos, the worship of the people, the worship of politics, the worship of democracy or the democratic process or whatever other names they conjure up to give their obeisance to. There are two important things for us as Christians to remember in this: First it is certainly good and right for Christian men and women to go out and vote for laws which uphold the Word of God and cast ballots for leaders who will do likewise. But we do not do these as acts of worship to their god. Their god is an idol of paper and numbers and polls and the evil hearts of men, but we serve the Triune God who rules over all. And that brings us to the second thing: we do not live in a democracy. We do not live in a republic. Our states and nations are all realms of the Kingdom of God; we live in a monarchy. Jesus is King over Asia and Europe and South America and Australia. Jesus is King over the United States. All of our political maneuvering and legislating is either in submission to the King or acts of treason. He rules the nations; God sits on the throne and does as He pleases. Therefore do not fear man; do not fear polls; do not worry about numbers; do not tremble at their idols of wood and stone. Fear God and honor His King. For His dominion is everlasting and His kingdom will never end. No election can ever change that.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fall is Funny