Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bible Reading in 2009

It is virtually impossible to know the Bible thoroughly without reading it all regularly, and it is almost impossible to read the whole Bible regularly without a plan. Thankfully, there are many Bible-reading plans readily available. The English Standard Version website has several plans available in a variety of formats. I would fervently encourage you to take advantage of these plans. Let's be relentlessly biblical in 2009!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Virginians at Home

Virginians at Home: Family Life in the Eighteenth Century (Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1952) is a sprightly little book by Edmund S. Morgan, reflecting fine scholarship without the scholarly technicalities. Morgan reconstructs the pattern of colonial family life, discussing growing up, getting married, servants and slaves, and houses and holidays. Though his survey of the times is brief, his treatment is satisfying, not the least because Morgan truly appreciates the fact that these people "enjoyed living." The families of Virginia were far from perfect, as Morgan clearly shows, yet they built and inhabited a genuine society, the likes of which we can only dream of today. Virginians at Home invites us to critically admire the wisdom of family life in the eighteenth century.

[Want to learn more about Colonial Williamsburg? Check out their attractive website here.]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Believe that Jesus Is the Messiah

The meaning of Christmas cannot be understood or experienced apart from worship. So come, all you faithful, to worship Christ the newborn King with us!

Songs
The Father Sent the Son
O Come, All Ye Faithful (#88)
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Still, Still, Still
Away in a Manger (#112)
We Three Kings
The First Noel
Who Is He In Yonder Stall (#120)
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (#92)

Scripture Reading
The Savior Who Is Christ the Lord - Luke 2:1-21

Sermon
Blessed Be God for Blessing Us In Christ with...Faith - John 20:31; 3:16

Please join us also for a Christmas dinner and singing Christmas carols!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thinking Too Hard

For those of you who might have read the post "True to Our Feelings" and are a little tired of philosophical thinking, here's something for a diversion. It's a poem by Wendell Berry.

A PASSING THOUGHT

I think therefore
I think I am.

(From Given, published by Shoemaker & Hoard, Washington, D.C., 2005)

Forgiveness

Those of you in Phil's counseling and discipleship seminar have been studying biblical forgiveness, so when I came across this story I wanted to direct you to it.

Pastor Scott and Janet Willis have been a wonderful testimony to the grace of God ever since six of their children were killed in a tragic accident (the story is available here; scroll down to read). I had the priviledge of being a guest in the Willis home one night a couple years before the accident. I was a college student at the time. I remember that we talked about wrestling and watched a video of their oldest son's state championship match. We talked about what the Lord was doing in their church. We played with the little ones - the very children that the Lord took to be with him through the accident. Because of that connection, I have always remembered the Willis family vividly, and I have always been challenged by their faithfulness in affliction.

I would urge you to read the whole post over at Between Two Worlds, and may this help all of us to practice biblical forgiveness.

True to Our Feelings

Emotions seem to lie in that vague and mysterious part of our lives that we experience all the time but have a difficult time putting into words. The recently deceased philosopher Robert C. Solomon explored this land extensively over the course of his academic career, and one of his last summations of his thought is found in True to Our Feelings: What Our Emotions Are Really Telling Us.





Solomon tries to answer the question, "How can we get what I now call emotional integrity? How can we enjoy and thrive with rather than be plagued or haunted by our passions" (x)? As he develops his argument, he wants to "defend a distinctively ethical view of our emotions" (1). He also "wants to contend that we are not merely passive victims of our emotions but quite active in cultivating and constituting them...Furthermore, I want to argue that emotions are not only intelligent but also purposive in a surprisingly robust sense...Accordingly, we are to a significant extent responsible for our emotions, something that we often deny for the most self-serving of reasons, to make excuses for ourselves" (3).



Solomon pursues his inquiry in three phases. Part I explores an existentialist perspective on emotional strategies. And in fact, Solomon sees emotions as exactly that - strategies, or ways of engaging the world. He does this by looking at anger, fear, love, compassion, grief, happiness, guilt, shame, pride, envy, spite, resentment, and vengeance.



Part II builds off of these explorations of specific emotions toward a general theory of emotions. He says that an emotion theory should help us to understand why people have the emotions that they have, which helps us both to understand ourselves and to respond to other people appropriately. But in order to get to this kind of a theory, he wants to eliminate several myths about emotions. These myths are "excuses, misinterpretations, or one-sided understandings" which enable us to "evade both responsibility and understanding" (127). These are the myths he challenges:

1. Emotions are ineffable. Rather, he says, although emotional experience is very complex, it can be articulated, analyzed, and refined.

2. Emotions are feelings. "Feeling," Solomon argues, is a much broader term than "emotion." Feeling is anything which registers in the consciousness. Emotion, on the other hand, always has an "aboutness" or intentionality.

3. Emotions are like hydraulics, "a psychic fluid filling up the mind or the body." This outdated mechanical metaphor, Solomon says, is inadequate to explain the desires and processes of emtional experience.

4. Emotions are "in" the mind. Solomon blames this way of thinking on Cartesian dualism. Instead, he says we should reclaim what Aristotle and the Stoics already knew so long ago - that our emotions are in the world in social space.

5. Emotions are stupid (i.e. have no intelligence). Emotions are actually engagements in and with the world. They require knowledge and evaluation, Solomon argues.

6. Emotions are either positive or negative, good or bad. Instead, any given emotion can be good or bad, positive or negative according to the situation.

7. Emotions are irrational. By challenging this myth Solomon wants to argue against the idea that emotions are nonrational. He is not claiming that they cannot be irrational in terms of seriously missing their target. They can be irrational in the sense of being poor strategies for engaging the world. However, they always involve judgments.

8. Emotions happen to us (they are "passions"). Solomon believes that emotions are always our doing to some extent, and not merely something that happens to us. He says that this is especially the case when we consider that the most significant emotions are processes over time. There are choices involved, often multitudes of choices. We can best deal with our emotions by taking responsibility for them.



Part III crowns Solomon's quest for emotional integrity with a discussion of the ethics of emotions. Since emotions are constituted by evaluative judgments (which is not the same thing as saying that they are always deliberative), they are value laden. They are thus ethically significant. Our emotional experiences, Solomon says, are intricately complex, involving sensations, our awareness of the world, of ourselves, and of our intentions, as well as thoughts and reflections on our emotions. Because emotions are structured by evaluative judgments, it is very difficult to assert that there are properly basic emotions common to all people. An emotion is basic if it is central to a certain way of life. So, an emotion such as anger might be more basic to some societies than to others. But even in this emotions differ between societies because particular circumstances call for differing evaluation, which structure the emotions differently.



Solomon's closing chapter applies the perspective he has laid out in the book to ultimate issues: happiness, spirituality, and emotional integrity. He averrs that "a happy life with emotional integrity is...a life in which one wisely manages emotional conflicts in conjunction with one's most heartfelt values" (268). This is a kind of existentialist authenticity. But happiness applies only on an personal level, so Solomon moves up to the "meta-emotion" spirituality. This, to him, is "the thoughtful love of life" (269). This requires gratitude, the philosophical emotion of appreciating the bigger picture and having a chance to play a role in it. It is "expanding one's perspective...so that one comes to appreciate the beauty of the whole as well as be absorbed in our own limited projects and passions. That is spirituality. It is, perhaps, the ultimate happiness, and it is an ideal expression of emotional integrity" (270).


Having summarized Solomon's work, what is my evaluative judgment about it? How could a Christian benefit from his ruminations? Without going into too much detail, let me just note a few opportunities for engaging the world that this book offered me.

As a Christian, I feel glad for one central theme of the book - emotions are ethical judgments for which we are responsible. This is certainly in keeping with God's revelation. For one thing, it helps us to see how culpable we are as sinners before God. For another, it helps us to see how radical the transforming work of the Spirit is in sanctification.

As a Christian, I also feel enriched by the expansive view of the emotions observed and described in the book. This is helpful as I apply the Bible. Many times we circumscribe the meaning of the Scripture according to our preconceived notions, and so we struggle with how to apply it to our lives. For example, have you ever wondered if it is hypocritical to do what is right even when you don't feel like it? Any pastor who deals with the souls of men is likely to find his thinking challenged to look at the Scripture with fresh eyes after reading this book.

Finally, as a Christian, I feel sad for one central failing of this book, and, apparently, of the life of the author. Repeatedly in his quest for emotional integrity, Solomon begins tracking down paths that should lead him to acknowledge that he is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps 139:14). This, of course, ought to lead him to say, "Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." In other words, Solomon (what an irony that this is his name!) is such an astute observer of mankind that he cannot help but be confronted with the One whose image man bears. And, in fact, he is.

Solomon closes his book, and his quest for emtional integrity, by coming face to face with the reality that he ought to be grateful to God. Yet he turns his face away. Here are his words.

Thus it is all the more important to feel gratitude for what is most valuable to most of us, namely, our lives....But one of the questions that has always intrigued me about such cosmic gratitude, and it certainly bothered Nietzsche as well, is to whom one should feel this gratitude. As an emotion, gratitude is defined, at least in part, by its "object," namely the reception of a gift of some kind....To whom should one be grateful for one's life? (269-70)

Solomon acknowledges that Christians have no problem with this question. "But I do," he honestly states. He continues:

Being grateful "to the universe" is a limp way out of this quandary....But does it make sense to be grateful to the universe? I can image Dr. Roberts [a Christian philosopher] saying, Isn't this really being grateful to God without admitting it?

Perhaps one could avoid God by claiming to be thankful "to chance," or perhaps "to luck"....But again the effort seems limp. The to whom question gets begged again....Are we stuck with being ungrateful about the single gift that matters most?

Clearly Solomon feels the tension of the position he is in. He feels in his bones that cosmic gratitude is essential to emotional integrity and a meaningful existence. And he is too honest of a philosopher to duck the questions that spring out of this conviction. Yet apparently he feels even more deeply, so deep it is at the core of his being, that he cannot acknowledge God. How does he try to get out of the bind?

I think the "to whom" question is misplaced here....I think that there is another solution, more radical in that it severs gratitude for one's life altogether from the interpersonal emotions...."Opening one's heart to the universe" is not so much personifying the universe as reflecting on as well as feeling and expressing a cosmic gratitude, that is, expanding one's perspective, as the Stoics insisted, so that one comes to appreciate the beauty of the whole as well as be absorbed in our own limited projects and passions. That is spirituality (270).

With this last ditch effort to avoid God Solomon has just undone his whole project, for there is no way to have both an impersonal, irrational universe and personal, rational emotions as he has painstakingly described throughout his book. With his willingness to "sever" gratitude from interpersonal emotions, he has just admitted that there is a gaping chasm in his whole philosophy. But he would rather have that than admit that he lives and moves and has his being in the God of the Bible. Unwittingly, Solomon has become a perfect illustration of Romans 1:21, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him...."

So, I feel sad. An exploration of emotional integrity that could have ended in the enrapturing worship of the Triune God, ended by denying the very Source of joy. What makes all of this even sadder is that before this book was even officially published, Robert C. Solomon died. He was not true to what his emotions should have told him.

Theology and Big Families


Al Mohler reports this morning on a phenomenon that has been widely noted and discussed in recent years - "those who take belief in God most seriously tend to have more babies. For many years, the conventional wisdom has held that demography determines destiny. Well, now it appears that theology determines demography." Over and over again, observers of all stripes are noticing that those who really believe that there is something to live for bigger than themselves reproduce far more than those who believe that life is all about themselves.

Makes sense to me.
(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Bernhard. You can see her website here.)


Friday, December 12, 2008

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand

Jesus Christ saves sinners. That is the wonderful message called the gospel, literally, the good news. When Jesus was on this earth, he proclaimed that message, and his disciples continued to proclaim it after he had ascended to heaven. As Jesus and his disciples preached that message, there was one element which was repeatedly emphasized - repent. That is quite a concept, and we will search the Scriptures this Lord's Day about it. We want to hold fast to our Lord's message: Repent and believe the gospel!

Songs
Joy to the World (#92)
The First Noel (#98)
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne (#93)
As With Gladness Men of Old (#97)
Silent Night! Holy Night! (#109)
From Depths of Woe (#337)

Scripture Reading
The Birth of the Savior - Matthew 1:1-25

Sermon
Blessed Be God for Blessing Us in Christ with...Repentance
Mark 1:15

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Great Titles for Children

I am nearing the end of reading three wonderful biographies for children written by Joyce McPherson. My children have enjoyed them as much as I have.








Biographies are a great means of teaching, learning history, etc. Yet I also think of these kinds of Christian biographies as an opportunity to help our children to set their hope in God and not forget his works (Ps 78:5-8). Those who understand history well (Prov 9:10) will have their eyes opened to see God at work all the time.

Life Without Limits

The modern liberal order refuses to live within God-ordained limits. This has become increasingly clear to me. This morning Albert Mohler commented on another indication of this - a 70 year old woman who gave birth thanks to IVF techniques. (You can read his perceptive critique here.) But this is not the only indication of such Icarus-like tendencies. In virtually every facet of life, the world says, "You can have it all." Or, to put it in more serpentine language, "You will be like God."

There is nothing new under the sun, and we can see from Genesis 11 that this lie has animated the aspirations of human society from ancient times. The whole earth set about to make a name for themselves. They proposed to build a great city around a great tower to accomplish this goal. Since a “name” in Scripture is often an indication of one’s character and reputation, this is a boldfaced attempt by mankind to make themselves great. This is pride on parade, and it lies very close to the heart of what sin itself is. “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God, whether in act, attitude, or nature” (Grudem). At the heart of this is “failure to let God be God” (Erickson). This is precisely what we see mankind doing in this text. Thus we have in this passage the blossoming of “the world” (and the false religion that is at its heart – Babylon). In one sense, all the rest of Scripture can be seen as a contest between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world with its rival ruler, the devil.

The Lord's response to this pride is particularly instructive. He said, "If they are one people..., from now on nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them." In other words, humanity would be able to achieve its own purposes as opposed to God's purposes. Of course, you know the story of the Tower of Babel, and you know that God in his judgment (and mercy) did not allow this to happen. But the point here is that the world system has always tried to surpass its God-given boundaries. Our day is no different. We think that our technology will somehow enable us to play God.

I am particularly concerned for Christians who have bought into the modern liberal way of thinking. Many, many of my fellow believers consider themselves to be "conservative," but they tend to pursue the life without limits that so characterizes contemporary American society. They have some conservative instincts, but they hardly perceive the bundle of contradictions that their lifestyle presents to any genuine conservatism. Our choices in family, healthcare, communications, entertainment, economics, foreign policy, and even church practice betray that we have at least one ear cocked to the music of the pied piper of this world. We are more conformed that we even realize.

Now, I would be remiss if I stopped at critiquing the rebellious life without limits attempted by liberalism. For there is a true abundant life, actually called eternal life, to be found in Jesus Christ. Our human hearts cry out for this. The modern life without limits is simply a twisted, deformed attempt to get what we were really created for. But as Christians, we must show the world the true "life without limits" found only in Christ. And we must never forget the seeming paradox of following Christ - "whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). We will never gain this life by pursuing our "freedom." We will only find it as we submit, as we trust, as we obey, as we worship our Lord. Living within those limits is the way to life without limits.

Parenting for Eternity

Russell Moore helps to put parenting into eternal perspective. It will only take you two minutes to read the whole article, and you will be encouraged in the work God has given you to do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Worthless Worldlings

In preparing for our discussion of Holiness tonight, here is an admonition that I want to take to heart.

How many clergymen work hard in their profession for a few years, and then become lazy and indolent from the love of this present world! At the outset of their ministry they seem illing to spend and be spent for Christ; they are instant in season and out of season; their preaching is lively and their churches are filled. Their congregations are well looked after; cottage lectures, prayer meetings, house-to-house visitation, are their weekly delight. But, alas, how often after beginning in the Spirit they end in the flesh, and like Samson, are shorn of their strength in the lap of that Delilah, the world! They are preferred to some rich living; they marry a worldly wife; they are puffed up with pride and neglect study and prayer. A nipping frost cuts off the spiritual blossoms which once bade so fair. Their preaching loses its unction and power; their weekday work becomes less and less; the society they mix in becomes less select; the tone of their conversation become more earthly. The cease to disregard the opinion of man; they imbibe a morbid fear of 'extreme views', and are filled with a cautious dread of giving offence. And at last the man who at one time seemed likely to be a real successor of the apostles and a good soldier of Christ, settles down on his lees as a clerical gardener, farmer, or diner out, by whom nobody is offended and nobody is saved. His church becomes half empty; his influence dwindles away; the world has bound him hand and foot. He has walked in the steps of Lot's wife. He has looked back.

I desire your intercession that I would not be such a man.

Classical Christian Education

One of the things I so appreciate about our church is its attitude of learning, thinking, striving, and growing. We want to know God, and this is no small task. This attitude shows itself prominently in our families through the many of you who homeschool your children. Of course, homeschooling itself is no small task, and for those who take it seriously it forces families (especially fathers) to make real decisions about important issues. So, for those who are educating themselves about how best to educate your children, I would recommend you consider reading "The New Classical Schooling" by Peter Leithart, recently published in the Intercollegiate Review Spring 2008 edition. It is a helpful overview of the history and thinking of the "classical Christian education" movement in America.

The Word Was Made Flesh

Here's something interesting you might want to follow as you turn your hearts to the Lord this Christmas season. Chuck Bumgardner is posting a quote a day from church history regarding the incarnation.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Musical Notes

A couple items I'd like to bring to your attention.

Scott Aniol, of Religious Affections Ministries, has a new book coming out this month entitled Worship in Song. I had the privilege of interacting with draft versions of this book, and I believe that Scott is making a helpful contribution to the discernment of God's people through the publication of this book. Scott and his wife have also just released a CD, God Himself Is with Us. I listened to the sample tracks, and I would like to commend Scott and Becky on their superb hymn choices for this recording.

Another new church music site just launched - Churchworksmedia.com. Be sure to read the short article on singing psalms.

You Can Expect More of This...

Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek magazine, had this to say about those who appeal to the Bible in order to oppose sodomy.

No matter what one thinks about gay rights—for, against or somewhere in between —this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt—it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.

This is an attempt to define any appeal to what the Bible actually says as out of bounds in the discussion. Of course, this is very convenient for those who do not want to admit biblical authority. It reminds me of when I was a child. When we would play war, and it became obvious that my opponent had a weapon that was blowing me away (such as he had the garden hose while I had a little squirt gun), then the natural thing to do was simply to declare that this war doesn't allow garden hoses. Why? Because I'll lose if we allow garden hoses, and I can't have that. So it is with the man who rejects God. Once the Bible is turned loose, his squirt gun objections don't hold much water, and he can't have that.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Technology and the Soul

I like to encourage careful and thoughtful use of technology, so here is a link to another thoughtful comment on that subject.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Did Jesus Ask for a 60 Day Trial?

From FoxNews' Hannity & Colmes, interviewing Rick Warren yesterday.

COLMES: Well, what about those people who don't — you know, I happen to be Jewish. Not everybody — and Jesus, by the way, I have a lot in common with. Same religion.
WARREN: Absolutely.
COLMES: So not everybody necessarily goes that route.
WARREN: The thing is, Alan, I believe Jesus Christ came for everybody. I don't think he came for Christians. The Bible says take this good news to the whole world.
I don't care whether you're Baptist, Buddhist, Mormon, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, or no religion at all. Jesus Christ still loves you. You still matter to God.
COLMES: True, and I think that's a wonderful message. But if you don't accept Jesus, if you're not something who goes that route religiously...
WARREN: Yes.
COLMES: ... can you find your way to heaven? Can you still be — go to the same place when it's all said and done?
WARREN: I'm not the authority on that, but I believe Jesus is. And everybody's betting their life on something. Jesus said, "I am the way." I'm betting that he's not a liar. I'm betting that he told the truth.
COLMES: What about — what does it say for all those people who do not accept Christ as their personal savior?
WARREN: I'm saying that this is the perfect time to open their life, to give it a chance. I'd say give him a 60-day trial.
(CROSSTALK)
COLMES: Like the Book of the Month Club.
WARREN: Give him a trial. See if he'll change your life. I dare you to try trusting Jesus for 60 days. Or your money guaranteed back.
COLMES: Really? You're going to give me the money back?
WARREN: Absolutely.

(HT: Pulpit Magazine)

Called to Grace and Glory

The Bible tells us of an occasion when one of Jesus' dear friends died. Jesus was not present at Lazarus' death. He arrived after Lazarus had been buried for four days. But there was a purpose in all of this. Jesus was about to dramatically demonstrate that he is the resurrection and the life. He told the people to take away the stone covering of the cave where Lazarus was buried, and he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" And with powerful simplicity the Bible says that "the man who had died came out."

Jesus has the power and the authority to call the dead to life, because God the Father has granted him to have life in himself. That is very good news for us, for we are naturally dead in trespasses and sins. And when the Father calls us, Christ becomes to us the power of God and the wisdom of God. God gives us life in Christ, whom he makes our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption! God's call effects in us exactly what we need to enjoy eternal life with him.

Join us as we worship the God of power and love who calls us to grace and glory!

Songs
O Come, All Ye Faithful (#88)
Angels We Have Heard on High (#89)
O Come, O Come Emmanuel (#87)
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (#90)
How Sweet and Awful Is the Place (#238)
Let Us Love (#483)

Scripture Reading
The Coming of the Lamb of God - John 1:1-34

Sermon
Blessing God for Blessing Us In Christ with...Effective Calling
1 Corinthians 1:23-24

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Children and Media

Albert Mohler responds to a report that the average child in America spends 45 hours a week immersed in media. Good thoughts on using media responsibly.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Ever-Loving Family

Periodically, I read good books that I would like to share with someone, so I thought I might begin posting brief observations on the blog about a few of the works from which I have benefitted.

We are living in an era of Western history in which the family as God designed it to be is crumbling as a social institution. This is not to say that the family is becoming extinct. Mankind would have to become extinct before the family would disappear. Nevertheless, it is certainly the case that the pagan attack on the family as God intends it to be is increasingly institutionalized as the norm in our society.

Sadly, historians and sociologist who deal with the family have contributed greatly to this pagan redefinition of the family. Throughout the 1960s and 70s ideologically driven scholars worked hard to re-write history according to their assumptions, and the result is that many people have a terribly skewed notion of the natural family. Many people assume that the pre-modern family was oppresive towards women and incompetent towards children. Others believe that the family is simply an evolving form of human relationship that has no fixed identity, nature, or purpose; hence, we are free to define it and practice it as we wish.

All of these misconceptions are dealt a healthy blow by the work of Steven Ozment. Several years ago I read his When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe, and I was impressed with his even-handed and clear-sighted treatment of his subject. Recently, I had the opportunity to read Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe , and once again I came away thankful for Ozment's accurate historical treatment. The blurb on the back cover expresses well the gist of the book:

Here Ozment, the leading historian of the family in the middle centuries, replaces the often miserable depiction of premodern family relations with a delicately nuanced portrait of a vibrant and loving social group. Mining the records of families' private lives - from diaries and letters to fiction and woodcuts - Ozment shows us a preindustrial family not very different from the later family of high industry....

When the history of the family is viewed accurately, it becomes increasingly evident that God's design for the family truly is best for everyone - men, women, and children.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Necessity of Love

Yesterday as I was reading a little from Robert Yarbrough's recent commentary on the epistles of John, I came across this excellent observation on the significance of John's letters:

Life in the Son grows out of right belief, but not right belief alone. It extends to obedient behavior too. But correct behavior, even combined with high orthodoxy, can be overrated.... True godliness in John's conception consists of a third integral element:deep-rooted devotion of the heart to God. This is love (25-26).

May God in his grace help us to develop all three!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Challenging the Election

In our country, people will occasionally challenge the results of an election that they believe was conducted unfairly. Similarly, many people challenge the biblical doctrine of election because they believe that it makes God unfair or unloving. This Lord's Day we will consider objections to election, and I hope it will unveil for you the awesome love and grace of our Lord.

Songs
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Crown Him with Many Crowns (#52)
And Can It Be? (#335)
Jesus Loves Me (#719)
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (#249)
A Debtor to Mercy Alone (#614)

Scripture Reading
I Am the Lord - Isaiah 45:1-25

Sermon
Blessing God for Election: But What About...?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bless His Holy Name

"My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
And let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever!"
Psalm 145:21

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Tenth Commandment (Part 2)

The Command to Love (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:21

Covetousness is the American way of life. I don’t think that is an overstatement, especially since WWII. As such, we as American Christians are going to have to work overtime to extricate ourselves from thinking covetously. Today we want to meditate on the positive implications of the 10th commandment. If we are not to desire or crave our neighbor’s persons, property, or possessions, what should be the disposition of our hearts?

There is one virtue which the Spirit of God commends to us as the opposite of covetousness, and it also starts with a “C”. It is contentment. The apostle Paul testified that he had learned this virtue. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13). Contentment means being satisfied with God’s providence and provision in your life. A greedy man can never be a happy man. Only contentment brings satisfaction.

In fact, the Scripture gives us the material level that we should be satisfied with – food and clothing (1 Tim 6:6-8). That’s it. And if we see things God’s way, then we will realize that having more than that is not necessarily spiritually good. Jesus said, “Only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:23-24). James said, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away” (Jas 1:9-10). Folks, let’s just be honest, do you really feel that way? We rich Americans feel like we are really struggling when we can’t go out to eat as much as we would like to. Prices are up, so we feel like we are having a hard time making ends meet. The stock market is uncertain, so we worry about our lush retirement package. We might actually have to give up going to Starbucks or forego buying that new laptop this year!

So what are some things you can do to encourage contentment in your life?
1. Live within your means. Get out of debt.
2. Give (Eph 4:28).
3. Make godly monetary goals. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Advancing the cause of Christ is a godly monetary goal (missions). Providing for your family is a godly monetary goal. Planning wisely for the future is a godly monetary goal.
This really is an issue of surrender. Is life about me or is life about God?

And that brings me to the next point I want to make in order to penetrate a little bit deeper into this issue of covetousness vs. contentment. Why should we rest satisfied? From the world’s perspective, it certainly doesn’t seem to make sense to be satisfied with almost nothing. Hebrews 13:5-6 gives us the profound answer. We can be content because of our Lord’s covenant presence. He is with us. For God to be with us means that he has entered into a relationship with us, based upon Christ’s atonement, in which he is our God and we are his people. As we respond to his promises in obedient faith, he works in and through us to fulfill his promises in order to accomplish his good purposes. This has huge ramifications for our lives, which I do not have time right now to unpack from the Scriptures. But let me just point out some of the truths about God’s presence.

1. He is present to provide. He is even called “Yhwh-yir'eh,” the Lord who provides. Much covetousness stems from a lack of trust in the Lord’s provision.
2. He is present to protect. He is our refuge, our rock, our fortress. What can man do to us?
3. He is present to bless and to judge. In Ex 34:6-7, when God caused all his goodness to pass before Moses, he said, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”
4. He is present to satisfy. The Psalmist called God “my exceeding joy.” The searching heart finds rest in God.
Our desire is fulfilled in God; our delight is found in him; our love is enthralled with him.

I believe John Calvin was profoundly correct when he wrote this about the 10th commandment: “The purpose of this commandment is: since God wills that our whole soul be possessed with a disposition to love, we must banish from our hearts all desire contrary to love” (Institutes, 2.8). Every time you feel that tension in your soul because of the conflict between your desires and your possessions, use it as an opportunity to turn your heart toward loving God supremely. Ask yourself, Am I truly satisfied with all that Christ has done for me? Do I truly believe in all that he is doing in and through me? Do I truly hope and joy in all that he will do for me for eternity? Then go to the Lord in prayer and say, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” The blazing heat of this kind of love for God will melt away all covetousness.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving

Justin Taylor draws attention to the fact that less than 5 percent of church attenders give 10 percent of their income. The article says that the average giving today is less per churchgoer than it was during the Great Depression.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Biblical Baptism and the Church

I have a little time tonight before I call it a day, so I thought I would post some thoughts regarding baptism. As most of you know, I participate in a monthly pastors book discussion. Yesterday we discussed The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church by R. Stanton Norman. Overall the book was useful. Like any book, it has its strengths and weaknesses, but one of this book's good sections was on baptism. Here are a few quotes.

To identify with Christ is to identify with his people (134).

For Baptists, Christian baptism is regarded as the 'initiatory ordinance.'...Baptism is the divinely instituted point of entry into the covenant community. The baptismal act signifies publicly the transition of the individual from the old life to the new life in Christ; old allegiances are forsaken in order that new allegiances with Christ and his people may be formed. The believer gives testimony to this spiritual transaction in the rite of baptism (134).

The biblical witness is that baptism is the public profession of a person's faith in Christ (135).

A public decision to become a disciple of Christ was incomplete until declared in baptism....The modern practice of separating baptism from the beginning of the Christian life diminishes the significance and meaning of the act (135).

Baptism is the first step of discipleship and is a believer's profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism is thus the symbolic expression of a person's conversion (141).

Permit me to make a few observations about the above statements, all of which are biblically correct. Because these are true, an unbaptized person cannot formally and publicly be considered a Christian. In other words, he cannot be accepted by the church as a fellow follower of Christ until he demonstrates his faith in Christ by identifying with Christ through baptism. Now, I am not saying that a man cannot be regenerate without being baptized. In fact, all Baptists believe that a man ought to be born again before he is baptized. But regeneration itself is something that no man can observe. We don't run people through a "regenerometer" before we accept them as a fellow disciple. Rather, we look for a credible profession of faith. Biblically, that is precisely what baptism is supposed to be. It is a public expression of faith in Christ and commitment to Christ. It is "an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21). When a person takes that step, we publicly and formally recognize him as a fellow believer by incorporating him into church membership.

Since this is so, we have a God-given means of assessing the prima facie claims to salvation of people we meet. Is that person a baptized member of a gospel preaching church? If so, and if that church has been fulfilling its responsibility to discipline itself, then that person's claim to be a Christian has real weight and ought to be accepted charitably by all Christians. If, on the other hand, that person is not baptized and is not a member of a gospel preaching church, then his claim to be converted is implausible. Not impossible...but certainly implausible. He should be treated as one who needs to be evangelized.

One more observation. We see again how closely connected the gospel and the church are in God's design. If we are following the Scriptures, we can't have one without the other.

Bringing Our Little Ones to Jesus

Fathers and mothers with young ones, you will find some good encouragement here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanks Be to God

This Lord's Day we will endeavor to enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. We invite you to come and see our praise to the Lord, for he alone is worthy!

Bless the Lord! - Psalm 103

Songs
All Creatures of Our God and King (#59)
For the Beauty of the Earth

Responsive Scripture Reading - Psalm 100

Songs
Psalm 100
Now Thank We All Our God (#5)

The Greatest Thanksgiving Day! - Revelation 5:1-14

Song
Behold the Glories of the Lamb (#653)

Musical Offering - Thanksgiving Hymn

Congregational Prayer of Thanksgiving and Praise

Sermon - Thorough Thanksgiving: Shouting, Singing, and Serving our Thanks to God in Everything
Colossians 3:15-17

Song
Let All Things Now Living

Following our service, please join us for a special dinner and a time of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Tenth Commandment

The Command to Love
Deuteronomy 5:21

If ever there was a righteous man who walked the face of the earth, it was young Saul of Tarsus. In his later years he wrote a letter to the Philippians in which he described himself as a young man before he met Christ. He was circumcised on the eighth day (lit. “an eighth-day one”), a true, pure Hebrew in both his race and his commitments. He belonged to the strict Pharisee party, which kept the law precisely. He zealously defended his faith against all whom he believed corrupted it. He could even say that regarding righteousness based on the law, he was blameless. Everybody would have looked at him and said, “There is a righteous man.”

But there was one law that he simply could not pretend to keep. In Romans 7:7 he singled out the 10th commandment as one which painfully revealed his sinfulness. This is not the only command that Saul, whose name had been changed to Paul, violated. But this law makes clear that God’s commands do not have to do only with outward actions. They deal with the inner man, the attitudes, the heart. And so with this command, the sword of God’s commands drives through the heart up to the hilt. This command proved to Saul that he was not a righteous man. Today, it still proves to each one of us that we are not righteous people in ourselves.

In doing so, the last of the Ten Commandments drives us inescapably to the heart of the matter in religion and in all of life. Let’s take a look at this command to see what it prohibits, what it positively implies, and how we can know God through this revelation from him.

What is prohibited by this command?

In order to get a clear picture of the profound and practical nature of this command, we need to examine this term “covet,” used here along with “desire.” I want you to catch the depth of this terminology. The word “covet” has the general meaning of “desire.” It can be used in a positive or a negative sense. The noun forms of this word can mean “loveliness, beauty;” “desirable, precious things;” and “treasure.” In a good sense, God “desired” or chose Mount Zion as the place he would dwell (Psa 68:16). In Genesis 2:9, God created trees which were “pleasant” to behold and good for food. Psalm 19:10 says that God’s law is more “desirable” or “precious” than gold. As you might guess even from these passages, it can even be used sometimes in the sense of “delight.” In Song of Solomon 2:3 the woman compares her beloved to an apple tree, and she “delights” to sit in his shadow and eat his fruit. In other words, her relationship with her beloved produces a pleasurable state of protection (shade) and provision (fruit). So the term deals with what draws out the approval or desire or delight of our hearts.

“Covet” is not only positive, however. Our hearts can give approval to or delight in or desire what is wrong. Achan desired the forbidden gold and garment in Jericho, so he took it, and it cost him his life. The wise father in Proverbs 6:25 warns his son not to desire the beauty of an evil woman.

The parallel term used in our text can likewise be used of an evil desire. It brings to mind almost a craving. In Numbers 11 we have a powerful illustration of this kind of desire. The Israelites in the wilderness complained about the manna that the Lord was sending them every day. They wanted meat. They even wept and cried, “Oh that we had meat to eat. We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing….” As an aside, it is interesting how our desires color our memories. The Israelites’ desire was so strong that suddenly they remembered slavery as freedom! But the anger of the Lord burned against them for making their bellies their god. He gave them what they wanted…and used it to destroy them. The Bible says that while the meat was still between their teeth, the Lord struck them down with a plague. The Israelites named that place with a name that should haunt our minds every time we are tempted to violate the 10th commandment – “the graves of craving.”

Now, let’s pause here to consider some obvious and practical ramifications of what this command prohibits. It forbids coveting what belongs to someone else. It forbids that sister sin, envy. Do you ever find yourself earnestly wishing that you had someone else’s life? “They have it so much better than I do,” you think. “Why is it that they get to do all the fun stuff?” you ask. “Why does his business venture always seem to turn out better than mine?” “Why doesn’t my husband treat me like he treats his wife?” “Why can’t I ever get ahead in life like she can?” “Why is my sister so much prettier than I am?” “Why is my brother smarter than I am?” And so it is that envy begins to creep into your heart.

Now, in our text the first area of coveting that is addressed is your neighbor’s wife. How apropos that is in these wicked days. The world learned a long time ago that sex sells, and it constantly tries to tap into that vein of covetousness. But when you let the world do that, you find that it bleeds you to death.

The next area of coveting that the tenth commandment deals with is property and possessions, or to put it more simply, money. The Scripture says that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim 6:9-10). Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24).

There is a real sense in which all the preceding nine commandments can be seen through this one. In fact, the Heidelberg Catechism asks the question, “What is God’s will for you in the tenth commandment?” The answer given is, “That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart. Rather, with all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.” Look, for example, at the 1st command, the command to love the Lord exclusively. It is covetousness to fail to obey (Col 3:5). When we examine our hearts after any violation of the commandments, we can find covetousness there. Wicked king Ahab provides the perfect illustration with regard to Naboth’s vineyard. In that one episode we find coveting, bearing false witness, murder, and stealing.

We are on to something very important and very profound here. James brings it out for us when he says that every man is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Right there is the battleground – in your desires. You are going to win or lose the battle against sin in your heart, in what you want. Coveting comes from the heart. Desire is the expression of our innermost self and so it indicates clearly what we love and what we hate. Remember this – what you love and what you hate reveal who you are.

And that is precisely what is so convicting about this command. Our desires betray us. From an external perspective, we might look pretty good, even to ourselves. But the real desires, delights, or appetites of our heart have a way of leaping out of our hearts and leading toward whatever it is that we really want. We might wish that we could pretend that those desires came from somewhere else. But we know where they come from. They are begotten from our own heart, and we cannot deny the family resemblance.

Where do you stand with respect to the 10th commandment? Saul of Tarsus had to admit that even though everyone else in the world thought he was righteous, in his heart he stood condemned. So as you look at the text, ask yourself, “Am I keeping God’s law in my heart?” What is the real condition of your heart?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Overcoming by the Blood of the Lamb

Last week I put up a post about true racial reconciliation. This morning I came across an opinion piece by Alveda King, the neice of Martin Luther King, Jr., which makes an interesting follow-up to that post. Here is what she said:

Now is the time to truly put our idolatry to rest and end greed, racism, murder of the innocents, elitism and oppression in America.

What is idolatry some ask? Idolatry is to sacrifice our babies’ blood in the abortion mills, and then cause their little bodies to pass through the fire of the incinerators that rob them even of a decent burial. Idolatry is to sacrifice the virginity of our sons and daughters on the altars of the lewd music and films and Planned Parenthood’s sexual revolution that entice them into explicit sexual conduct before they reach the marriage bed. Idolatry is to worship the un-mighty and dirty dollar to such a point that we spend everything on ourselves and have nothing left for the least of these. Our powerful elected officials are leading us down a path of destruction. Many of them are lining their pockets while our children are dying.


You can read the whole thing here.

I appreciate her courageous challenge. I would just like to add one crucial point. The things she lists truly are evidences of idolatry. But in order to repent, we cannot turn from these idolatries to other idolatries. We must turn to Jesus Christ as he has been revealed in Scripture. I know this is controversial to say, but I would argue that this is precisely where her uncle failed. His version of liberal Protestantism perceived some sins with burning clarity. Yet he did not put forward the true gospel as the power to overcome these sins, and that is why his program for racial reconciliation did not, and will not, overcome.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chosen Before the Foundation of the World

One of the most contested doctrines of Scripture is the teaching of election, that is, the teaching that God chose certain people to be saved. In fact, the whole Scriptural teaching regarding election is that it is sovereign, unconditional, pre-temporal, personal, redemptive, and comprehensive. It is a teaching that stuns the natural man. To him it is shocking and even hateful. But to the believer it is delightful. To him it means great comfort in the unshakeable love of God. It means great encouragement to serve God, for he knows that God will accomplish his purposes. It means great glory to God alone, which is the believer's greatest joy. I hope that you will see the soul-satisfying glory of God this Lord's Day unveiled in the Scriptural teaching of election!

Songs
Come,Ye Thankful People, Come (#708)
We Gather Together (#709)
How Sad Our State (#333)
Chosen of God (#290)
Salvation! O My Soul Rejoice (#291)

Scripture Reading
Acts 13:13-52

Sermon
Blessed Be God for Blessing Us In Christ with...Election
Ephesians 1:3-6

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Large Families

Today my wife sent me an email with this jolly information about large families.

LARGE FAMILIES
  • Accept donations of Restaurant size cookware!!!
  • are CHAOTIC and NOISY and FUN
  • have no Matching socks...but 58 white non- mates
  • always have someone to play with... never bored or lonely
  • lots of babysitters, readers, and rockers
  • never have a dull meal
  • are never picky eaters! there's someone to eat it!!!
  • have ever ready sports team
  • never have moldy leftovers in the fridge
  • and yes the parents DO know what causes them...
  • and no, moms are not supermoms or super organized
  • do not have overabundance of patience, just lots of opportunities to cultivate patience

The Ninth Commandment (Part 2)

The Command to Love the Truth and Your Neighbor’s Good Name (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:20; Colossians 3:1-17

Proverbs 22:1says “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” We all intuitively understand this. The child’s ditty, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is simply not true. False words can hurt immensely. I’m not talking about hurting your feelings. False words can hurt your reputation and destroy your good name. False words can go so far as to make life worse than death. This is exactly what the ninth commandment guards against. The eighth commandment protects our neighbor’s property; the ninth protects our neighbor’s personal reputation.

Last week we considered some of the various ways we can violate this commandment, and now I want us to turn our attention to how we can keep the positive implications of this command. In order to do this, consider Colossians 3.

Colossians 3 tells us how we are to live in Christ (vv. 1-4). It tells us to put to death the old, sinful ways of living because as Christians we have put off the old man and have put on the new man. That corresponds well with what we have seen from the Ten Commandments – the negative and the positive, what is prohibited and what is positively implied. Look first at the negative (vv. 5-11). Notice that this is a whole way of life that is characterized by sinful attitudes and actions, including slander and lying.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all(ESV).

Now consider the positive (vv. 12-17).
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (ESV).

These are the attitudes and actions that those who are raised with Christ should demonstrate. Notice how much they deal with our neighbor. The new life in Christ is a whole way of life that is characterized by love for our neighbor, concern for our neighbor, patience with our neighbor, and humility toward our neighbor.

It is in this light that we should see the positive implications of the ninth commandment. How often do we demonstrate a lack of care for our neighbor by what we communicate! Our basic rule should be never to unjustly think or speak evil of another. This means speaking with the intent to defame him in some way. (It does not mean legitimate rebuke for sin and such matters.) We should want to protect our neighbor’s good name. In fact, if we love our neighbor, we will always want to think the best of them.

Let me mention some particular relationships in life in which we should take care to communicate in such a way as to protect and build up our neighbor.
(1) Family. Husbands and wives must always take care for their spouse’s good name. Parents should be careful about the way they talk about their children, and children should especially be careful to honor their parents. Siblings can work hard to protect each other and help each other in what they say. Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel by slighting his father, and it led to much bloodshed and death.

(2) Church. More churches have been ruined by failure to obey the 9th commandment than we could ever count. All it takes is one discontent person to start saying things that are misleading, half-truths (which are really lies). All of us must set our hearts like flint to watch out for each other’s reputation. Don’t allow any gossip to go on. Nothing will put out the Spirit’s fire faster than wagging tongues.

(3) Public square. Ezra 4 tells how Rehum and Shimshai and the people of the land started a smear campaign in order to get Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the Israelites to stop building the temple in Jerusalem. They even wrote a letter to Artaxerxes the king of Persia. That was over 2400 years ago, and things haven’t changed much. Make sure that when you are at work, or on the phone, or in political debates, or in park and rec leagues, or in Family Readiness Groups that you are a person who is truthful and who cares about your neighbor’s good name.

Can you imagine living in a community of people where you never had to worry about slander, false accusations, or lies? A place where everyone worked to protect and help his neighbor’s reputation and well-being? Would that not be a place of rest, a place where you could be truly at home? Then let’s live like that as those who have put off the old man and are now in Christ. Our homes ought to be that way. Our church needs to be that way. Let’s be people who love the truth and our neighbor’s good name. Let’s give one another the gift that is greater than gold. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Family Integrated Church

We are a "family-integrated" church. But I have found that simply saying those words causes a fair amount of confusion, not to mention consternation, among believers. Today, Behemoth.com is offering a free message by Scott Brown which explains well what a family-integrated church actually is.

He gives 14 marks of a family-integrated church.
1. An FIC is an orthodox church that is faithful to biblical theology and practices.
2. Families worship together.
3. Singles are incorporated into the full spectrum of church life.
4. Fathers are equipped to be spiritual leaders of their homes.
5. Biblical roles and jurisdictions are in order.
6. Children are not isolated but incorporated as full participants in the life of the church.
7. Biblical youth ministry is implemented.
8. Wives are functioning according to their biblical complementarian roles as helpers to their husbands and nurturers of children in the home.
9. Biblical offices and biblical requirements for church leaders are prescribed.
10. Family integration as a principle guides programs for equipping and evangelism.
11. The household and hospitality are the centerpiece of community ministry.
12. The ministry is not primarily programmatic, but relational.
13. The fatherless are brought into the mainstream of church and family life.
14. Multigenerational faithfulness is promoted.

I appreciate Pastor Brown's foundational concern for the sufficiency of Scripture upheld in the exposition of Scripture. He correctly emphasizes that family integration is only a piece of the puzzle in the church, not the whole thing. The gospel is central, he wisely and biblically asserts. Now, I also believe that there are certain marks he lists that could be debated and improved. Nevertheless, the "family integrated" approach to church is raising crucial issues for Christians today, and I hope that as a church we will work to be relentlessly biblical in these issues.

(One inconsequential historical correction: Pastor Brown incorrectly states that Jonathan and Sarah Edwards had 16 children. They actually had only 11!)

Chosen of God

I have spiritually enjoyed this hymn so much today that I just had to share it with you. I'm looking forward to singing it with you all next Lord's Day.

Chosen of God
by Septimus Sears

O people, selected by sovereign love,
Thro' free grace elected to glory above;
What cause for uniting your voices to sing;
What cause for delighting in Jesus your King.

What people so blessed, so honored of God,
Redeemed from transgression by Calvary's blood,
Your enemies vanquished, your wants all supplied,
By Him who has promised, "The Lord will provide."

For He who has loved you, and bought you with blood,
Will surely bestow every covenant good;
He'll ever be near you, to save to the end,
Then trust him, and praise him, your Savior and friend.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Death by Stuffocation

Nothing biblical, per se, about this...but Mark Steyn nails it.

True Racial Reconciliation

I've noticed quite a few Christian bloggers rejoicing in the election of Barack Obama to the presidency as a major triumph in race relations. I wish I could share their joy. However, Obama's election signals the institutionalization of racism. One African-American pastor whose opinion I highly respect, Voddie Baucham, hit the nail on the head when he wrote:



If you think this means that the “America is a racist society” crowd will have to shut up, you’ve got another thing coming. In fact, watch the press closely in the coming days. There will be a concerted effort to press the opposite point. Jesse Jackson ..., Al Sharpton, and their ilk will argue that this is merely proof that policies like Affirmative Action work, and that such efforts need to be redoubled; not abandoned. They believe we need to continue telling young black boys and girls that they are not smart enough, good enough, industrious enough, capable enough, and America is not ‘fair’ enough for them to succeed without special help that their white (or Asian) counterparts don’t need.

Baucham continued:
We must also be ready for the backlash. Anyone who is not happy about an Obama presidency (or the leftist policies he, Pelosi, and Reid will attempt to cram down our throats) will be labeled racist. Conservative evangelicals, who have opposed President-elect Obama and his policies from the beginning, will be met with cries of, “You’re just mad that a black man won.” “Yes,” you say, “but I am not concerned with his ethnicity; I love all people... I don’t even see color.” Who cares? If I’ve learned anything during the last several months it is that people do not pay attention to, or bother to interact with the written (or spoken) word. It is much more convenient to erect strawmen and rely on ad hominem attacks.


The president-elect's economic agenda will not help poor African-Americans either, as Thomas Sowell made clear long before Obama ran for president. (See this video clip for Sowell's more recent views.)


The truth is that when we embrace a false racial reconciliation, we are only strapping on another IED to carry into the racial marketplace. Sooner or later it will detonate, leaving a bloody mess, not to mention more bitterness to perpetuate the cycle of antagonism.


There is only one way to achieve true racial reconciliation (as well as every other kind of reconciliation). The ultimate ground of disharmony in this world is sin, and sin can only be dealt with by Christ. In fact, Christ already has dealt with sin through his triumphant work on the cross, and so if we want to see reconciliation, we need to be ambassadors for Christ crying, "Be reconciled to God." Only the gospel can provide the true basis for harmony. If Christians want to see racial reconciliation, they must not look for it in all the wrong places.

Union With Christ

In our recent series of sermons, we have been attempting to scan the panorama of God's great plan of salvation. Up until now, we have surveyed the work especially as it relates to the awe-inspiring and faith-eliciting action of the Triune God. But now we will move to feast our eyes upon the orderly outworking of God's gracious action in relationship to us.

The first thing we notice as our eyes examine the whole work is how all of it is applied to us in relation to Christ. Everything about our redemption, beginning with God's election in eternity past and going all the way through our glorification in eternity future, comes about in connection with Christ. He is the vine; we are the branches. He is the cornerstone; we are the building. He is the representative; we are his people. He is the head; we are the body. God is the source of our life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Come draw your life from him with us!

Songs
Now Thank We All Our God (#5)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (#22)
Our Great Savior (#434)
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (#435)
Jesus, I Am Resting (#447)
Be Thou My Vision (#462)

Scripture Reading
John 14:15-31

Sermon
"You In Me, and I In You": Union with Christ as the Fountain of All Salvation
John 17:20-23; Ephesians 1:3-14

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Ninth Commandment

I apologize for the gap in the series on the Ten Commandments. We will now resume regular programming....


The Command to Love the Truth and Your Neighbor’s Good Name
Deuteronomy 5:20


Proverbs 12:22 says that “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.” The church had a dramatic reminder of this just as she was basking in the first outpourings of the Holy Spirit. A man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. They piously pretended to give the entire amount to the church for the needs of the poor, but they withheld part of it for themselves. Peter called Ananias out on the spot: “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?... You have not lied to men but to God.”

Here we have just one of many instances in which we see that the God of all truth loves truth and hates falsehood. He gave the 9th commandment to direct us to do the same. “You shall not bear false witness.” “Do not answer against your neighbor falsely,” or “Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.” Considering that God takes this command so seriously, we would do well to consider seriously what he is commanding.

Let’s first of all consider in what ways we may violate this commandment. What does this command prohibit?

First, and most precisely, the commandment forbids giving a false testimony in a court of law. God expands on this in Deuteronomy 19:15-21. One who testified falsely in court would have done to him whatever he had intended to do to the accused, even up to the death penalty. The book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about this. “Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit” (12:17). “A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies” (14:5). “A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful” (14:25). “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape” (19:5, cf. 9). “A worthless witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity”(19:28). “A false witness will perish, but the word of a man who hears will endure” (21:28).

Why is God so insistent on this, and why does he single out false testimony in court? I believe it is because the court is the place of highest consequence for God’s justice in society and for the good of all people in society. In any human society, courts have the power to determine and shape what is considered right and wrong in that whole society. They are to be God’s representatives to uphold justice (Rom 13). He is a God of truth, and therefore in order to represent him rightly, all court proceedings must be based upon absolute truth. Courts are then to punish evil doers and protect all others. This, too, requires absolute truth telling. In our country, courts reflect this ideal by calling upon all witnesses to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Without this, society devolves into chaos and anarchy. “A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow” (Prov 25:18). There is a powerful comparison here between testifying falsely and war. To tell falsehoods in court against someone is to assault him, to attack him, to use the power of the state as your weapon to destroy him. It is one of the most hateful things a man can do to another. And so, God strictly forbids testifying falsely against your neighbor. It does violence to God’s honor and it does violence to your neighbor.

But is that all that God intends here? Is falsehood allowed outside of the courtroom? NO. Ephesians 4:25 says "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." Colossians 3:9 adds, "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with its practices." These NT commands correctly understand that, while the 9th commandment strictly forbids false testimony in court, it encompasses all lesser interactions in society as well. Here is where we get down to the nitty-gritty of life and find out how deceitful we really are. You see, the Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9), and “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt 15:19). This is one of the greatest evidences of our depravity. Psalm 58:3 says that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” You don’t have to teach children to lie. We are all born liars. This truth becomes painfully obvious as we consider ways in which we violate the 9th commandment.

The most obvious way, of course, is simple lying. This involves communicating something to someone with the intent to deceive them, not in a court, but in everyday life. You want someone to think something other than what is actually the case. And believe me, you will be tempted to tell lies. Whenever we feel that it is not in our best interest to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we have this powerful urge to deceive. Sometimes we become so used to doing it that we don’t even recognize that we are doing it. In order to deceive others, we deceive ourselves to convince ourselves that we are not really deceiving anybody. It starts when we are young:
Mother: Did you pick up your room like I told you to?
Child: I picked up my socks.
Mother (who is wise and experienced): No, did you pick up everything in your room?
You see, it does not take us long to figure out how to give a technically true statement while communicating a lie. Unfortunately, it keeps going as we get older. We seem to think like one man who said, “A lie is an abomination to the Lord…and a very present help in trouble.”

Now, as we get older, we usually get more sophisticated in our lying. It can be done through exaggeration, embellishment, or innuendo. We can deceive through gestures and actions and facial expressions. One of the more pernicious ways we lie is through slander. The flip side of slander is flattery. It has been said that a slanderer is one who says behind your back what he would never say to your face, while a flatterer says to your face what he would never say behind your back. Tale-bearing or gossip is closely related.

Intentionally misrepresenting someone is a very common form of breaking the 9th commandment, especially in times of conflict or argument. We need to make every effort to understand others clearly before we speak, especially if we have a disagreement. We can misrepresent people by selectively using their words to make them say what we want them to say. In this way the 9th commandment is violated nearly every day in the media and on the campaign trail. Politicians tend to craft intentionally ambiguous ways of saying things. Sometimes that is because they are not honest, and sometimes it is because they know they are dealing with dishonest people who will twist their words. It takes an extremely principled man to speak honestly in the halls of power.

One last way that we can break the 9th commandment is by remaining silent when we ought to speak. In situations where we know the truth but refuse to speak it, and by so doing we lead people to think something that is incorrect, we are violating the intent of the commandment.

Sir Walter Scott was so right when he said, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” If you find yourself tangled in the web of sin this morning, I want to urge you to turn to Christ. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and he is the only way you can be right with God.

If you are a believer in Christ, then are you known as a person of truth? Psalm 15 says that the man who dwells with God does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor. If you want to enjoy the presence and pleasure of the God of truth in your life, then you need to be a man or woman of truth.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Resource on Modesty

Today only, Behemoth.com is offering the message "Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America" by Jeff Pollard free. I recommend it.

See also "The Rebellion of Nudity and the Meaning of Clothing" by John Piper.

Random Responses to the Election Results

If you are staggered in your spirit, read and pray the Psalms. This may do more than anything else to put your heart and mind in the way of the Lord. Start with a lament. Over 1/3 of the psalms are of this kind. Here is godly mourning in all of its pain, sharing a complaint with the Lord. Yet nearly all of the lament psalms struggle their way to an expression of trust in the Lord, and often close with a vow to praise God. See Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 28, 31, 35, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 69, 70, 71, 77, 86, 88, 109, 120, 130, 140, 141, 142, or 143 (take your pick).

After you have done that, meditate on a song of trust, such as Psalms 11, 16, 23, 27, 62, 63, 91, 121, 125, or 131. Next, in order to learn from this circumstance, consider a wisdom Psalm. These psalms intend to teach us, and they emphasize the Law as the way to live and receive God’s blessing. They often contrast the life of the righteous with the wicked. Choose from Psalms 1, 15, 36, 37, 49, 73, 112, 119, 127, 128, or 133.

By this point you should be being strengthened according to the Lord's word, so you can express that in a praise hymn or thanksgiving psalm. God's greatness and goodness are always the joy and rejoicing of our hearts. Psalms 8, 19, 33, 103, 104, 113, 117, 145-148, 150 are good examples of praise.

To top it all off, remember that the Lord is King, as expressed in Psalms 24, 29, 47, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, and 99, among others. The divine kingship is the glory of our lives.

Then when you have finished all this, pray with all your heart, "Your kingdom come!"
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I have noticed many good Christian leaders saying many good things in response to this election, such as praying earnestly for our leaders, trusting in God, focusing on the gospel, etc. I heartily concur in these statements.
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One word does seem curiously absent from the discussion - repentance.
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Here is my sister-in-law's response to the election.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Special Answer to Prayer

Michael Carlyle reports that the Lord has answered our prayers in directing his family to the field of Cambodia. Michael wrote:

Julie and I would like to confirm with you our plans to change missions fields from Brazil to Cambodia under Baptist Mid-Missions. As you know, we returned from Cambodia late last week. On Wednesday evening, we reported the results of our trip to the leadership of our sending church who unanimously support our change in fields.

Please keep praying for the Lord to speed them to the field.

Redemption Applied

Jesus Christ accomplished all that was needed for our redemption. But how exactly does his work apply to us? There had to be some powerful transaction take place. And here the focus shifts to the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. By his miraculous power and great grace, the Spirit applies to us exactly what Christ died and rose again to accomplish in our lives.

Songs
Come, Thou Almighty King (#63)
Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
According to Thy Gracious Word (#232)
To Calvary, Lord, in Spirit Now (#235)
How Sweet and Awful Is the Place (#238)
Doxology
Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (#211)

Scripture Reading
Christ's Single Offering and the Forgiveness of Sins - Hebrews 10:1-18

Sermon
Redemption Applied - Titus 3:3-7

Relevance?

Over at his blog, Immoderate, Ryan Martin has a good post illustrating how desperate contemporary evangelicals are to appear relevant to contemporary society. This is a constant temptation to all Christians, and the contemporary imbecility of broader evangelicalism should stand as a continual reminder to us to "make it our aim to please the Lord" (2 Cor 5:9).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spiritual Taste

Last night, in our ongoing discussion of J. C. Ryle's book Holiness, we spent some time talking about this important paragraph in chapter 6. I thought I would share it with the rest of you.

Another mark of growth in grace is increased spirituality of taste and mind. The man whose soul is growing takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently and conscientiously every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. But the things he loves best are spiritual things. The ways and fashions and amusements and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections, and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation appear of ever-increasing value to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing spirituality of taste.

Though Ryle cites no Scripture passages in this paragraph, I thought of several which support his statements: 1 Cor 7:29-31; Col 3:1-17; Heb 11; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11; 1 John 2:15-17. We would all do well to meditate on these today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More on the Election

Here is a good word of advice on the proposed Amendment 50 from Kenyn Cureton of the Family Research Council.

The Scriptures are clear about gambling. Gambling violates the principle of the law against covetousness (Exod. 20:17), the principle of labor to earn our living (Prov. 3:11), the principle of love for our neighbor (Matt. 22:39), and the principle of Lordship (Matt. 6:24). George Washington said: 'Gambling is the child of avarice (greed), the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief.' Colorado must not gamble with its future. Encourage your people to vote NO on Amendment 50!

"Culture, Contextualization, and the Church"

On October 16-17 I attended the Mid-America Conference on Preaching, and the theme this year was "Culture, Contextualization, and the Church." The audio from the conference is now available online here. I would particularly commend to your attention the first general session by David Doran and the workshop by Mark Snoeberger entitled "Notes Toward a Definition of Culture."

Election Resources

As election day draws near, here is a sampling of some resources to help you make a fully informed decision on who and what to vote for. And as you vote, be relentlessly biblical!

Good Admonition and Instruction from Christian Leaders

"A Christian Conscience in the Voting Booth" by David Doran.

"Joseph of Nazareth Is a Single-Issue Evangelical" by Russell Moore.

"I'm Not Voting for a Man, I'm Voting for Generations of Children..." by Randy Alcorn.

"Vote as Though You Were Not Voting" by John Piper.

Voters Guides - Here are some helpful guides for looking at the candidates positions and at the other issues on the ballot. I would encourage you to use them to get a helpful overview of the various issues. As always, use them as a good resource, but don't let them do your thinking for you.

Christian Family Alliance of Colorado

Colorado Family Institute

Rocky Mountain Family Council Issues Guide

FRC Action Presidential Voters Guide

FRC Action Congressional Voters Guide

I would like to particularly draw your attention to Amendment 48, which would define all unborn children as persons. This is clearly the biblical position, and it should be reflected in our laws.

Perspectives You Won't Find Well-Explained in Most Media Outlets

"Biblical Principles for the Ballot Box"

"Democracy, or 'Whatever the Majority Approves'" by James V. Schall

The Constitution Party

The Heritage Foundation

Americans for Tax Reform

Cato Institute - libertarian perspective




Saturday, October 18, 2008

Redeemed By His Blood

Due to my trip to the Mid-America Conference on Preaching at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary this week, this update is a little late in coming. This is also the reason for my silence on the blog this week. Thank you for those who prayed for me while I was gone. It was a profitable trip.

This Lord's Day we will continue searching out the amazing work that Christ accomplished. In particular, we intend to savor the redemption that set us free from sin. I hope you know and live in the freedom of Christ today!

Songs
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Praise the Savior (#17)
Hallelujah! What a Savior (#128)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)
Hark! the Voice of Love and Mercy (#133)
O for a Heart to Praise My God (#70)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 105

Sermon
It Is Finished! - the Redemption to Set Us Free

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Church

As many of you know, one of my major concerns for Christianity in our day is the breakdown of the biblical understanding and practice of the church. Recently, Thomas White gave a useful lecture on the NT doctrine of the local church. While I differ with White on a few details of his lecture, I thought that his application of the NT teaching on the church to three contemporary trends was excellent. He specifically critiqued (1) the ecumenical movement, (2) George Barna's ideas in his book Revolution, and (3) internet and multi-site churches. White demonstrated how each one of these trends undermines the biblical idea and the biblical practice of the church. The lecture is just under an hour long, but it is worth listening to.

My God Is Reconciled

Have you ever seen enemies become fast friends? That kind of reconciliation is exactly what happens between God and man through Christ. Christ's finished work includes taking away our guilt, satisfying God's wrath, and, as we will consider this Lord's Day, making peace between God and man. I invite one and all to join with us!

Songs
Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (#211)
Thou, the God Who Changes Never (#18)
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above (#60)
Our Great High Priest Is Sitting (#173)
With Joy We Meditate the Grace (#176)
Arise, My Soul, Arise (#174)
And Can It Be? (#335)

Scripture Reading
The Peace Offering - Leviticus 3

Sermon
It Is Finished! - The Reconciliation to Make Peace
Romans 5:8-11

Don't Forget - We are so excited to witness the confession of faith in baptism of several folks this Sunday and to welcome them into the body of Christ. Make plans to meet at 1:30 p.m. at Rustic Hills Baptist Church (1927 N. Murray Blvd). We thank RHBC for allowing us the use of their facilities for this special occasion.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Eighth Commandment

The Command to Love Your Neighbor’s Property (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:19; Genesis 1-2

If you have been around children, you have doubtless heard this argument:
“That’s mine.”
“No, it’s mine.”
“Give it to me!”
“I had it first!”
“No, you didn’t. I was playing with it.”
There we have the most primitive example of an argument about property rights. As people get older, the arguments are still there, and the stakes get much higher. The object of the dispute is no longer a toy, but a car, a bank account, an inheritance, a copyright. And in order to get what they want, many people resort to stealing.

Last week we considered what the 8th commandment forbids. It forbids stealing, in whatever form, which is basically taking what belongs to another without his knowledge or consent. But God did not just arbitrarily give this prohibition. There are very deep, deep reasons for this command. Today I want to consider these reasons. As you understand these reasons, you will be able to see more clearly what is stealing, and you will also be equipped to understand the positive implications of this command, or the way we ought to treat our neighbor and his property.

The command not to steal clearly presupposes the idea of ownership. Something belongs to someone. Ownership implies certain rights – the right to control and enjoy the benefits of the distribution, exchange, or use of whatever it is you own. We all seem to naturally have this idea somehow. Yet when politicians, lawyers, philosophers, and others discuss the idea of ownership, they seem to have a hard time coming up with a solid basis for it. In fact, many of the same arguments you hear between children fighting over a toy are the same arguments you hear in the halls of law:
“That’s mine.” Can you simply claim something and make it yours?
“I had it first.” Does first possession indicate ownership?
“I was playing with it.” Does use indicate ownership?

Now if this was all just theoretical then it wouldn’t matter much, but the reality is that the answers to these questions can literally be questions of life and death, liberty and slavery. It is impossible to estimate how many people have starved to death, lost their jobs or homes, or become slaves because of violations of the 8th commandment. If we want to live for the glory of God in this world and to promote the good of others, then we need to get a clear view of the basis of the 8th commandment.

God owns everything

God straightforwardly states, “All the earth is mine” (Exod 19:5). The psalmist rejoiced that the Lord was King by declaring, “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1).

But we may ask, why does God own everything? First of all, God made everything out of nothing. He planned it to accomplish his good purposes, and he carried it out. Out of his own inexhaustible life and energy he spoke the cosmos into existence. He did not use what someone else had made or draw on some pre-existing matter. He did not consult someone else’s plans or ask anybody for help. He made it; therefore, he has the ultimate rights to it.

Second, God continues to uphold and control everything (Heb 1:3). We usually call this his providence. God is not the great watchmaker who simply got this great machine called the universe going and now has nothing more to do with it. He is actively directing and controlling everything in this world. The reason the sun is shining is God’s control. The reason this building is standing is God’s control. The reason the mountains stay put or that water runs downhill is God’s control. So a further aspect of God’s ownership is his providential control.

Now, when we consider God’s providence, we need to realize that it all has a reason or goal. It is not random or haphazard. God created and controls the cosmos in order to fulfill his perfect plan. What is that plan? That plan is to establish his kingdom of loving sovereignty and fellowship with men. In other words, God’s plan is to glorify himself amazingly, and he will do it by blessing his people profusely.

So when we talk about God owning everything, we mean that he has ultimate, exhaustive, and exclusive rights to the universe. He has the authority to do with it what he wants to do with it. He has the right to all the benefits produced by his universe.

There is one other reason we know that God owns everything. God takes ultimate responsibility for his universe. All of prophecy in the Bible reveals this. When the Lord promises what will happen in his universe and what the end of it all will be, and says that he is the one who will make it happen, he is taking responsibility. In Isaiah 46:9-10, the Lord says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose….’”

Now, I would submit to you that God is the one who defines for us what ownership is. He is the one who created it, and his relationship with his universe is the ultimate standard for defining and determining ownership. From this we should immediately recognize that human ownership can only be an analogy of God’s ownership. We cannot make anything out of nothing, and neither can we completely uphold and control that which we make. We are always dependent beings. Nevertheless, we can recognize in God’s activity what it is that makes ownership genuine – production, control, benefit, and responsibility.

Furthermore, we should see that since God truly and fully owns everything, we cannot own anything unless God gives it to us to own in our limited human way. But we find in Scripture that that is precisely what God has done. So not only do God’s actions define ownership for us, they are also the basis for our human ownership of property.

God made man his steward over the earth.

In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and so let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth….” God made a creature, mankind, who could exercise God’s rule in the earth. Thus in Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17, God gave Adam a garden and the responsibility of working the Garden of Eden. Here we have the two legitimate means for us as humans to obtain property – it can be given to us as a gift or we can work for it. Work did not come about as a result of sin. Labor is a good thing, and it is God’s means of giving us possession of (taking dominion over) the earth. When we engage in productive labor, we are participating with God as stewards of the earth. And so, a man owns whatever he produces out of God’s cosmos by his labor (Gen 2:16). If I plant corn and tomatoes in my backyard, then whatever those plants produce rightfully belongs to me. That means that I have authority or control over its distribution, exchange, or use. I have the right to benefit from this produce, and I am also responsible for its care and the effects of its use.

But I want you to also notice in v. 17 that God did not give man unlimited authority over the earth. God sets the boundaries for what man may or may not do with the property God gives him.

Our ownership is analogous to God’s and it derives from him. That teaches us that no human being possesses absolute ownership. Our ownership is always qualified by God’s ultimate ownership and by our human relationships (which in a sense is like saying that it is qualified by love for God and love for others). God gave mankind the mandate to subdue the earth. As you do this, under God, in the context of his human relationships, then you take possession of that aspect of the cosmos for God. You may control it and direct it and benefit from it. You may also choose to give it or sell it to someone else. You can have property ownership because God gives it to you. That is a great blessing (Ps 8:5-8).

One very important upshot of all this is that property rights are not established or constituted by human governments. Human governments are responsible to protect property rights, but they do not give you property rights. God gives you property rights. You are responsible before God to use the property he gives you for his glory and for other’s good. We need to keep these relationships straight. When we forget this, as has happened over and over again in human history, we are guaranteed to lose our liberty.

Furthermore, when a person is caught and punished for the crime of stealing, they owe reparations to the person from whom they stole, not to “society” or the “state.” Sadly, our current system of imprisoning people for theft is unjust. The same goes for community service. It does absolutely nothing to provide restitution to those who have been violated. If you look at the law God gave Moses, never does God prescribe the punishment of incarceration. The law was very clear about what was to happen in the case of theft – restitution, not incarceration (Ex 22:1, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc.).

Another important lesson from this is that we should not use our property without considering our neighbor. In a Christian understanding of personal property, there is no room for selfish individualism, as if you were the only person who inhabited God’s universe. You are especially responsible to use the property God has given you for the good of your family. You are also to use the property God has given you for the cause of Christ, and in ways that are generally good for others around you.

And this brings me to my last point of application. Last week I talked about ways that we can steal. But I left out the biggest kind of theft of all time. It happens all the time, and nobody does anything about it, because it is perfectly legal. But that it is stealing of the most blatant kind comes directly from the fact that God owns everything. It is the sin of stealing from God (Mal 3:8-12). Even though we are no longer under the OT tithing system, the principle here is very applicable. How many people go through life hardly giving anything back to God, even though he has given them the very property they live by! How are you doing on giving to God out of what he has given to you? Are you using what he has given you to further his cause?

As we think about personal property rights, we should never be able to think about them without overwhelming gratitude to God. After David said that God has put all things under our feet, he closed Psalm 8 by saying, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” The selfishness that comes so naturally to us and that shows up from the time we are children with “That’s mine,” “No, it’s mine,” should be totally replaced with “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein!”