Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Joyful Home-Part 10

Spiritual Spankers

According to Galatians 6:1, only spiritual people get to discipline. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (Gal. 6:1) This means that you cannot spank if you are not spiritual. In my opinion, this means that only faithful Christians ought to spank their children. This also shows us that God’s principles work in part even when handled by unbelievers. We all know the well-behaved children of nominal or even of non-Christian parents. While they do not pass the test of being truly spiritual, they are able to copy some of the outward manifestations of spirituality and get a good result. These folks have a strict home and require good behavior. Their expectations are not disappointed.

On the flip side of this, we also know many Christians who apply discipline in a very mechanical and wooden fashion. For them, spanking a child is merely cause and effect. You simply beat the bad behavior out of them. While there is some biblical truth to this (Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Prov 22:15), we don’t only want to beat the bad behavior out of them. We also want to instill the good behavior into them. It is important for parents to have both aspects of this truth in their heads when disciplining children.

Parents, some of you may not be able to spank your children. You are not self-disciplined enough yet to discipline anybody else. This does not mean that you get out of it. Not at all. You need to get with it. You must change your behavior so that you can be obedient to God in molding your children’s behavior.

Spanking ought not to be seen as direct punishment. We do not want the children to pay for their sins, because they cannot do so. We need to remember that we are teaching our children to know and love God, our Father. The entire discipline process should be leading them to discipline in the Lord. This means that they need to learn to do the right thing because they love to do the right thing.

This is essential in our relationship to God. We want to do His will because He loves us and we want to please Him. This is duty bound to love and is the right picture to paint for your children. Furthermore, they need to understand that they cannot earn God’s favor through deeds done or through an expiation of sin. God’s kindness is given to us because He loves us. Because He loves us, He disciplines us. His discipline process shows us how to love Him more.

The same thing is going on with our children. As we discipline them, they begin to learn discipline. And when they learn this discipline well, they are enabled to show their love of us and to us.

We do want them to see the link between bad behavior and bad fruit. We should see discipline and especially spanking as the real fruit of bad behavior and understand that it is a great incentive not just to not do wrong but also and more importantly to do right.

Communion Meditation-Unity of Spirit

We do keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. But sometimes we endeavor to keep the bond of peace in the unity of the spirit. You see, the Spirit is unified. He is one and all of us, in Him are one. Therefore, we can be unified. For, if we are in Christ, through His blood, and by His Spirit, then we are enabled to live peaceably with one another. However, if our first priority is unity of peace, even without the unity of the Spirit, then we will necessarily be at odds one with another. Envy will break out. Factions arise. Bitterness simmers and seathes.

We need to understand this aright. If we seek the unity of the Spirit of God, as revealed to us in His Holy Word, then peace is attainable. If we seek peace, by our own standards, then unity is impossible.

But this is why we are gathered here. In Christ, by His Spirit, we are one. We declare this every Sunday at this table. We are diverse individuals, from different walks of life, with different interests but we are all one family in Christ. This unity is a fact, every bit as much as the unity of the family you were born into before you were born again into this family.

So, recognizing this unity, let us then pursue peace with one another. Families ought not to be at odds with one another. Because of their unity, they must produce peace. They do not produce unity through peace. So, let us see this each week, pray and strive for peace and declare to the world, to one another and to God that the unity of the Spirit is alive and well among us.

Exhortation-Unity by What Standard?

There seems to be a movement these days to unify the church, even a movement within our own CREC and broader circles. This is good but we must make sure that we are unifying in the right way. What are the principles from which this unity is to arise? We have seen many men gather in the name of Christ only to ignore the words of Christ. How can this be? They have failed to listen to the revelation of Christ. We have in these Holy Scriptures the very will of God.

Many men aspire to obedience, but seek to get there on their own steam. We often hear men say things like, “God told me to do this or that thing.” It is assumed that there is no argument against such words. If God has told an individual His specific will for his life, then who are we to contradict? But what if God has told me something different? Then who is the arbiter of this disagreement? Is God so divided that He reveals a will that contradicts itself? This most certainly cannot be. Then how must we know what God is saying to us?

Q.What is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him? A. The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.

Many Christians, in the name of unity, have lost their backbone. We must stand upright as God’s soldiers and fight for the integrity of the Holy Scriptures. We are very prone to say or at least think, “Who’s to say?” when it comes to the folly that is being exhibited in the church today. But our God is not a God of folly. His Word is not compromised. We must commit to being faithful to what God reveals to us in His Holy Word. When we see the truth revealed to us in the Scriptures, we must turn from our own ways, our own understandings, our own feelings, repent of our own hard heartedness and seek to be obedient to His way, His understanding, His feelings, and His heart.

The Scriptures are our only ultimate and infallible guide to our doctrine and practical obedience as Christians. Personal feelings ought to be considered, appreciated and respected. But when they come into conflict to what God has already told us plainly in His Word, we ought to make no bones about stating that those feelings and personal opinions are mistaken. May God grant us boldness to do so. Let us hear the Word of God. Not just words that we nod assent to, but truth that guides us through the darkness of this world.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Bible is a Story

Many Christians do not know what their faith is about or at the most they have a very truncated view of what the faith is. Many spend all their time in the pages of the New Testament only and see the Old Testament as some disconnected bunch of stories that are no longer relevant to their situation.

The Bible is a wonderful compilation of God’s work on behalf of man. There are 66 books written by 40 different authors spanning 2500 years. These books of the Bible cover the first 4000 years of the history of the earth and systematically reveal God’s plan of man’s creation, fall, redemption and glorification.

There are numerous wonderful attributes about the Scriptures. They are clearly God-breathed and can be trusted as God’s testament to us. The continuity of the whole of scripture being derived from such varied sources, places and times is truly remarkable.

In them, we find a wide range of literature, including poetic history, straight historical text, poetry, psalms, proverbial wisdom, epic poetry, fairy tale, erotic love poem, prophecy, and personal letters. Given what the Bible tells us, the fact of its wide range of literature to do so, is a testament of its divine origin.

Many of you have anthologies of poetry or a book of short stories. These books are mostly disconnected collations of different stories, ideals and visions of the authors. For many modern Christians, the Bible seems to be just such a book. But it is not. In fact, the most glorious thing about the Bible is not its wide range of authors and genre, its literary quality, its preservation through history, its universal acceptance as the Word of God, or its systematic propositions of wisdom and theology.

No, the most glorious thing about the Bible is that it uses all of this to tell a story. The Bible, in its most fundamental revelation is a story. It is the story of God and man. Man’s failure and God’s faithfulness. It is the story of God’s creation, man’s fall, and God’s recreation.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Communion Mediation-Covenant

This weekend we have been talking about our favorite theological word, covenant. But I hope that you have begun to see that it is not so much a theological word as it is a relational word. We say this word all the time because we see the imprints of relation everywhere, in the Trinity, in our union with Christ, in our marriage, in our families, in our church. Everywhere we turn, we see the implications of love, loyalty, and faithfulness. As we begin to see this, we realize how truly glorious it is and so we have to put covenant before every noun. But the best noun to put covenant before is God. For He truly is a covenant making and covenant keeping God. He initiates and we reciprocate.

There is a covenant of love in the Godhead itself. The Triunal persons express love and faithfulness, one to another. And this love and faithfulness spills out of the Godhead all over His people. We are the recipients of His love and of His faithfulness to us. Because of this, we can then express love and faithfulness to God, to our wives and children and to all the saints gathered here.

What we do here at this table is an expression of the Covenant between God and us as a people. But it is not just that corporate expression. Because of that corporate covenant, we are able to love one another within that covenant. So, this meal is also an expression of the covenant between brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, we eat together communing with God and with one another through the Holy Spirit and we express the love of God and His faithfulness to us and the love of the brotherhood and our faithfulness to one another. This is living in covenant with God. This is living in covenant with each other. What a privilege to celebrate and practice this truth here each Lord’s Day.

Communion Mediation-Trinitarian Love

We have mentioned many times that one of the central aspects of communion is the communal aspect. A communion of saints is a body of saints that commune. We even have a word with mostly a negative connotation nowdays that describes a group of people who gather to live together. We call it a commune.

Often times, communes are places where the desires of the one leader are expressed and carried out, sometimes with scary results. The problem there, especially if it is an attempt at a Christian commune, is that the people lose sight of the way in which God is declared and expressed.

God is trinity in unity. We are to express that character here in our lives together, in communion, in our commune, if you will. But that expression is not in everybody trying to be the same, or in everybody trying to do exactly what one earthly leader demands. The body of Christ should be a community expressive of diversity in union.

This means that part of what we celebrate here is all the differences that are among us. We want those differences, different personalities, different gifts, different perspectives. But we do not want those differences to drive us apart. We need to rejoice in them and submit all of them to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is our common interest and the One who gathers our diverse persons into one new man, Christian, and one new expression of life together, the Church.

I say this so that you can learn to look at our differences differently. As long as the differences bother you, then they will simply be reasons to separate, not congregate. But we are the congregation of the Lord. Do not be bothered by our differences but enjoy them. Do not expect everyone to be just like you but be glad that they are not. It is only when we see this and rejoice in it that we can truly express the nature of God and stand in a unity of spirit and a bond of peace.

And when you come to this table, you need to understand that Jesus is welcoming you and your neighbor and your quirkies and his, too. And that as long as Jesus receives Him this way, so should you. This is no apologetic for sin. We must confess and repent. But it is a great message of comfort for sinners, for they are the only ones that are invited to eat here with Jesus. So, come, one and all as all and one.

Joy of Humility

We are invited into the presence of the Almighty God. Will we come? And when we come, do we come with the eager expectation of undeserving humility? Or with the lackluster futility of merited pride?

You see, the Lord’s blessed ones, those whom He initially chose, rejected His favor and incurred His wrath. But those who were wicked in every way, turned to God when His kindness shown upon them. They knew that they did nothing to earn His favor and yet there it was anyway. All of their actions had called out for His wrath but He brought them grace in Jesus Christ. How could such men, women and children do anything but take heart, rejoice and come?

But the firstborn sons were jealous of their younger brothers. The invited guests were envious of those extras that filled the wedding seats. That was back then and we were the younger brother, the uninvited guests, but now we have become the sons of privilege. We might tend to think highly of ourselves. We say, "Well, they were broken off that we might be grafted in." We have become the children of the Most High God. The promises are to us and to our children. Perhaps now, WE merit the favor of God. Perhaps it is WE that will get the blessings of God, even if we no longer do the deeds that we did at the beginning, even if we scoff at God’s blessing the lame and the poor and the blind.

If we think this way, we have already fallen into a great trap. We think that because God has been kind to us, that we are no longer in need of His grace. We are standing on our own cleaned up souls. We are the righteous and deserve the favor of God. But that is not the case. The only reason that you can come to Him is because of His favor to You.

So, we walk carefully. We really are cleaned up, at least to look at from the outside. We learn to live like Christians as God is making us new in Christ. But we do all of this in His grace, by His Spirit. All the good that we have is from God and we simply deceive ourselves if we think that we somehow manufacture or even maintain goodness of ourselves.

We need to remember that our family tree is not one of pedigree. We come from the family of Adam, a fleshy, fallen man. But we also remember that Jesus calls out to us to come to Him. So, we come, happily as children who do not deserve the favor of their father but are granted it anyway. Even when we are basking in the glory, praise and honor from our Father in Heaven and receiving the manifold benefits that He grants us, it is still and always by grace through faith, lest any man should boast. This is simply coming to God in humility which generates thanksgiving, peace and joy.

Bored Fisherman

I must confess that it has been a while since I have suffered the debilitating results of fishlessness. But I did so the other day. I took my good old friend and former elder in our church, Gordon Wilson, fishing. Gordon is a great outdoorsman, loves bugs, snakes, birds and all things wild. However, Gordon is not a big fisher. I thought I could convert him on one of my wildly successful fishing trips.

The water level and clarity was good. The weather was perfect. We had the right baits, at least we thought so. So, we loaded up the canoe and headed for the James. But here is the sobering fact. Sometimes the fish don't bite.

We caught some, he and I. A few. But I think I caught a few more.

We were on a great stretch of river with an abundance of smallmouths and a fairly high percentage of large fish. Didn't matter. A few hours after casting off, our casts were less than enthusiastic. The expectations were waning. The futility was waxing.

I think I convinced Gordon that fishing was much like his opinion of baseball. He is not impressed by either and they are my two favorite past times. By the end of our float, he was floating his smallmouth offerings around the tip of the canoe in a haphazard way with about four feet of line out. I think he would have much preferred to hopping out and flipping over some rocks. At least then, he could have caught some bugs.

I know that fishing is great fun and there are many fish to catch. Gordon doesn't know but I do. They've got to bite sometime. I'll just keep casting until I catch one.

Baptismal Exhortation-Dean Cooper

Paedobaptism and paedocommunion are perfectly compatible just like getting born is perfectly compatible with breast-feeding. In fact, at the hospital, if you do not start feeding the baby right away, the first day, the nurses get all in a dither and want to start feeding them for you.
This is not an argument for bringing newborns to the Lord’s Table. In God’s providence, He instituted this meal with bread and wine. But small children, toddlers, nearly still infants, CAN eat bread and drink wine.

That is consistent. But my point here is that Presbyterians are dramatically inconsistent with their view of the covenant. The covenant governs our entire understanding of the Scriptures and our lives with God. We baptize children because God makes His promises to His saints, and to their children. Peter proclaims this with power at Pentecost.

But what is going on at baptism? Is it not being born again? This Dean was already born from his mother’s womb. Today, he is being born into the church of Jesus. We are marking him out as God’s child, born of the water and of the Spirit. And if he is born again, into the church, then of course, he ought to come to mother church and eat mother’s food.

For a new born infant, that feeding place and food is obvious. At the breast, mother’s milk. In God’s kingdom, that place is His Church, and that food is the Lord’s Supper of bread and wine. Thus, it makes sense that brand new babies cannot eat bread and drink wine. But when they can, they should do so. After all, they have been born into this family of God and are welcome recipients at the family table.

Let me qualify a little bit here, lest anybody misunderstand me and misquote me. Am I saying that being baptized is being born again? Yes, I am. Does this mean that there is still a need to repent of sins, believe in Jesus, have faith, get saved, become a Christian and follow after Jesus in obedience? Well, there is too much in that sentence to give a simple yes. Particularly to our cultural understanding of ‘get saved’ or ‘become a Christian.’ To the rest I give an unqualified yes. We must confess, sins, repent, have faith and follow after Jesus all of our days.

But Dean is a Christian. We are naming him a Christian, today. That is what baptism is. He must be filled with God’s Spirit in order to ‘be saved’ if you will. There must be a spiritual reality to what we do here in ritual. But we gladly confess that we often do not know how, or when, that ‘point’ happens. In truth, we never know it. By the time we see the fruit, the work has already been done. Ultimately, it happened in Jesus work on the cross. It was there that He secured the salvation of His people. But how, exactly, it works itself out in real time, we are greatly ignorant.

Sometimes, we can see the wind. If the day is very dingy, dust is in the air, garbage is blowing around, we think we see the wind. But we do not really see the wind. We just see the effects of the wind. When the rains come down and wash the landscape clean, the wind blows invisibly once again.

The Spirit’s work is like that. Sometimes we can see the mess He is cleaning up. At other times, we do not know when He has blown through. Is the rain of God washing the first mess or a subsequent mess? Why does it matter as long as the mess of sin is cleaned up? At this baptism, we are declaring that God’s washing water is cleaning up all of Dean’s sin and sins. The sin of being a son of Adam and the sins that sons of Adam commit. God has dealt with it all in Jesus Christ and He is declaring that today in this rite.

Our confession allows for not knowing the time of this Spiritual work. God may have already filled Dean with His saving Holy Spirit, like He did John the Baptist, in the womb. It may happen here today, at his baptism. It may happen later on in his youth, or God forbid the heartache, perhaps after a time of soul-searching and rebellion. We want THAT to be the exception and not the rule. We pray at each baptism that the children brought to the Lord here will never know the disobedience of rebellion. But the point is that each Christian must be filled with the Holy Spirit, confess sins, repent and walk in the regeneration. They must have faith and exhibit a lively and life long faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing that I have said here precludes any of that.

So, let us embrace this baptism as a new birth in the kingdom of God and give God the glory for bringing such a wonderful event to pass. And may He, by His Spirit, raise this child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.