The Spirit and the Law

June 8, 2014 in Holy Spirit, Law and Gospel, Liturgy, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Old Testament, Pentecost, Ten Commandments
One of the ancient associations of Pentecost is with the giving of God’s Law on Mt. Sinai. While the feast of Passover was associated with the deliverance from Egypt, Pentecost 50 days later came to be associated with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. As Christians, it is important, as we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, that we not drive a wedge between God’s Law and His Spirit. For the Spirit who has been poured out upon us is the Spirit of holiness who enables us, by His grace, to live lives that fulfill God’s law. The Spirit teaches us to cry out with David, “O how I love your law! It is my meditation day and night.” So this morning we mark our celebration of Pentecost with a responsive reading of God’s law – I will be reading each of the Ten Commandments and you will respond with passages from the New Testament that parallel these commandments.
Responsive Reading of the Law of God (Exodus 20:1-17)
Minister: Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
People: For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
M: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
P: Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
M: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
P: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.’” (Matthew 6:9)
M: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
P: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.(Hebrews 10:24-25)

M: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
P: Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)
M: “You shall not murder.”
P: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9)
M: “You shall not commit adultery.”
P: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)
M: “You shall not steal.”
P: Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)
M: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
P: Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)
M: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
P: Do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints. (Ephesians 5:3)
All: Amen!

Reminded of God’s law, let us kneel together and confess that we often fail to implement it in our lives.

Justice and the Image of God

May 20, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Book Reviews, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Human Condition, Law and Gospel, Mosaic Law, Politics

On Sunday, I preached on the Image of God. One of the observations I made, building on Genesis 9:6, is that because human beings are made in the Image of God, we respect them by taking their choices seriously. The man who murders his neighbor, who rapes a woman, who kidnaps a child is still himself made in the image of God and worthy of respect – the respect that says, “You are a human being who chose to commit a criminal act. We will treat you in accordance with your decision. We will not excuse your action by claiming that you were the victim of your childhood or your mistreatment or your biological composition. We will show you respect and execute you.”

C.S. Lewis with his typical genius develops this observation in his essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Human Punishment.” This essay is available in the book God in the Dock or online here. Lewis demonstrates the inhumanity of the supposed “humanitarian” theory of punishment which objects to capital punishment in particular and the concept of a person’s “just due” in general; he effectively obliterates the foundation of the entire penitentiary system.

Covetousness and the Heart of the Law

April 6, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Covenantal Living, Heart, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Regeneration, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:17 (NKJV)
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
It is in this 10th commandment that the true force of the other nine commandments is revealed. Had we simply the other commandments, we might console ourselves, like the Pharisees before us, with a mere external observance of God’s laws. I’ve never murdered another; I’ve never committed adultery; I’ve never stolen from my neighbor; I’ve never borne false witness in a court of law. But when we come to the 10th commandment, all such externalism is obliterated. For here we reach the true heart of the law – commandments which do not merely regulate our external actions but which govern our internal attitudes and desires.
Here we find the inspiration for Jesus’ insistence that the 6thcommandment forbids not merely murder but the hatred and spite that give birth to it. Here we find the inspiration for Jesus’ insistence that the 7thcommandment forbids not merely the acting out of sexual deviancy but the lust that gives rise to it. Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, idolatries, and every other thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. The law reveals that our fundamental problem as human beings is not that we do the wrong things but that we want, we desire the wrong things. Our problem is a problem of the heart, a problem of allegiance. We do not want to acknowledge that God is the Lord. Evil actions are merely the fruit of that idolatry.
Because the law, particularly the 10th commandment, highlight our sin, many have concluded that the law is the problem. “Let’s get rid of the law then we won’t have these problems.” Paul declares the absurdity of this idea in Romans 7 –
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
The problem is not in the law, the problem is in our hearts. The problem is that we have rebelled against our Creator and need him to forgive us for our sin and to enable us to love what is good and right. And praise be to God that He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to solve this problem. Through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, God forgives all those who confess their sins trusting in Jesus as their sacrifice. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Spirit of God empowers all those who trust in Christ to begin loving righteousness and practicing the same.

So reminded that the law of God is holy and just and good and that, in ourselves, we do not desire to practice it in our lives, let us confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through His Son Jesus. Let us kneel as we confess together.

Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness

March 30, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Bible - OT - Zechariah, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Politics, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:16 (NKJV)
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Martin Luther writes in his Large Catechism, “Besides our own body, our wife or husband, and our temporal property, we have one more treasure which is indispensible to us, namely, our honor and good name, for it is intolerable to live among men in public disgrace and contempt. Therefore God will not have our neighbor deprived of his reputation, honor, and character any more than of his money and possessions…”
Even as we treasure our own reputation, we are to treasure the reputation of our neighbor and beware tarnishing his good name. So what does this mean? First, it means that in courts of law, we are obliged to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A faithful witness, Solomon declares, does not lie, but a false witness will utter lies. We are not to be influenced by another’s money, power, influence, gender, race, poverty, or position to speak anything other than the truth when summoned to do so by a lawful authority. God declares in Lev 19:15 – You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. God reiterated this need for truth in the halls of justice through the prophet Zechariah:
These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate, says the Lord.
When summoned to bear witness in a court of law or when summoned to sit on a jury judging our peers, our obligation in the sight of God is to tell the truth and to judge in light of the truth.
Second, not only are we forbidden to bear false witness in courts of law, we are forbidden to use our tongue to destroy the reputation of our neighbor. Leviticus 19:16 declares, You shll not go about as a talebearer among your people… God hates the one who slanders and gossips and back-bites. He delights in the truth, delights in the one who is willing to speak truth with his lips. So Paul commands us in Ephesians 4:25, Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.
Even as God is a God of truth so we are to men and women of the truth. Truthfulness is to characterize our interaction – with God and with others. So what of you? Is your life truthful? Or do you hide behind lies? Lie about others? Gossip? Slander? Malign?

Reminded of our calling to be men and women of the truth, let us confess to God that our courts and our culture have abandoned truth and embraced lies; and let us confess also that we ourselves often twist and distort the truth to serve our own ends. Let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.

You Shall Not Steal

March 23, 2014 in Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Politics, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:15 (NKJV)
15 “You shall not steal.
On one occasion Jesus was ministering and teaching to an innumerable multitude of people. So many had gathered that they trampled one another, each eager to hear the words he would speak. As he was teaching, a man in the crowd shouted, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Clearly this man was presenting Jesus with an opportunity, had he been a demagogue courting popular opinion or a revolutionary trying to lead an uprising, to rile up the crowd. Money always gets people excited. Jesus could have used this as a springboard to speak of the injustice of the inheritance laws or the excessive nature of Roman taxation. “Let us rise up; let us protest; I’m your man! Follow me!” But Jesus was neither a demagogue nor a revolutionary. The man in the crowd had misjudged Jesus.
Instead Jesus speaks bluntly to this fellow, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Essentially Jesus is reminding the man that there is a lawful way to handle his complaint – and that lawful way was to appeal to the magistrates, to appeal to the courts who would decide in such case what was good and just. Jesus was no revolutionary.
But Jesus then goes further and speaks to the multitude: “Take heed,” he declares, “and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” Jesus exposes the sin that was at the root of this man’s request and of our drive to revolutionary action: covetousness. Hardly the type of response that a successful demagogue should make!
Unlike Jesus, our politicians regularly use class envy as a tool to propel themselves into power. “Tax the rich; take from those who have more. We’ll make your brother divide that inheritance with you! he shouldn’t have so much!” In his response to the crowds, Jesus exposes the sin that is at the root of this mentality: it is coveting that which God has given to another; it is theft.
But covetousness is not something that afflicts only politicians. The reason that we fall prey to the pleas of politicians, demagogues, and revolutionaries is that we are covetous; we desire more than God has given. But Jesus rebukes our covetousness and reminds us that our life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Instead, a meaningful life consists of loving God and loving our neighbor, of laying up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy. And this is true for rich and poor alike.

And so reminded that we are not to steal, not to take from others in order that we might have more, let us kneel this morning and confess that we are often envious and covetous of others’ possessions.

We are Humans not Animals

March 10, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Sexuality, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:14 (NKJV)
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
The law of God repeatedly reminds us that we are not, as human beings, mere animals driven by our instincts and impulses. Though Darwinism insists that we are descendants of primates and not fundamentally different from other animals, the Word of God insists that we have been made in the image of God and are responsible for the choices we make, responsible for the actions we take.
Because this is the case, because we are humans and not animals, our actions can be classified as noble or ignoble; as good or evil; as praiseworthy or reprehensible. We are not controlled by our impulses but often choose to follow those impulses to our sorrow and shame.
Nowhere is this more true than in our sexuality. The sexual revolution has made full use of the Darwinian myth to justify sexual licentiousness. We are no more than animals; hence, there is no such thing as nobility or honor in the arena of sexuality; how dare you tell me what to do?
But God does tell us what to do. He created us, not we ourselves. Hence, he governs us, not we ourselves. And God commands us in the 7th commandment to govern our sexual impulses, powerful as they are. We are to govern our sexuality so that we not conduct ourselves shamefully, as mere beasts, but so that we conduct ourselves nobly as men.
So what does this mean? It means that we are to treat our sexuality as a gift that is intended to be enjoyed in the context of a marriage covenant. The physical union of husband and wife is a noble and glorious thing, a gift from God. Outside that marriage covenant, however, sexual fantasies and actions are shameful and ignoble; indeed, some of them are criminal.
So lusting in our hearts after another is shameful; viewing pornography is shameful; fornication is shameful; adultery is shameful; homosexuality is shameful; bestiality is shameful; incest is shameful; rape is shameful. There is a distinct reason that our consciences weigh us down when we practice such things; a reason that we experience feelings of shame – for these things are shameful in themselves. They degrade us as human beings and they dishonor our Creator.

As we come into the presence of God, therefore, the God who has made us and fashioned us as men and women not as beasts, who has fashioned us for nobility not dishonor, let us confess that we have often fallen short and acted dishonorably. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

You Shall Not Murder

March 3, 2014 in Church History, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Reformation, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:13 (NKJV)
13 “You shall not murder.
The Westminster Larger Catechism was written for the benefit of serious students of Scripture. Its purpose is to expand on the elementary answers of the Shorter Catechism, which we recite each Lord’s Day, in order to equip Christians with an even more thorough grasp of Scriptural teaching. Of particular note in the Larger Catechism is its detailed exposition of the Ten Commandments. This morning, as our exhortation, I’d like us to consider the answers it gives to this, the sixth commandment, You shall not murder.
The Shorter Catechism poses the question:
Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.
So what exactly does that mean? It is this question that the Larger Catechism answers:
Q. 135. What are the duties required in the 6th commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are,
·      all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any;
·      by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit;
·      a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations;
·      by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness;
·      peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior;
·      forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil;
·      comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.
Not only are we interested to know what the 6th commandment requires of us, we also want to know what it forbids. Again, the Shorter Catechism summarizes:
Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.
Then the Larger Catechism expands:
Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the 6th commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are,
·      all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense;
·      the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life;
·      sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge;
·      all excessive passions, distracting cares;
·      immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations;
·      provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
The authors of the catechism remind us of the searching nature of God’s law. God’s law touches not simply the external actions which we perform but the internal motivations and passions which give rise to those actions. And this observation they learned from our Lord Jesus.
““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21–22)

And so reminded of the need to serve God not just externally but internally, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Honor Your Father and Mother

February 23, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Church History, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Parents, Reformation, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:12 (NKJV)
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
Martin Luther writes in his Large Catechism, “To fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction, above all estates that are beneath it, that he commands us not simply to love our parents but also to honor them. With respect to brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general he commands nothing higher than that we love them. Thus he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. For it is a much greater thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love but also deference, humility, and modesty, directed (so to speak) toward a majesty hidden within them. It requires us not only to address them affectionately and reverently, but above all to show by our actions, both of heart and of body, that we respect them very highly and that next to God we give them the very highest place. For anyone whom we are whole-heartedly to honor, we must truly regard as high and great….
“[So] learn what this commandment requires concerning honor to parents. You are to esteem and prize them as the most precious treasure on earth. In your words you are to behave respectfully toward them, and not address them discourteously, critically, and censoriously, but submit to them and hold your tongue, even if they go too far. You are also to honor them by your actions (that is, with your body and possessions), serving them, helping them, and caring for them when they are old, sick, feeble, or poor; all this you should do not only cheerfully, but with humility and reverence, as in God’s sight…
“[N]otice what a great, good, and holy work is here assigned to children… If they wish to serve God with truly good works, they must do what is pleasing to their fathers and mothers, or to those who have parental authority over them. Every child who knows and does this has, in the first place, the great comfort of being able joyfully to boast in the face of all who are occupied with works of their own choice: ‘See, this work is well pleasing to my God in heaven; this I know for certain.’ Let them all come forward and boast of their many great, laborious, and difficult works; we shall see whether they can produce a single work that is greater and nobler than obedience to father and mother, which God has appointed and commanded next to obedience to his own majesty. If God’s Word and will are placed first and observed, nothing ought to be considered more important than the will and word of our parents, provided that these, too, are subordinated to obedience toward God and are not set into opposition to the preceding commandments.
“You should rejoice heartily and thank God that he has chosen and fitted you to perform a task so precious and pleasing to him. Even though it seems very trivial and contemptible, make sure that you regard it as great and precious…because it has its place within that jewel and holy treasure, the Word and commandments of God.”

These words of Luther remind us of the great honor that God has bestowed upon parents and of the honor which we are to show to them. And so reminded of our duty and convicted of the ways in which we have fallen short, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness.

God Gave Wine

October 7, 2013 in Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, Bible - OT - Psalms, Covenantal Living, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law
Psalm 104:14–15 (NKJV)
14 [God] causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, 15 And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
As we anticipate moving soon to our new facility, I’d like to take a momentary break from our meditations on the Ten Commandments to prepare for our move. We have rented from the good folks here at the Seventh Day Adventist Church for almost three years. In an effort to respect the convictions of our brethren, we have refrained from the use of wine in communion. But when we move into our new building, we’ll be resuming the use of wine and wanted to give a brief defense. After all, some of you joined us while here at the SDA building and may not even know that we use wine in communion. So in the interest of no surprises I wanted to address the issue.
It is always a temptation for us as the people of God to substitute our own wisdom for the wisdom which God has given in His Word. We can be tempted either to permit things that God has forbidden or to forbid things that God has permitted. It was in the midst of addressing this latter temptation, the temptation to forbid things that God has permitted, that Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:4-5:
For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
Paul reminds us that God has fashioned and molded the world and that we are to receive the things that he has given with gratitude and thanksgiving. So notice the psalmist doing what Paul articulates:
[God] causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
Within the American church, there has been a strong impulse to edit out the first half of verse 15 and eliminate the psalmist’s praise of “wine that makes glad the heart of man.” Vegetation – yes! Oil – yes! Bread – yes! But wine? We’re not so sure. Grape juice yes; but wine?
Our reticence often stems from the frequent abuse of alcohol – and make no mistake that the abuse of alcohol, drunkenness, is a sin. Paul commands us, “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” But the same Scriptures that identify drunkenness as a sin also identify wine itself as a gift from God – a gift to gladden the heart of man.
Jesus testified to the blessing of wine at the wedding of Cana when he turned the water into wine and brought joy to the bridegroom and the bride. And it is wine that Jesus drank with his disciples on the night he was betrayed – and so it is wine that we will use when we are at liberty to do so in our own building.
So why is it that we often create these extra strictures and forbid things that God permits in His Word? One reason is our persistent temptation to identify the cause of our sinfulness in something outside of us. If alcohol is the problem, then my heart is not the problem, my desires are not the problem, my love for someone and something more than God Himself is not the problem.

But the Word of God does not let us off so easily. My problem, your problem, is not outside of me or outside of you – our problem is in our hearts. Out of the heart proceeds drunkenness, our abuse of the good gift of wine that God has given. So why does God give us wine in the Supper? He gives us wine to remind us that Jesus died to rescue us from our sinful inclinations and to enable us to use his gifts aright. So reminded of our propensity to twist God’s good gifts and use them for evil, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.