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.

The 3rd Commandment – Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

September 30, 2013 in Baptism, Bible - OT - Exodus, Covenantal Living, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Ten Commandments, Tongue
Exodus 20:7 (NKJV)
7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
Commonly the third commandment is taken as a restriction on profane speech – and while it does have implications for our speech, the commandment is much broader. The third commandment is a stirring warning against hypocrisy.
The word translated “take” in the commandment can also mean to bear or bear up. Shortly after its use in the third commandment, the same word is used to describe the high priest “bearing” the names of the sons of Israel upon his shoulders. In other words, he stood as the representative for the tribes of Israel, taking their sins upon himself in the Day of Atonement and lifting up their prayers on the altar of incense.
To “bear the name” is, therefore, to represent another. So when God warns Israel about “taking” or “bearing” the name of the Lord your God in vain, he is warning them against representing him to the world in a way that is unfaithful and slanderous. Even as a wife takes the name of her husband and can no longer act as though unmarried, so those who take the Name of God are to live in light of that identity. This, of course, has application for one’s speech; but it actually addresses everything – starting from the heart and working its way out to the tongue.
When God chose Abraham and gave him the covenant of circumcision, he marked out Abraham and his descendants as His representatives on earth. It was through Abraham and his offspring that all the families of the earth would be blessed. God chose Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob and his twelve sons to be His special possession, a people called by His Name and who bore His Name. Israel was the people of God.
In the New Covenant, it is we who have been baptized into Christ who bear the Name of God and whom God now calls to bear His Name in truth. For how are we baptized? We are baptized “into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And having been baptized into the Triune Name, having had the Name of God placed upon us, we are to live lives that represent that God to the world. When we fail to represent Him faithfully – either through the worship of other gods, or through unrighteous living, or through the practice of injustice, or through the misuse of our tongues – then we bear His Name in vain.
We also see in our text that God takes this hypocrisy and deceitful bearing of His Name very seriously – He will not hold Him guiltless that takes His Name in vain. Repeatedly in the history of Israel and in the history of the Church, we see God vindicating His Name in the face of the unfaithfulness of those who bear it. And so this is a reminder to us, an admonition to us to fear the Lord and to serve Him sincerely, free from hypocrisy and double-mindedness. We are to represent God faithfully to the world.

One of the ways we do this is by acknowledging that He alone is holy and exalted and free from sin. The way we demonstrate this, publicly and privately, is by routinely confessing our sins and seeking His forgiveness in the Name of Christ. So this morning let us confess our sins – and in particular, the way in which we are tempted to bear the Name of God in vain and fail to represent Him faithfully to the world. Let us kneel together as we confess.

The 2nd Commandment – A Jealous God

September 22, 2013 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Marriage, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Ten Commandments, Worship
Exodus 20:4–6 (NKJV)
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Since our rebellion against God in the beginning of human history, it has ever been a strong temptation to fashion God in the image of some creature and fail to maintain the Creator/creature divide. Tragically, in the history of God’s people, the gravitational pull toward some form of idolatry has been strong and persistent. Rachel hid the idols in her tent; Aaron fashioned the golden calf; Jeroboam erected an idol in Bethel; Ezekiel saw the priests bowing before idols in the temple storehouses; and to this day both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy sanction the veneration of images.
Sacred Scripture indicates for us how seriously God takes this matter; how seriously he takes the worship of His Name. He declares to Moses, For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God… God is a Jealous God – he is jealous for His own glory, jealous for the truth, and jealous for the joy and satisfaction of human beings. All this necessitates that God take worship seriously – for in worship we express that which has highest worth, that which brings highest joy, delight, and purpose to us as human beings. Such praise belongs only to God. He will not permit the glory which is his alone to be given to other gods. “I am Yahweh, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor my praise to carved images” (Is 42:8). God’s glory and our good are serious business – hence, worship is serious business.
God likens Himself elsewhere to a jealous husband. He takes the purity of His bride, His Church, seriously. When his bride starts scattering her favors to other gods, he takes this seriously – he begins sending judgments, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him. The Lord is the perfect husband and does not simply turn a blind eye when his bride starts taking up with other lovers. He vindicates His honor and glory.

So as we come here to worship, God wishes to awaken you from your slumber, awaken you from your complacency, awaken you from your idolatry. God takes His worship seriously – how seriously are you taking this morning? God takes His Word seriously – how attentive are you this morning? God takes His glory seriously – so whom are you here to worship? If you are not here to hear from the Lord of glory, the Lord of all the earth, the Lord whose glory fills this place, fills heaven and earth, then beware – the Lord is a jealous God. He knows your heart; he knows whom you are really here to serve. So let us seek his face and confess that we find ourselves prone to worship other gods; prone to find our meaning and delight somewhere other than in Him. Let us kneel as we confess together.

The 1st Commandment – The Unholy Trinity

September 15, 2013 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:3 (NKJV)
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
We are all religious beings. As creatures made in the image of God, we cannot help but be religious. We all worship or obey someone or something. Some voice is ultimate – and it is this voice, this voice that governs and directs our life, that is our god. And the most popular deity today is the sovereign self. Eugene Peterson explains:
“Here’s how it works. It is important to observe that in the formulation of this new [religion] that defines the self as the sovereign text [or voice] for living, the Bible is neither ignored nor banned; it holds, in fact, an honored place. But the three-personal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is replaced by a very individualized personal Trinity of my Holy Wants, my Holy Needs, and my Holy Feelings….
The new Holy Trinity. The sovereign self expresses itself in Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings. The time and intelligence that our ancestors spent on understanding the sovereignty revealed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are directed by our contemporaries in affirming and validating the sovereignty of our needs, wants, and feelings.
My needs are non-negotiable… My need for fulfillment, for expression, for affirmation, for sexual satisfaction, for respect, my need to get my own way – all these provide a foundation to the centrality of me and fortify my self against [all threats].
My wants are evidence of my expanding sense of kingdom. I train myself to think big because I am big, important, significant. I am larger than life and so require more and more goods and services, more things and more power. Consumption and acquisition are the new fruits of the spirit.
My feelings are the truth of who I am. Any thing or person who can provide me with ecstasy, with excitement, with joy, with stimulus, with spiritual connection validates my sovereignty. This, of course, involves employing quite a large cast of therapists, travel agents, gadgets and machines, recreations and entertainments to cast out the devils of boredom or loss or discontent – all the feelings that undermine or challenge my self-sovereignty.
In the last two hundered years a huge literature…has developed around this new Holy Trinity of Needs, Wants, and Feelings that make up the sovereign self… The new spiritual masters assure us that all our spiritual needs are included in the new Trinity: our need for meaning and transcendence, our wanting a larger life, our feelings of spiritual significance – and, of course, there is plenty of room for God, as much or as little as you like. The new Trinity doesn’t get rid of God or the Bible, it merely puts them to the service of needs, wants, and feelings. Which is fine with us, for we’ve been trained all our lives to treat everyone and everything that way. It goes with the territory. It’s the prerogative of sovereignty, [the sovereignty of self].
What has become devastatingly clear in our day is that the core reality of the Christian [faith], the sovereignty of God revealing himself in [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit], is contested and undermined by virtually everything we learn in our schooling, everything presented to us in the media, every social, workplace, and political expectation directed our way as the experts assure us of the sovereignty of self. These voices seem so perfectly tuned to us, so authoritatively expressed and custom-designed to show us how to live out our sovereign selves, that we are hardly aware that we have traded in our Holy Bibles for this new text, the Holy Self.”[Eugene Peterson, Eat this Book, pp. 31-34]

So what of you? Are you here today to worship the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? To listen to His voice and be shaped by His Word? Or are you here to worship the unholy trinity of your needs, wants, and feelings? The first commandment strikes our ears, You shall have no other gods before me. Reminded that God is the center of all reality and that we often act as though we are the center instead, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Preface – God our Redeemer

September 8, 2013 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:1–2 (NKJV)
1 And God spoke all these words, saying: 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Today we begin a series of exhortations on the Ten Commandments. Jesus declared, Do not think that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets; I have not come to destroy but to fulfill. Jesus came to reveal the character of God as it is displayed in His perfect law. He insisted that the sin of the scribes, Pharisees, and Saduccees of his day was not that they esteemed the law of God too much but that they loved it too little; they had substituted their own traditions in place of God’s law. God’s law is, as Paul reminds us, holy, just, and pure.
It is appropriate, therefore, that we consider what God would teach us through the law – and the first thing that He teaches us is that He saves us not because we obey His law but in order that we might obey His law. The giving of the Ten Commandments starts not with an imperative, not with a command telling us what we must do. Rather it begins with a grand indicative, a statement of what God has done. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Even as God spoke these words of old to Israel, He speaks now to the New Israel, to His Church, to us. Egypt was a mere type, a shadow of the sin and death in which all of us as human beings are enslaved by nature. We all are born dead in our trespasses and sins; inclined toward selfishness and deceit. Pharaoh of old was a mere type, a shadow of the Evil One himself who endeavors to keep the world in darkness and despair. He is a roaring lion who prowls about seeking whom he may devour.
But glory be to God that God did not abandon us to sin and death; did not choose to leave us all in darkness and despair. He looked down from heaven and saw that there was none righteous, no not one; he saw that there was no one strong enough to save; and so his own arm brought salvation; his own fury against evil sustained him. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to endure the curse of sin, to swallow death, and to bind the Evil One – and glory be to God, Jesus rose up victorious and now gives life and salvation to all those who trust in Him. God declares to His people, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the darkness of sin and death, out of slavery to the evil one.
And so the first word of the Ten Commandments is not law, not demand, not requirement but Gospel, good news, grace, deliverance, and salvation. That which we could not do, weak as we were because of our sin and rebellion, God did, sending His own Son in the likness of human flesh that he might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to bondage all their lives. This is our God and He has saved us; this is our Lord and He has delivered us. So ought we not to give thanks and praise Him?

Reminded that we are unable to deliver ourselves from our sin and rebellion; reminded that God alone is He who saves us and delivers us; reminded that we cannot stand before God on the basis of our good works; reminded that  it is only through the mercy of God revealed in His Son Jesus Christ that we can worship Him and please Him; let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Love and Law

August 11, 2013 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Law and Gospel, Love, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Ten Commandments
2 John 4–6 (NKJV)
4 I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. 5 And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. 6 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.
Last week we observed from John’s second epistle that while we often pit love and truth against one another, they are actually fast friends. Love and truth are like flesh and bones.
Today we observe John uniting again two things which in our day and age are often divorced from one another: love and law, love and the commandments of God. John writes that he wants us to love one another. And what is love? This is love, that we walk according to [God’s] commandments.
In the Word of God, love is tangible and concrete – it manifests itself in a wholehearted embracing and implementing of God’s righteous law. What does it mean to love God? It means to be loyal to Him, to not make any idol, to reverence His Name, and to observe the Lord’s Day faithfully. What does it mean to love others? It means to honor those in positions of authority, to preserve the lives, vows, property, and reputation of all men, to speak the truth, and to rejoice in the good gifts that God has given them. Love rejoices in God’s commandments and puts them to practice in the nitty-gritty of life.
John learned this lesson from our Lord Jesus. This is My Father’s commandment, Jesus declared, that you love one another as I have loved you. greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
Many of our countrymen, many of our fellow Christians want to pit love and law against one another. But the end result of this is cruelty and oppression. Love for God that has no bounds is not love – it is idolatry, blasphemy, and profane living. Love for others that has no bounds is not love – it is disrespect, murder, adultery, theft, slander, and covetousness.
So, brothers and sisters, our caling is to love one another and to love all men by keeping the commandments of God – even as our Lord Jesus did. I have not come to do My own will, Jesus said, but the will of the One who sent Me.

Often, however, we do not want to love others as God tells us to love, we want to love according to our terms. And so we have need of God’s forgiveness and grace. So let us kneel and confess our sins to God in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sexuality and “Is” vs. “Ought”

June 23, 2013 in Bible - OT - Leviticus, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Homosexuality, Law and Gospel, Mosaic Law, Politics, Sexuality

Leviticus 18:3 (NKJV)
3 According to the doings [the sexual practices] of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.
One of the key distinctions that philosphers make in the realm of ethics is between “is” and “ought.” Merely because something “is” the case does not mean that it “ought” to be the case. ‘Is” is merely descriptive not prescriptive; it describes the way things are but not necessarily the way things ought to be.
In recent debates over the matter of sexuality there has been a decided failure to maintain this basic distinction – a distinction which is eminently biblical. We see it reflected in our text today – the Egyptians and Canaanites behaved in certain ways sexually; had sociologists written about their society, they would have describedthe practices of incest, homosexuality, bestiality, ritual prostitution, etc. All these things were the case. But simply because they were the case doesn’t mean that those practices were right or proper, that they ought to have been. Scripture declares on nearly every page that that which we observe about us in the history of humanity is not necessarily that which oughtto be. Jealousy, immorality, theft, murder, covetousness, pride, deceit, self-righteousness, slander – all these things are the case but ought not to be the case – for God created us to be different.
So notice how the argumentation goes – homosexuals find individuals of the same gender attractive; many testify that they experienced this attraction unwillingly, it was simply there. Notice that thus far we’re dealing with what is the case, with description. But suddenly the ground shifts and the homosexual advocate begins to defend something quite different – he begins to reason from is to ought, from description to prescription.Because homosexual attraction is the case, therefore we ought to consider it acceptable behavior.
But this is folly. We do not determine what ought to be the case from what is the case. For example, we take it as a given in Western culture that cannibalism is perverse and unnatural. Thanks to generations of biblical wisdom and common grace, we find the smell of burning human flesh repulsive. What may come as a surprise, however, is that in cannibalistic cultures the shape of the brain changes over time so that the smell of human flesh is actually perceivedas pleasant. That which is naturally repulsive comes to be perceived as pleasant. Do we conclude from this that cannibalism is morally acceptable? Absolutely not! Their cultural perversion distorts their very physicality.
The sobering reality of our corruption is this: just as we can become accustomed to the roaring of a train outside our window if we’ve lived beside it long enough, so we can become accustomed to perverse behavior and our sensory faculties can adjust to make such behavior seem acceptable.
So how can we escape? Only by the grace of God and the Word of God. God must give us a new longing to understand what ought to be, a desire to study His Word so that we can learn what ought to be, and then the willingness to change what isso that it conforms to what ought to be. And praise God that by His grace our God-given repulsion to that which is unnatural can return.
So what of us? What of you? What things are the case in your life that you have merely come to accept as normal – not because they ought to be the case, but merely because they are the case? Are there outbursts of anger and wrath? Undercurrents of bitterness and resentment? Displays of disrespect or disobedience? Beware becoming alienated from that which oughtto be the case by the ever-presence of what isthe case.
Reminded of the depth of our sinfulness and the way we excuse what we do wrong, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.

The “Secular” State

June 17, 2013 in Coeur d'Alene Issues, Homosexuality, King Jesus, Mosaic Law, Politics, Sexuality

I penned a response to the Spokesman’s criticisms of my stance against the recent legislation in Coeur d’Alene that publicly legitimizes various abnormal sexual practices and penalizes those who oppose them. You can find the response here.

The point that I’ve endeavored to make is that if “anti-discrimination” is really what the law is about, then certainly the boundaries of the law should be expanded. The testimony from the LGBT community typically states, “I’ve felt so ostracized within the community; I’ve had to endure the stigma of being engaged in unacceptable behavior; this shouldn’t be the case.” It is routinely an appeal to pity. But that same type of argumentation can be used for those who practice other sexual abnormalities.

My point in all this is that there is no such thing as the “secular” state. All states enforce and sanction morality – law by its very nature is enforced morality. The only question is which morality will be enforced. But because so many, even so many Christians, have bought into the lie of the “secular” state, when these moral questions arise for consideration they have no framework within which to address the issue. How can I enforce my personal moral convictions on others?

There are a couple things to keep in mind when asking this question: first, these are not “personal moral convictions” but the moral law of the universe woven into the fabric of the world and of humans in particular by our Creator. We can spurn these laws but we do so at our peril. Second, it is important to distinguish, as Scripture does, between sins and crimes. Not all sinful actions are criminal actions. Hence, “enforcing morality” does not mean that police would be perusing the neighborhood looking for all those who call their brother, “Raca!” (Mt 5:21ff) As Christians we should be quite comfortable leaving the judgment of sins to God while upholding the necessity of a society that criminalizes behavior God Himself judges to be such. Some sins are criminal: murder, theft, adultery, perjury, kidnapping, etc. They destroy the very fabric of society and invite God’s judgment.