Song of the Drunkards


Christian Plodding

November 19, 2023 in Bible - NT - Luke, Church Calendar, Meditations

Luke 13:18–19 (NKJV)

18 Then [Jesus] said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

As Americans, we tend to have a love affair with that which is new, spontaneous, or instantaneous. As American Christians, therefore, we tend to grow tired of what we call the “same old thing” and hanker for some new fad or new teaching to invigorate our Christian walk. Now, of course, it is always good to push ourselves to grow and develop; to long for God to continue His work of sanctification in our lives; but the longing for some new experience rather than the pursuit of steady faithfulness reflects our cultural bias not our biblical grounding.

After all, what Jesus articulates for us in His parables of the kingdom is that the way the Holy Spirit works both in our individual lives and in the life of His Church is better pictured by the growth of a tree than the lighting of a sparkler. Sparklers, of course, are fun and exciting – they burn bright and shed their fire on all around them. But sparklers soon burn out while trees, planted and taking root, slowly grow over time; growing almost imperceptibly, soaking up the nutrients in the soil and increasingly displaying the glory of their Creator and becoming a nesting place for the birds of the air.

This steady, slow, natural growth is the way Christ typically works in the lives of His disciples. Normal Christian growth involves long periods of steady plodding – plodding that brings prosperity but plodding nonetheless. Typically God’s work is characterized by slow growth, gradual transformation – through what theologians have called the ordinary means of grace: reading and hearing the Word of God and participation in and meditation upon the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Steady plodding. Few sprints; mainly marathons. A long obedience in the same direction.

You may not know, but the last six months in the Church Year – roughly June through November – are called “ordinary time.” During these months there are no special feasts or celebrations; just the regular time of the Spirit’s work in the Church, during which we count one Sunday after another. This season fittingly follows Pentecost – for after Christ poured out the Spirit, the Spirit began working in the Church, gradually transforming the people of God into the image of Christ. Hence the color of this period is green, a color of growth. Tree-like growth.

In a couple weeks we’ll be introducing some liturgical changes as we enter a new church year with Advent’s arrival. We will have a different Call to Worship, a different Confession, a different Creed – this year we’re even going to be introducing a change in the order of songs. Before we change, I wanted to draw to your attention the fact that for the last six months we have not changed these things. 

Why have we done this? There’s no biblical requirement that we use the same words week by week. We could have changed them weekly, monthly, or periodically. God has left such decisions to the wisdom of church officers. And for six months we’ve chosen to use the same ones. Perhaps you noticed; perhaps you’ve wondered if this is ever going to change. And perhaps you’ve thought the same thing about periods in your own life and spiritual development. And the message of Jesus is that He is at work growing His kingdom and even growing you – so trust Him and keep plodding. Look to Him in faith; He is at work.

Reminded that Jesus’ work in our lives is often gradual, like the growth of a tree, we are alerted that often our hankering for something spontaneous or new or different is not an impulse of our Christian faith but our Americanness. And this reminds us that we need to confess our fickleness to the Lord and ask Him to enable us to practice a long obedience in the same direction. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

The Perfect Law of Liberty

November 12, 2023 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Meditations

Proverbs 13:9 (NKJV) 

9The light of the righteous rejoices, But the lamp of the wicked will be put out. 

Paul writes in Romans 8:29 that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Proverbs assist us in that process, directing us in the way of wisdom and teaching us what it is to imitate our Lord’s character. Today we are reminded that God’s law is a blessing not a burden.

When we are in sin and running away from God, His laws appear to us as limits on our freedom and self-expression. Why can’t I worship whomever I want, however I want? Why can’t I say whatever I want? Why must God restrict my work one day a week? Why must I honor my father and mother? A woman should have a right to choose what she does with her body. Sexual restrictions are passe. The oppressed have the right to steal from their oppressors. Greed is good. Who are you to tell me what to do?

But when God in His mercy grabs hold of us and reconciles us to Himself through faith in Jesus, He begins transforming our perspective on His law. We come to see His law as life and light – as the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). God’s moral law is the operator’s manual for us individually and societally. We come to see that to cast off His law is to invite upon ourselves destruction. It is, like a fool, to put water in one’s gas tank, to flip pancakes with an icepick, or to dry one’s car with coarse sandpaper. None of those things – water, gas tanks, pancakes, icepicks, etc. – are bad in themselves – but they aren’t meant to go together and putting them together results in destruction not freedom.

So our Proverb reminds us, “The light of the righteous rejoices, But the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” The Reformation Study Bible notes explain, “The metaphor presents two kinds of houses: one brightly lit and happy, the other dark and deserted. These houses symbolize human lives: one person prospers and lives long while another is cut short” (948). So whose house is brightly lit and happy? The house of the righteous. Why? Because he knows the way that God designed him to live and endeavors to conform his life to that design. And whose house is dark and deserted? The house of the wicked. Why? Because he is in rebellion against God’s design, fighting against the way he was meant to live.

So what of you? Do you delight in God’s moral law? Do you see it as the pathway of life and light? As the way you were meant to live? Or has your heart been poisoned by unbelief? By the deceitfulness of the world? Do you see God’s law as repressive, thwarting your self-expression and cramping your style? Then beware, if you continue in that path, your lamp will go out and your home will be filled with darkness.

Reminded that we often view God’s moral law as a burden rather than a blessing, a drudgery rather than a delight, let us return to God, confess our sin, and pray that He would enable us to see His moral law for what it is: light and life. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin.

The Blessings of Riches & of Poverty

November 5, 2023 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Meditations

Proverbs 13:8 (NKJV) 

8The ransom of a man’s life is his riches, But the poor does not hear rebuke. 

Paul writes in Romans 8:29 that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Proverbs assist us in that process, directing us in the way of wisdom and teaching us what it is to imitate our Lord’s character. Today we are reminded not to set our heart on uncertain riches.

Recall that the Proverbs of Solomon are given to instruct us in wisdom and inform us about the nature of the world in which we live. While we often wish that we lived in a perfect world, we are daily reminded that such is not the case. And while idealism would guide us to live in a utopia, wisdom prepares us to face the fallen world in which we actually live. And in the real world, riches and poverty both have their advantages. 

On the one hand, the ransom of a man’s life is his riches. In other words, riches often protect their owners from facing the consequences of their actions. Do we not see daily proof of Solomon’s observation? Whether it is Republican complaints about the favorable treatment of Hunter Biden or Democratic complaints about the evils of the 1% and the need to “tax the rich”, the reality is that every society has its rich folks who are able to use their riches to protect themselves from harm. And isn’t this what you would do if you were rich? Wouldn’t you use your wealth to try to protect yourself and your loved ones? So if the wicked become rich, don’t fret. Remember that God is the Lord, not the rich:

7Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. 8Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm. (Ps 37:7-8)

But there is another sense in which riches are not a blessing – and it is this that the second half of our proverb addresses: the poor does not hear rebuke or threats. In other words, poverty protects the poor from the criticisms and threats that rich people face. It’s not so much that the poor doesn’t listen to rebuke but that he doesn’t even hear rebukes – no one bothers to threaten him because he doesn’t have much to take or give. You may think that riches are a blessing – but consider what happens to those who win the lottery or to those who are rich. If you’re poor, do you have to worry about heart wrenching pleas for financial help? Do you have to worry about poor relatives draining your substance? Do you have to worry about frivolous lawsuits? Do you have to worry about the paparazzi? In other words, while there are certainly blessings that accompany wealth, there are also blessings that accompany poverty. 

Solomon’s observation, therefore, reminds us to be content with what we have and to place our trust in the Lord, not in uncertain riches. As Paul wrote to Timothy:

17Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

So what of you? Where is your hope? Is your hope in uncertain riches or in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy and to share? Reminded of the uncertainty of this world and the mixed blessing of both wealth and poverty, let us confess that we are often consumed with a lust for wealth. And as we confess our sins, let us kneel as we are able.