Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lord of the Unpredictable

From July 11, 2010

God of our fathers,

You are Lord of the unpredictable, Master of the improbable, the Author of the unlikely, and God of the impossible. Who else but You would have selected David from among all His brothers, and who would have opted to name a Moabite and a prostitute among Your Son’s forebears? You alone would use pagan kings to chastise wayward Israel, and surely You alone would have presided over Satan’s torment of Job. None but You would have singled out Saul of Tarsus as the best man to write half the books of the New Testament, and only You would ordain the blood of the martyrs as the seed of Your church. Truly You have decreed Your eternal purpose according to the council of Your own will, and we can but keep silent. For Your own glory have You foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and we can but lay our hands to our mouths… because it almost never looks the way we would have anticipated it.

Yet despite Your unpredictability, You assure us that You are the same yesterday, today, and forever; the One Who is and was and Who is to come. You are the First and Last, the God Who faints not and Who has ordained the end from the very beginning!

So grant us a healthy fear of Your sovereignty! But not the sniveling fear of idolaters or the cowardly fear of tyrants. Grant us the dominion-taking, confident fear of the humble; the jubilant, courageous fear of the upright in heart! For these juxtapositions sound very strange in our ears. And You alone, the awe-inspiring God of the impossible, can fill us with the humble confidence that comes from bearing Your name.

Remind us each day, Father, when our circumstances tempt us to fret, that Your ways are not our ways, nor Your thoughts our thoughts. For You have chosen the foolish things of the earth to confound the wise, weak things to defeat the mighty, and the base and despised things of the world to bring the pride of the nations to nothing. Even as was so magnificently demonstrated by an apparently normal Jewish carpenter when He taught His disciples to pray, saying…

Saturday, July 10, 2010

They Catch More Than You Think!

Kristin and I were in the car with the kids a few days ago, listening to a recorded sermon on Church unity, when the preacher made a comment about every member of the church being "One with Christ." Patrick, the 4-year-old going on 25, piped up from the back seat with, "Dad, we're not all one. We're lots of different people!"

I hadn't realized he'd even been listening. But with the longsuffering sigh of a professor about to attempt an explanation way over his students' heads, I answered by saying that yes, we are lots of different people; but one in Christ. "That's why, in Church, we all stand and sit together, we confess our sins and sing together, and we all share one loaf of bread in communion: to show our oneness in Christ."

Patrick pondered that for a few moments before offering a final observation.

"Yeah, and that's why we're all baptized!"

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day Prayer

Our Great God and Father,

Thank You for adopting us as Your own; making us truly Your children, and Yourself our true Father. Lest we should doubt our own adoption, like a father You patiently reassure us over and over in Your Word that this is Your plan and our status. Indeed, the same Spirit who makes constant intercession for us bears witness that we are the children of God; joint heirs with Jesus Christ! And just as an earthly father provides a family name and sustenance for his children; You give us baptism to mark us out as separate from the children of darkness, and communion to feed us at Your table.

Help the fathers of Christ Church, and throughout Your church catholic to follow Your divine example. Help each of us to feed and disciple our families as You have commanded in Your Word, and to be willing even to lay down our own life for our bride’s. Endow us with the wisdom to guide and direct our households by word and example, that we may say with Paul; “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Guard us equally from autocratic dictatorship on the one hand and effeminate abdication on the other, and grant that we may exercise our roles of prophet and priest in the home with a balance of authority and humility. Lord we know we are not equal to the task on our own; so we ask that You would help us by Your grace to accurately embody for our children the character of our Father in heaven – never provoking to wrath, but seeking always to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

And even as our little ones never doubt whether we will provide them with food or shelter, help us to trust in You with the same childlike confidence. As their fear of the dark or of bugs turns to bravado when Daddy’s at hand, fill us with the boldness that stems from knowing that our Abba Father will never leave nor forsake us. And just as they run to us with their injuries and injustices, cause us to run to You each time we are tempted to sin or to doubt Your eternal plan; even as Jesus modeled when He taught His disciples to pray, saying…

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jackson's Baptism

Many thanks to the elders for allowing me, once again, to lead this time of instruction as we prepare to celebrate the sacrament of baptism.

As you may recall if you were here a couple of years ago for my daughter Trinity’s baptism, I spoke last time about the continuity of the covenant as portrayed in the image of the Vine; from the Psalms and Prophets, through the New Testament, and down to the present. We looked at how the Vine is a metaphor of Israel and the church; sometimes prospering and sometimes languishing, sometimes bearing fruit and sometimes barren, occasionally being pruned and in some cases having new branches grafted in… but always the same Vine.

Throughout the Scriptures the Holy Spirit makes frequent use of recurring images like that of the Vine. And of course, as Paul says to the church at Rome; “…Such things were written for our learning.” So today, in keeping with this idea of recurring themes in Biblical imagery, I’d like to look at the specific element proscribed for baptism: the water.

Now, if I were to ask you why God chose water as the element for baptism, what would be your response?

I think the first thing that comes to mind for most of us would be that the water of baptism is intended to make us think of “washing”; cleansing us from the “dirtiness” of sin. And this is quite correct as we see from passages like Acts 22:16, in which Paul recounts the story of his baptism by Ananias, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

Unfortunately, however, an all too common tendency is to stop there: baptism equals cleansing. But if we take a step back to look at the larger picture of the Scriptural narrative, there are at least four other common metaphorical uses of water that are highly instructive on the meaning of baptism.

So having acknowledged that the picture of cleansing or washing is one of the key components of water baptism, let’s simply ask the question; what else is water good for? ...Well certainly for drinking! The Bible is filled with references to the water of life, living water, and as Psalm 36 calls it, the fountain of life. Verses 7-9 of that Psalm say, “How excellent [is] thy lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee [is] the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.” Later, in the New Testament, Jesus tells the woman at the well that the water of life is the only water that can truly satisfy. And while some might argue that baptism isn’t in view in either of these passages, I would reply that baptism is closely associated with salvation throughout the scriptures, as in the Great Commission passages of Matthew and Mark; “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing…”

I’ll come back to the relationship between baptism and salvation in a moment, but first I’d like to point out that water is also commonly used to illustrate healing. We see this in the Old Testament when the prophet Elisha has Naaman of Syria wash in the river Jordan to be healed of his leprosy, and Jesus heals a blind man by having him wash in the pool of Siloam. But my favorite passage on waters of healing comes from Ezekiel 47, and ties in closely with the “water of life” passages that we’ve already discussed. In this passage Ezekiel is being shown a vision of the temple, with water flowing from under the threshold. And as you may recall, he ventures out into the water and finds it getting deeper and deeper; first covering his ankles, then his knees and waist as he moves away from the temple, and finally it becomes a “river that could not be crossed.” But listen now as I read verses 8 and 9, “…These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: [which being] brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, [that] every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.” The Amazon River provides a remarkable demonstration of what this passage would look like if applied to nature. Many of you are probably aware that the Amazon is the most voluminous river in the world, depositing over 11 million cubic feet of water into the Atlantic Ocean every second during the rainy season. What you probably didn’t know is that this massive outflow of freshwater makes the waters of the surrounding Atlantic drinkable well beyond sight of the South American coastline, and has notable impact on ocean salinity more than 300 miles from shore! Even so the healing water of the gospel goes out into the world, purifying the very oceans and bringing life to all with whom it comes in contact.

So we’ve seen that water is used in Scripture for cleansing, for satisfying thirst, and as a means of healing; but we also find that water is frequently used to mark out boundaries, or as a mark of identification. God marks the borders of Abram’s inheritance with an outline of rivers in Genesis 15, and Paul tells the church at Corinth that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” in their passage through the Red Sea. But perhaps most notable is Paul’s observation in Galatians 3:27 that “…As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In other words, as surely as an inauguration makes an ordinary citizen a public official or a wedding ceremony makes a husband of a bachelor, baptism stamps us with the covenant identity of Christ’s church and entitles us to all the blessings (and curses) that go along with that status. Like a badge or a uniform, water baptism marks us as Christ’s.

This ties closely to the final point I’d like to make, which is that scripture teaches us that water saves. Usually when we read about the global flood that made Noah famous, we immediately think of all the death and destruction that it caused; but Peter looks at it from a different angle. Listen as I read from 1 Peter 3:20, “…The longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, wherein a few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” Rather than focus on the watery judgment that God sent on a sinful world, Peter notes that without the water Noah’s ark wouldn’t have floated at all; and everyone, the entire human race would have died! Instead God, in His mercy and patience, waited to send the flood until Noah had finished preparing a way of escape.

But what really wreaks havoc with our theological categories is the next verse. Let me start in 1 Peter 3:20 again, and read through verse 21, “…The longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, wherein a few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” Did you catch that? "Baptism doth also now save us…" But lest you should think that either Peter or I are hinting at baptismal regeneration, note the second part of the verse; “…Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh [which I think refers to the actual rite of water baptism], but the answer of a good conscience toward God…” This is what the Reformers referred to as “Improving upon your baptism.” Which simply means that rather than making baptism an excuse to live as we please (some kind of eternal “Get out of jail free” card), we should be constantly striving to live in a manner worthy of the cleansing, thirst-quenching, healing, marking, and salvation of which our baptism speaks! And in this sense, baptism can and does save us from the temptation to live contrary to that covenant identity.

All of this should lead us to conclude that baptism is God’s grace put on magnificent display for us. Not so much a “means of grace” like some kind of faucet through which grace flows; but God’s grace manifested here and now before our eyes.

So as you bear witness to Jackson’s baptism today (whose name, appropriately, means “God has shown grace”), call to mind your own baptism. And listen as I close with Paul’s charge from Ephesians 4:1-6, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [There is] one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who [is] above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Let us pray.

Our God and Father, thank You for the extravagant grace You have extended to us in baptism, and by inviting us to commune at Your table as children of the King. Thank You for my son Jackson. Cause him to seek you with his whole heart, to exercise diligence to make his calling and election sure, and to glory in grinding the serpent’s head under his heel! Fill him with Your Spirit and grant him many opportunities to show Your grace to others, even as it has already been shown to him. And may his and our every thought show plainly that we have been cleansed, and our spiritual thirst quenched by the waters of baptism. May our every word extend the healing influence of the gospel’s living water from the river to the ends of the earth, and every action testify that we bear in our bodies the mark of the Lord Jesus. And may our constant goal be to show forth the salvation of our God, until the earth is as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the only true source of living water, and Amen.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Trinity's Baptismal Lesson

We don't yet have a date for Jackson's baptism, but I'm hopeful that the elders will allow me to bring a short lesson on the sacrament prior to his actual sprinkling. And as I started putting some thought into what I'd like to say, I recalled that I never posted the teaching I did two years ago (at Trinity's baptism) as some of you had requested! Sorry about that... but as the adage goes: better late than never! Here's what I had to say on the subject a couple years ago:

I would like to begin by thanking the elders for the opportunity to address the congregation on the occasion of my daughter’s baptism. In our day and age ecclesiology is a convoluted and complex issue, if it is made an issue at all… and I tremendously appreciate their willingness to include me in Trinity’s baptism.

I’d like to speak to you, briefly, on the biblical theology of vines and olive trees. You may remember that Jeremy spoke several weeks ago on the biblical doctrine of rocks, and vines are a similar example of how the Holy Spirit makes use of the same metaphorical language throughout the scriptures.

Now, when I mention vines and olive trees, Psalm 80 is probably not the first passage to pop into your head; yet it is highly instructive on how the imagery of the vine is used throughout the entire Bible. Listen to verses 7-15 “Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst [room] before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof [were like] the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast thou [then] broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch [that] thou madest strong for thyself.”

From this passage, we learn that the picture of the vine, and sometimes the olive or the fig tree, is frequently used as a symbol of the nation of Israel. And in the passages in which this is the case, the prosperity of the vine frequently pictures the prosperity of Israel. Is the vine healthy, and bearing abundant fruit? If so, the story probably centers around an obedient Israel, a nation doing God’s will and being rewarded accordingly. Conversely, if the story describes a fruitless fig tree, such as the one Jesus cursed in Matthew 21, then we’re probably being instructed on the consequences meted out on an unfaithful Israel.

The Apostle Paul takes his cue from this language when he speaks of God’s covenant people in the same way. Listen as I read again from Romans 11 (v18-22) “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, [take heed] lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in [his] goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” – Here we see the continuity of God’s covenant with Adam extended to the New Testament faithful. Note that it’s still the same tree as in the Old Testament; it just looks a bit different due to some pruning and grafting. We also see the metaphor mature from being simply a blanket application to covenant Israel, to a more complex picture of both the covenant as a whole and some of its particular members. The apostle closes this illustration with a sober warning about the consequences of “not continuing in God’s goodness.” Both fruitless branches and branches which bear evil fruit will be cut off the tree; that is, removed from the number of God’s covenant faithful by means of public excommunication. The apostate fail to truly abide in the vine per John 15:5 “I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”

So if departure from the covenant (or “breaking off”) is seen in excommunication, what does it look like in time and history when the covenant is enlarged? What are the means that God uses to grow his covenant vine? There are two correct answers to these questions.

Of course one of God’s ordained means is seen in the Romans 11 passage we just read: grafting, or evangelism. This is impressively portrayed throughout the book of Acts as the apostles spread the news of Christ’s death and resurrection to Cornelius, Lydia, and many other gentiles; bringing them into the covenant and baptizing them in recognition of their engrafting. In fact all of history is generously peppered with stories of God’s mighty work through His prophets and evangelists. And for us number-savvy Americans, it would seem quite clear that this should be God’s primary tactic for expanding His kingdom on earth.

But God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts. And what a monumental understatement! Seriously now, which of us would have thought to have the Savior of the world born in a stable? Or who would have suggested to God, “You know, it might be a good idea to place your people in slavery in Egypt for 400 years or so.”

So while I certainly don’t want to disparage or minimize the importance of evangelism (after all, scripture commands us to do it!), I think it would be a mistake to assume that it is God’s primary means of producing fruit on the vine. Just think about it for a moment: does a vine produce more fruit by means of grafting or by natural growth? Of course the answer is the latter. In fact, in viticulture, grafting is never intended as a final goal, but is itself a means to future growth!

Thus even though it is technically correct to say that we were grafted into the covenant as gentiles in the early history of the church, our children should not be thought of as grafted branches; because in a very real sense, they are feeding on the vine and are growing naturally from that nourishment. Trinity can be thought of as a blossom on our family's branch of the covenant, and her baptism is rightly considered as her first fruit. Some might argue that the baptism itself is her entry into the covenant, and it's true that we can view it as the formalization of her covenant membership. But remember that she is natural growth on the vine of New Israel. And as Calvin said, in essence, our children aren’t in the covenant because they are baptized; rather we baptize them because they are in the covenant. The baptism you are about to witness is God growing His kingdom; down through our generations and out into the world.

Since the “Daniel ----” branch on the covenant grew, in turn, from the “Paul ----” and “Clark ----” branches; and since both of Trinity’s grandfathers are here today, I’d like to close by reading for them the blessing from Psalm 128 as a reminder to us all of God’s covenant faithfulness: “Blessed [is] every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy [shalt] thou [be], and [it shall be] well with thee. Thy wife [shall be] as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, [and] peace upon Israel.”


Lord willing I'll post my teaching from Jackson's baptism at a later date.

One More to "Teach Diligently"!

God has grown my tribe this week!

Jackson Lewis was born very early Saturday morning. Mother and Son are both recovering nicely from his delivery, and arrived home a few hours ago.

Our son is named for two heroes of the faith: Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and author C.S. Lewis. Also of note; the name "Jackson" means "God has shown favor", and Lewis means "Famous warrior". May God's favor ever be on our newest warrior!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Triumph of the Resurrection

God of our Fathers,

On this Resurrection Sunday we find ourselves, once again, overwhelmed and awed by Your majesty. Eloquence and poetry alike fail to even hint at the glory of the conquest You have wrought by the resurrection of Your Eternal Son, Jesus Christ. For He has defeated and humiliated Your enemies, parading them in derision through the streets; He has led captivity captive and triumphed over death itself; He has provided a way of escape for sinners and made us new creatures in Himself; He has marked us as His own in baptism, and in communion He feeds us with His own body and blood; He surely comes to judge all men in righteousness and equity; and He will not fail to prepare for us His promised feast of fat things full of marrow and fine wine on the lees, well refined: truly Your salvation is great!

Help us, Father, to rejoice more and more in Your abundance! Fill our hearts with gladness as we hear Your word preached! Let our joy resound in song and our “Amens” be filled with gusto as we savor Your extravagant provision! May our communion and fellowship overflow with gratitude for Your abundant mercies! And let even our sleep be the sound repose promised to those whom You have called “Beloved”. For these are the fruits of the resurrection! You have arisen mightily and caused Your enemies to be scattered like dust on the wind. Those that hate You must and will flee before Your wrath, and we Your children can but stand still and marvel at the great salvation of our God.

And as we prepare to hear Your Word preached, grow in each of us a zeal for Your truth and a hunger and thirst for Your righteousness! Help us to improve upon our baptisms in the coming week by growing our appreciation for the many effects of the resurrection. For without it we would certainly be the most miserable of men. But with it we have the security of Christ before us, Christ behind, Christ above and beneath us, Christ at our right hand and Christ at our left, Christ in our hearts and our every breath: even as we join our voices in the prayer He taught His disciples, saying…

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bloodied, but Not Beaten!

Patrick took a spill this afternoon, and skinned up his elbows and knees a little bit. A few minutes ago he brought me this concluding thought:

"Dad, I need to say 'ew' 'cause there's blood on me... 'Ew.'"

Watch out, Driveway. Patrick will be back tomorrow for Round 2, and he's gonna walk all over you!