The Ungodly Flip-Flop (Psalm 8)

Reading in Psalm 8 today, I find David saying this about humanity:

“What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?  Yet you have made him a little lower than God, and you crown him with glory and majesty!  You make him to rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:4-8)

I’m struck (but not surprised) by how easily we try and overturn God’s plan and purpose for his creation.  God commissioned us as human beings to rule over creation (which, in a biblical sense, means to steward creation as God’s vice-regents for his glory and our joy) and to serve one another (Mark 10:43-44; Galatians 5:13).  We so often want and strive for the reverse.  We want to rule over one another, and serve the creation – or, perhaps, twist the creation to serve us.  For instance, a godless environmentalism is one (but not the only) example of this predilection – it seeks to rule over other human beings after first exalting nature as “God.”

Doesn’t this ungodly flip-flop appear with striking clarity during our election cycles, and routinely in our political discourse?  Not that elections or politics are bad.  In fact, rightly pursued, both are a gift to human society and an important aspect of human flourishing (to borrow a term from Al Mohler).  But whereas elections and politics should be a “race to the bottom” for humble service of one another in society, all too often both become a venue in which we strive to rule rather than serve.

None of this should surprise us.  Our flip-flopping of Psalm 8 is merely another expression of Romans 1:21-23 sin – “For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”  There it is…in our sin we want to serve God’s creation and rule one another.  We prefer this to serving one another in love for the glory of God…and ruling his creation in love for the glory of God.

What’s the answer to this problem?  Easy (tongue-in-cheek)…flip it back!  Surrender to God by surrendering to his plan, and his way, for his creation (including us!).  Surrender starts at the foot of the cross.  Service starts at the foot of the cross.  Ruling starts at the foot of the cross.

Thanking God for the ESV Bible

If you click here you will enjoy a wonderful ten-minute video describing the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, including something of the process that brought it into being.  While I continue to use the NASB for much of my personal Bible reading, I am profoundly thankful for the ESV.  It’s a privilege to come to God through its words, especially on Sunday mornings, week-in, and week-out.  It’s also a privilege to shepherd my children, primarily through the language of the ESV.  I’m grateful to see the faces and hear the voices of many who supported and led the work on this translation.  Part of my confidence in the result of their labor stems from the character, doctrine, and lives of the men who appear in this video.  God has been so good to the English-speaking world in the plethora of riches we enjoy when it comes to biblical materials.  May we be good stewards of his wealth!  May we also earnestly desire the same blessing for those into whose heart-language Scripture has yet to come!

Preaching Like a Child

Martyn Lloyd-Jones Picture
Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The God-used preacher of Wales and Westminster Chapel (picture taken from the “Logic on Fire” Conference DVD packet)

 

Preaching is many things I suppose, and there are many various metaphors that helpfully describe what happens during a Spirit-empowered proclamation of God’s message.  This morning I’m struck by the following: Preaching is like a budding four-year old delivering his Dad’s message in childish words that nonetheless convey the truth of his Father’s proclamation.

Psalm 131 says this: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (English Standard Version).

 Lately the Lord has pressed home on me, repeatedly, the need to come to him as a little child – truly enjoying his love, utterly depending on him, and delighting in the life he’s given to me.  Funny enough, that’s actually quite difficult to do (at least it is for me)!

Preaching God’s Word is a high and lofty affair, as is any exercise of a spiritual gift for the edification of another person.  It is something that can easily become about me – my pride, my ways, my desires – and not my God.  It is the sort of “great and…marvelous” thing with which I could too easily occupy myself in a sinful manner.  Yet, what if I sit before God like a weaned child, quieted, peaceful, and calm?  And then what if, when he tells me to, I get down off his lap and run to deliver his message, albeit in my own broken and childish way, yet empowered by his Spirit?  Suddenly then, preaching becomes the loving interaction of a Father and son…kind of like when you send your four-year old off with a message and chuckle in delight at hearing the manner of its delivery.  The child delights in the trust of his Father and the chance to join in his Dad’s work. The Dad delights in the willing, excited, and childlike partnership of his son.  It’s a beautiful symbiosis of love and glory.

Oh sovereign Lord, teach me to preach like a weaned child!

A Messiah Clothed in Blood…

The coherency of God’s Word is breathtaking, especially as it applies to Jesus Christ.  It’s a coherency that ought to warn all of us, particularly those of us who will not receive Jesus Christ as Lord (King) and Savior (Messiah).  Consider this portion of Isaiah 63:1-6:

Who is this who comes from Edom, with garments of flowing colors from Bozrah, this one who is majestic in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength?  “It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”  Why is your apparel red, and your garments like the one who treads in the wine press?  “I have trodden the wine trough alone, and from the peoples there was no man with me.  I also trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; and their lifeblood is sprinkled on my garments and I stained all my raiment.  For the day of vengeance was in my heart and my year of redemption has come.  I looked, and there was no one to help, and I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought salvation to me, and my wrath upheld me.  I trod down the peoples in my anger and made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”

The picture here is that of the divine Messiah (the Savior), who is also judge, coming from the the east and arriving in glory at Jerusalem, having poured out God’s righteous wrath on rebellious sinners.  Notice that the “day of vengeance” and the “year of redemption” are not arbitrary.  They appear to be fixed times, specifically arranged and established by God.

Now, consider how the Apostle John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes up this same imagery with respect to Jesus Christ in Revelation 19:11-16:

 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and wages war.  His eyes are a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name written on him which no one knows except himself.  He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God.  And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following him on white horses.  From his mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it he may strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; and he treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.  And on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (see also Revelation 14:17-20).

Jesus Christ is the God of love who, because of his love (at the core of which stands “glory”), will not leave sin undefeated and unavenged…nor sinners free to rebel forever.  On the day of the Lord’s choosing, you and I will both face the awesome GOD-man.  Will you (will I) meet him as a terrifying, avenging warrior, or as an exhilarating and welcome Redeemer?  Choose as you will…choose now, in this life, because there is no other…and know that there is no such thing as neutrality in this decision.

“Invictus Reborn”

Some of you may be familiar with a poem titled “Invictus.”  It runs like this:

 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

According to Wikipedia (a “not-so-scholarly” but useful source), “Invictus” was written by an Englishman, William Ernest Henley, in 1875, but not published until 1888. It acquired its current title, “Invictus” (which is Latin for “unconquered”), in 1900, as part of The Oxford Book of English Verse (see Wikipedia).  Interestingly, another online source notes that Henley originally wrote the poem while in the hospital, undergoing treatment for “tuberculosis of the bone.”

On the one hand, “Invictus” is a deeply compelling poem.  Its rhythm and language evoke something from deep within ourselves; an acknowledgement that life so often means struggle with trial, and a corresponding resolve – almost primal cry – for victory nonetheless.  But, on the other hand, “Invictus” is deeply disturbing. Notice what it is that comes gushing out as a primal cry: it’s Godless self-dependence evidenced in shameless self-worship.  Make no mistake, these are the echoes of the Garden…

Now, good news! “Invictus” has been reborn…reborn in words that redeem what is otherwise lost.  Here is “Invictus” in new language, penned (with some input) by one of our very own Felton Bible Church young people:

 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank the God who will always be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the mysterious clutch of divinity

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Secure in the grip of the Trinity

Head held high, yet bowed.

 

Beyond this place of trials and tears

Awaits but the splendor of Life,

And now the promise of the years

Finds, and shall find me, freed from strife.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How blotted and soiled the scroll,

The I AM is the master of my fate:

Jesus is the captain of my soul

 

May you enjoy the truth of “Invictus Reborn.”

 

 

 

Essential Ministry: Women in the Church

I recently listened to a talk given by Mike Kruger (of Reformed Theological Seminary) titled “The Dynamic Ministry of Women in Early Christianity.”  It was delivered as part of The Gospel Coalition’s 2018 Women’s Conference (click the title above to access TGC’s webpage and find the recording).  If you have 45 minutes or so and you’d like to be encouraged about the ministry of women in Jesus’ church, then this is well worth your time.

Eat and Ride…the Tour de France or the Christian Life

Recently my wife and I watched a rather interesting six-part documentary titled: Eat, Race, Win.  It’s a dual storyline sort of account; one that traces both the experience of a high-end cycling team during the 104thTour de France, and the experience of their small but high-caliber food support team (Note: You only need the first 42 second of this video).

 

 

Watching, you get a sense of how the team’s riding flows from its feeding.  A good Tour de France team-chef serves up food calculated to meet the team’s needs at each stage of the race.   He or she is not merely a deliverer of culinary wonders, but also a student of both the athletes and the race itself.  Interestingly, quality matters greatly, and not just for snooty reasons of high-end athletics.  Rather, the team-chef strives to serve food the cyclists WANT to eat because they NEED to eat it…and a lot of it…think something like 5,000-6,000 calories daily. Quality food helps to increase the athletes’ desire for the high capacity consumption so essential to their success.

It strikes me that there is a certain parallel here with the preaching and teaching of Scripture in Jesus’ church.  The Christian life is something like a bicycle marathon – with all the highs and lows, peaks and valleys, speed and danger, exhilaration and grinding endurance of a Tour de France.  To ride this race, we as believers burn incalculable spiritual energy. As a result, we routinely need high calorie meals consisting of the food that is God’s Word.  Riding our race without God’s Word is like trying to finish the Tour de France while starving.  Though each of us can and should feed on that Word for ourselves, self-feeding ultimately won’t suffice.  Rather, in order to gain all the calories necessary, we also NEED to hear God’s Word preached and taught in corporate worship.  When it comes to the mealtime of worship, our ability to feed well depends greatly on the quality of the meal served.  Of course, the quality of the ingredients is never in question – indeed, who could do better than the organic, unadulterated speech of God himself? But, fashioning those ingredients into a meal that we WANT to consume (even if, at times, that want is less a matter desire and more a matter of commitment) needs the services of a committed chef; a chef who can take the raw material of the Word and expertly fashion it into an unbeatable meal specific to each of us as riders in our individual stages of the Tour de Christian Life (okay…that last play on words is a bit corny…I know).

Praise God that we come to feast in worship under the care of the Master Chef par excellence…namely the Holy Spirit; he of whom Jesus said: “…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you…” (John 14:26)…and…“He [the Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you…” (John 16:14).  The Spirit of God makes of God’s Word a rich, tasty, irresistible meal, guaranteed to fuel us just right for every stage of our race.  If we sometimes resist eating all that he prepares (the vegetables perhaps), then it only makes us arrogant and unwise competitors.  When the Chef serves up a meal it behooves us to actually come to the table, and then not to rise until we’ve scarfed up every last crumb.  After all, who wants to bike the next stage on an empty stomach?

Now, where do Christian preachers and teachers fit in; the gifted elder-pastors and others to whom the Spirit entrusts the preparation and actual serving of his meal?  Well, they are the sous-chefs.  They are the ones who labor in the kitchen under the Chef’s direction and, when the time is right, bring out the meal the Chef intends to serve.  To be a sous-chef in the Spirit’s kitchen is a glorious thing, particularly because his sous-chefs are also riders privileged to eat of the final product.  Of course, this role is only one of many on the wider team.  The athletes need more than just the food service folks to finish their race!  Still, for those with a heart to cook, nothing beats the opportunity to chop a few carrots and sear a few steaks in preparation for another team meal!