Forgetful People need Reminders… Don’t you?

You know a lot of things, don’t you? You know the stove is hot (when it’s turned on); you know that speeding will likely earn you a ticket and a fine; you know that spending more money than you make will result in oppressive debt. And yet, you have likely acted contrary to what you know on numerous occasions. Have you ever burned yourself on the stove? Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? Have you ever wondered how you were going to get out from under a mountain of debt? If you are honest, the answer is likely “yes” to at least one of these.

There are many ways we might demonstrate the reality that we often forget what we know. Just because we know something doesn’t mean we act accordingly with any consistency. In fact, the opposite is actually true for most people. We often act inconsistently and out of step with what we know to be true. Generally, we act based on feelings and circumstances much more than we act on known truth and thoughtful consideration.

Christians are not immune from this way of acting out of step with knowing, and that is why the Bible is full of occasions when the people of God are forcefully reminded about what they already know to be true. As a matter of fact, the whole book of Deuteronomy is just such an occasion. Let’s briefly consider the setting, and then let’s consider what the people of God were reminded about.

The Setting

The Hebrew people had been slaves to an Egyptian Pharaoh for a long time, and they had lost all hope in the promise God had made to their forefather, Abraham. God had promised prosperity, land, and (most importantly) His presence among them. But their experience was the opposite.

Then God sends Moses to be His instrument of deliverance from bondage, and the Hebrew people were free from the oppression they once endured. On their way into this new era of fulfilled promise, the Hebrew people demonstrate skepticism and obstinance all along the way. For these reasons, God delayed their entry into the land He had promised them. For an entire generation, the Hebrew people wondered about the desert, and God graciously continued to provide for their every need.

Finally, the time came for the Hebrew people to enter into the land of promise, and the book of Deuteronomy records the speech Moses gave them prior to entry. Before they went in, there were things they knew, but these things would need to be remembered. In particular, there were two big reminders.

The Reminders

Moses reminded God’s people of their history and of God’s law. Both of these are important to prepare them to enter the Promised Land. The people of God would face significant opposition, experiences that would test their trust in God’s character. Is God truly faithful? Is God really holy? These were questions that they would need to answer with conviction in the face of their trying circumstances.

God is faithful. He had demonstrated His faithfulness in delivering the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt, in His provision in the wilderness, and in His miraculous defeat of worldly powers that might have threatened His people. Not only had God been incredibly faithful, but He had demonstrated His fidelity in direct contrast to the infidelity of His people. They were ungrateful, promiscuous, and rebellious. These were all powerful and vivid reminders of God’s past faithfulness, and these would be important reasons to trust that God would remain faithful in the future.

God is holy. He had demonstrated His holiness in the separation of Himself from creation and in the separation of His people from other groups. God made His presence near to the Hebrew people, but this was not an unqualified intimacy. At Mt. Sinai only a select few representatives were allowed into the presence of God, and when God’s presence came to dwell among His people in the tent of meeting Moses and Aaron were still commissioned with the task of protecting the people from God’s holy presence. Furthermore, God had issues a litany of specific laws and ceremonial observances that would make His people stand out among the rest of humanity. God is holy, and His people are to be holy too; and this would prove an important reminder of such things when the people of God would be tempted to think otherwise.

Be Reminded Today

God is faithful. All believers will do well to remember what God has done and what they have done. God has been faithful and they have not. In our lives we are most consistently faithless and rebellious. And yet, God is faithful! He has promised to save guilty sinners, He has performed the task of salvation in real human history, and He has applied that work to the hearts and lives of all those who love and trust Him. God is truly faithful.

God is holy. All believers will also do well to remember the holiness of God (particularly as observed in the moral law or 10 commandments). Here is where we behold the character and nature of God (among other things). It is a travesty today that many Christians seem utterly oblivious to the beauty and benefits of knowing and observing the moral law of God. Want to know what God thinks is important? Want to know what God is like? Check out the 10 commandments… Carefully read the preamble, opening at Exodus 20… Thoughtfully consider what is commanded and what is forbidden in each of these…  There you will see the character and nature of God on display.

Do not give in to the temptation to believe that this world’s patterns are for God’s people to follow, and do not distrust the promises of God simply because your circumstances are difficult.

Remember that God is faithful and God is holy.

Praising God this Memorial Day

Since the 1800s the United States of America has set aside a day upon which we intentionally remember those who have given their lives in military service to this country. In 1967 the official name of “Memorial Day” was assigned, and in 1971 the last Monday in May each year officially became the occasion for its observance. On Memorial Day, Americans may experience a solemn gratitude, and we should certainly consider the many families that have lost loved ones in military service.

No doubt there are several families in my own congregation who morn the loss of friends and family members even now. These losses are painful, and yet we recognize the nobility in them. These soldiers have given their lives for the sake of others. We, who gain from their great loss, do honor their memory today. We thank God for their sacrifice, which has purchased our freedoms and advanced the cause of human dignity around the world.

We thank God for men and women who value the “ideal,” the “cause,” the “greater good” over their own lives. Certainly, those who died can only answer for themselves what prompted them to risk so great a prize. It is reasonable, however, to understand that no sane person gives their life for nothing. In fact, we memorialize these lives lost precisely because we have benefitted from such sacrifices.

It is important for us to remember that self-sacrifice is not a human virtue that arises from just any worldview – especially not sacrifice for the sake of others. NO, this kind of honorable action (whether knowingly or unknowingly) is only motivated by a belief that happiness and pleasure in this life is not the height of satisfaction. Instead, one must believe that there are much greater experiences and joys.

Of course, Jesus Christ is the quintessential example of this kind of belief and sacrifice. The Bible proclaims that God the Son came into the world in order to live and die for the benefit of others. God became a man, Christ lived and died, and He conquered death forevermore. This He did in order that sinners like us would receive the greatest benefit of all – right relationship with our Creator and beautiful intimacy with Covenant God of our salvation.

Let us, this day, remember those soldiers who have died in military service for our benefit. Let us thoughtfully pray for the families and friends they have left behind. And let us praise and worship the God who has exemplified the greatest demonstration of such virtue, for He has given us hope that there will be a day when these kinds of memorials will be no more.

Marriage: Words Have Meaning… Don’t they?

Marriage was amended in America during the 1970s, and it has only become more adjustable over time. Same-sex “marriage” became legal in 2015, but it was during the 1970s that American states began passing laws that would allow for something called “no-fault divorce.” No-fault divorce is a phrase that refers to rejecting the lifelong covenant of marriage without cause. Essentially, two married individuals may decide to break their union for any reason or no particular reason at all. Not only was this a tragedy, it was also a serious redefinition of marriage. Mutual lifelong commitment is one necessary, essential, and fundamental aspect of marriage.

During the last few years Americans have been able to experience just how pliable the definition of marriage really is when it is cut away from its moorings. The word “marriage,” we are told, may now be defined so as to include relationships between two males or two females. It seems that the civil authorities in America might define “marriage” as a contractual relationship between two adults that may be created and dissolved at will, simply with the use of legal counsel. 

The question should be asked, however, “Does civil authority have the ability to define or redefine marriage?” Obviously, the answer to this question will depend heavily on the origins of marriage. Quite frankly, marriage was established as an institution far earlier than the American civil government and legal system. Even if one does not have a Christian worldview, the fact that the institution of marriage predates the America is beyond refutation. Therefore, it is plainly demonstrated that the American government is overreaching its own authority by attempting to redefine marriage.

Christians are not new arrivals to the worksite of defining terms appropriately. In fact, one might argue that Christianity itself rests upon understanding the proper definitions to terms like goodsinjustification, and faith. While Christians are certainly not capable of perfection in this mortal life, the Bible repeatedly commands Christians to live as humble usurpers of a seemingly pagan-dominated world (1 Peter 8:3-17; 2 Peter 3:11-13).

The pagan world may call anything “marriage,” but it is the Christian’s obligation and privilege to live according to God’s definition rather than another.

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb 13:4).

Marriage: You Live What You Really Believe

While some Christians might be tempted to create a false divide between theology (perceived as sacred) and practice (perceived as secular or at least unrelated), that simply does not work. There is no such thing as a secular-sacred divide! Theology always affects practice. As a smart guy might say, “Orthodoxy produces orthopraxy,” which simply means that right belief will lead to right living. This is true of every area of life, and it is especially true in regards to marriage.

What a person really believes about marriage will always play out in their marital relationship. If a man really believes that he is only obligated to his wife as long as she stays in good physical shape, then he will eventually demonstrate this belief by leaving or looking elsewhere (adultery, pornography, etc.). If a woman really believes that she is only obligated to her husband as long as he provides an acceptable lifestyle, then she will eventually demonstrate this belief by looking elsewhere too. These are just two examples, but one could list many. The point is, what a person truly believes will affect how they live.

The Bible argues that marriage is instituted and regulated by God (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-12; 1 Cor. 7:1-16; Eph. 5:22-33). In fact, the Bible demands that all people everywhere honor God’s design and regulations for marriage (Heb. 13:4). This more than implies that Christians are not the only ones who are responsible before God to live according to a particular standard of belief about marriage. Furthermore, it is the Christian’s duty and privilege to live as an example of such right belief, no matter what is going on in the world around them. 

You live what you really believe, and the world around you is watching…

Keep your conduct among the [non-believers] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).

Exciting Christianity

Today, rekindle the flame of excitement that burns in your heart because of your inclusion in the family of God.

The walk today began as it normally would…  I was adjusting my ear-buds and setting the volume for my podcast, fidgeting with the GPS and stopwatch app on my iPhone, and pulling my prancing German shepherd close to my side in order to avoid the passing cars.  A few minutes into the walk, however, I knew that it would be different than before.

For months, my dog and I have traversed the all-but-empty neighborhood streets, and we have even walked through the vacant parking lot of a nearby elementary school.  However, this morning the streets were teaming with cars, the school parking lot was bustling with teachers and administrators directing children and traffic, and there were at least 5 families taking advantage of photo opportunities in their front yard.

The first day of the new school year is a big day for many people.  Educators, parents, and students alike anticipate the day with feelings of excitement and trepidation.  Why?  At least one reason is that this day is a marker, a threshold in one’s development.  Today marks the beginning of a new level of learning, another year of consistent investment in the lives of others, a fresh chance to be better and achieve more than the previous year.

Embarking on a new journey, or passing signposts along the way, evokes feelings of accomplishment and adventure.

It has been said, though, that excitement diminishes over time.  Just a month or two from now parents will not be pausing for photos of their children in the front yard.  Instead, they will be hurrying their children out the door with frazzled angst so that they will be no more than 15 minutes late to school.  The decline of excitement can be equally applicable in the lives of Christians.

Recall the excitement you experienced upon understanding the love of God that was demonstrated for you in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Do you remember what it felt like to know for the very first time that the Creator of the universe was deeply interested in the eternal destination of your soul?  What emotion, what conviction, what joy came over your heart and mind when you first understood the incredible sacrifice of Christ (His life, His suffering, His death, and His victory over the grave) as having been done on your behalf?

Then, as time went on, it is possible that your initial excitement grew colder.  Maybe you have even come to view the incredible grace of God as something that you now deserve.  “Sure, you once needed unreserved love from God in order to be accepted by Him… But now, you bring so many great things to the relationship, don’t you?”

Does the message of salvation only apply to us at a single point in our lives?  Is this exciting Gospel only meant to stimulate us for a moment?

“NO!” is the short answer to such questions.

You and I need the Gospel today just as much as any other day!  It is just as exhilarating today, as any other, that God would demonstrate such marvelous love towards sinners like us!  This message does not merely avoid becoming timeworn and dull; it is all the more wonderful to ears that have come to understand the meaning of the message more fully than they once did.

Oh, Christian… remind yourself of your sinful posture towards your Maker, remind yourself of God’s justice and the salvation found in Christ alone!  Renew your thoughts of humble gratitude for God’s grace and mercy pictured in your own redemption.  Today, rekindle the flame of excitement that burns in your heart because of your inclusion in the family of God.

This fiery joy is that which motivates us to lives of worship, love, service and commitment.

Do you notice a lack in your worshipful intensity?  Do you see a puddle of love where there should be an ocean?  Do you avoid serving others?  Do you quickly draw back from commitment to the eternal task?

Remember the God who saved, is saving now, and will save your soul!  Remember the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the message of His person, His word and His work!

Today, may my mind and yours be overwhelmed by the goodness and mercy of the God of grace.  May our hearts spill over with intense love for God and neighbor because of the love with which God first loved us.

A Candid Approach on Mother’s Day

Last Sunday was my second Mother’s Day as pastor of FBC Diana. Here is the brief statement I made at the opening of our service on Mother’s Day 2016.

A mother found a paper on the table one morning. It was a bill from her young son. “For being good: $1. For taking out the trash: $1. For feeding the dog: $1. For brushing teeth: $1. Total: $4.” At lunch, later that day, the young boy saw a note beside his plate at the table. It was a bill from his mother. “For making your breakfast: nothing. For washing your clothes: nothing. For driving you everywhere you go: nothing. Total: nothing.”

The message was clear, mom does all she does because she loves, not because she will be rewarded.

And yet, the Scripture speaks of the praises of her husband and children for the “excellent” wife and mother described in Proverbs 31. Certainly there is good reason to praise, to admire, and to honor a wife and mother who exhibits such wisdom and faithfulness. However, we would miss the entire point of Proverbs 31 if we overlook a single verse. The book of Proverbs is all about wisdom, and the constant refrain is that wisdom is granted by God to those who fear Him (that is revere and love Him). No less than 20 times, the author presents the “fear of the LORD” as desirable and profitable. Proverbs 31:30 is the last of these verses, and it says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” That’s it! That’s what Proverbs 31 is all about!

Since this is true, then we may (and should) put less emphasis on the accomplishments of this wife and mother. Rather, we should emphasize the wonderful benefits of a life devoted to God and motivated by reverence towards Him. This is great news for all women, not just for moms.

As a pastor, I am aware of many people who love Mother’s Day. Some moms are able to convince their children to come to church on at least this one Sunday each year. However, I am also aware of the reality that not everyone is so excited about Mother’s Day. There are likely some women here who want to be mothers, but have been unable to conceive. There are women here who have lost one or more children in death, and there are many here whose mothers have already died.

Additionally, I am aware of the painful reality that some mothers were or are not exemplary mothers. The thought of your mother may not bring back fond memories, and the thought of your own attempt at motherhood may stir feelings of guilt and despair. All of this swirls about in my head during the days that lead up to Mother’s Day, and as I stand before you now I nearly tremble at the thought of addressing such a complex and emotional matter, so full of expectation.

Since I am inadequate for the task (as with so many of my pastoral responsibilities), I find great confidence and comfort in the Word of God on this matter. So, let us briefly return to the oft-cited Mother’s Day passage – Proverbs 31.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. A woman who reveres God, is devoted to God, and is marked by a heart-felt love for God; that woman is to be praised.

Well, if your mother fears the Lord, then praise her this day. Make the time to praise God for His gift of such a mother. For a God-fearing mother is a true gift indeed.

If your life has enjoyed the benefit of a God-fearing, God-honoring, and God-loving woman, then be grateful for such an influence. Praise her, and praise God for her.

If you hope to be a praise-worthy woman, then you should not aim to be like the Proverbs 31 woman… at least not in any way she is described before verse 30. If you try to accomplish these feats in order to receive the praise of others, then you will be sorely disappointed.

Rather, begin with the fear of the LORD, for here is the beginning of wisdom, and here is the true treasure.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

3 Attributes of A Real Man

Since I can remember, I have looked up to men who I perceived to embody the kind of attributes I admire. Even before I was a Christian, seemingly without effort, I gravitated towards those men who served as a real-life example of true masculinity. In our contemporary American culture of androgynous humanity, it seems all the more important to extol, exemplify, and encourage appropriate manhood.

The term itself, “manhood,” is already controversial in American culture, but I will venture even further into controversy by adding the qualifying term “biblical” to it. I am not interested in social norms or ever-changing psychological categories of gender identity (at least not in the sense of allowing them to define what manhood ought to be). I am interested in manhood as it is defined by the One who made man (Gen. 1:27). Therefore, I am interested in “biblical manhood.”

As I consider the relatively few truly godly men I have met over the course of my lifetime, I pondered some similarities between them. There is much more that could be said in regards to their similar characteristics and patterns, but I will narrow my focus to three attributes. These are three attributes of real men (i.e. biblical manhood).

First, godly men exhibit hunger and humility concerning God’s Word. Each of the men I admire as truly godly men have a voracious appetite for God’s Word. They have a very high view of Scripture, embracing the doctrine of inerrancy and the Reformation battle cry “sola Scriptura.” Even those who may not know the terms or phrases affirm the truths which these represent. In addition, these godly men have a great personal dependence upon the Bible. They are humbly hanging on God’s every word because they truly believe that God has spoken.

Second, godly men have an honest discontent with sin and desire for personal holiness. These men have a real sense of their personal sinful corruption, yet they are not content to abide with things as they are. While they are quick to acknowledge their failures and their proclivity for them, they are also not satisfied with the status quo. They war against personal sin, and they are quick to bear with others in their fight to do the same. They trust God’s promise to forgive and His promise to renew.

Third, godly men have a captivating love for and gratitude towards Christ. These men might be best described as keenly Gospel-focused in all things. Their understanding of the Gospel is ever-growing and their ability to filter all of life through the lenses of the Gospel is also ever-expanding. Christ is truly Savior, Redeemer, Master, Friend, and Lord. The affections of godly men are stirred by the reality that Christ has actually done something, Christ is actually doing something now, and Christ will actually do something in the future.

It is important for me to note, these attributes are not necessarily particular to “manhood” in themselves. A godly woman may exhibit these same attributes. However, a real man will distinguish himself (both from other men and from women) by his exemplary leadership in these areas. In other words, a godly man will lead himself, his home, his church family, and his extended community by exhibiting these attributes. The real man will provide a living example and make an influential impact on others.

May God raise up a multitude of real, godly men. May God create in our hearts the desire and the commitment to live to His glory. And, may God help us to extol, exemplify, and encourage appropriate manhood.