Pick Your Battles

In Matthew 17 the disciples came into Capernaum and the tax collectors asked Peter, “Does you Teacher not pay the tax?” Peter said “Yes.” And then we they were in the house Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”

The kings of earth ought to take customs and taxes from strangers rather than squeezing their own people, thereby treating sons like strangers. The first century tax code was unjust, but what was Jesus’ point? Why are we told this?

“Nevertheless, lest we offend them…go pay the tax.” Jesus taught his disciples to know that there are some injustices worth fighting for, and some not. And there are some central injustices that when they are defeated, the lesser ones will be worked out. Jesus took this conversation indoors to his apostles, those who would listen, and taught them. He said pay the tax, it’s not worth offending them.

There are many applications from this story, but here are two.

Speaking of injustices, the political presidential season is upon on us and we must remember there are some issues that are bigger than others. There are many injustices but which ones are important, worth praying about, worth talking about? The right to life is important because human beings bear the image of God. This issue is front and center and should stay there. As you think about issues and candidates, let God’s Word inform your priorities.

And a second application on more personal level, there are many sins in the lives of those around us, and God tells us that love covers a multitude of sins. Most things are not worth bringing up, but worth covering in love just like God does for us. Where would we be if He didn’t? So let go of what isn’t important, challenge graciously what is important for the other person’s sake, and forgive as you have been forgiven.

No Chance

Christians “are never in the grip of blind force (fortune, chance, luck, fate); all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey, and rejoice.”

–J.I. Packer

New Identity

On front page of one of our nation’s leading newspapers this past week were two articles, one praising someone for being transgender, and another scolding someone else for being transracial.

For some reason right now it’s okay to pretend you are someone of a different gender, but not okay to pretend that you are someone of a different race. It’s okay to artificially make yourself look like a woman, but not okay to artificially make yourself look like an African American.

These identify crises are bizarre in one sense, but at the same time we shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone needs an identity, and everyone has to face their flawed identity and the desire to be remade. In his letter to church in Ephesus, Paul says we are all by nature children of wrath. Every individual in the human race is born fallen, sinful, sinning, and under the judgment of God. This is not an identity of confidence and security.

We all need to be transformed, to be remade and renewed in every way, to take part of what Jesus calls the regeneration. He told one teacher in Israel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). Regeneration is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Bruce Jenner and Rachel Dolezal are not wrong to seek a new identity, but they’re not going to find it with surgery and skin color.

God the Father offers us a new birth, a new heart, a new hope through a new and living way directly into the His presence through the blood of Christ. Without this renewal we are stuck with our own manufactured ones that only make us more broken and confused.

But the way out is simple. The good news that Jesus died for our sin, rose from the dead on the third day according the Scriptures in order to give us new life and transform the world is plain. Christ died and rose. That offer was made with power 2000 years ago and continues today as you are invited to repent of your sin and believe in Jesus, that times of refreshing—fulfillment, peace, joy, acceptance, confidence, love—would come to you from your Lord and God.

The Gospel is simple good news, and it is the power unto salvation. Receive and rest in it, and take it out in humble confidence to a world in need of a new identity.

The Conquered Dragon

The victory over the Dragon, according to St. John, does not take place by means of a cataclysmic event at the end of history, but by means of the cataclysmic event that took place in the middle of history: the sacrifice of the Lamb. The language used to describe the basis of Michael’s conquest has nothing to do with the Second Coming, but it has everything to do with the First Coming… When, therefore, did Satan fall from heaven? He fell, definitively, during the ministry of Christ, culminating in the atonement, the resurrection, and the ascension of the Lord to His heavenly throne.”  –David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, pp. 315-16, on Revelation 12:10-11

 

Thrice Justified

“Every man that is saved is justified three ways: First, meritoriously, by the death of Jesus Christ: “It is the blood of Jesus Christ alone that cleanses us from all sin.” Second, instrumentally, by faith; faith is the means or instrument whereby the merits of Jesus Christ are applied to the sinner’s heart: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Third, we are justified declaratively; name, by good works.; good works declare and prove to the world that our faith is a true saving faith. “Was not Abraaham jusiefed by works And again, “Show me thy faith by thy works.”

–George Whitefield

Joy in Others

“But few are arrived to such a  degree of charity or love, as to rejoice with those that do rejoice, and to be as thankful for other mercies as their own. This part of Christian perfection, though begun on earth, will be consummated only in heaven, where our hearts will glow with such fervent love toward God and one another, that every fresh degree of glory communicated to our neighbor will also communicate to us a fresh topic of thankfulness and joy.”

–George Whitefield

Christian Nurture by Horace Bushnell

20816513I read this on Kindle and enjoyed it so much I ordered one with poundage.

This book was so good because Bushnell takes the opposite tack to the vast majority of Christian parenting books. Rather than highlight all the hardships, heavy lifting, uncertainties, and qualifications that make parents feel like raising their kids to love God and walk with him is an exploding minefield, Bushnell takes the Bible’s promises, lobs them up off the glass, catches and slams them home. It’s fun to watch.

The book could be summarized as “I will be your God, and you will be my people” applied to the family. Like he did with Abraham, God calls men and women and their households into covenant with him. Bushnell is not sentimental about kids or about how hard parenting can be, so he avoids presumption. The only way kids follow the Lord is by faith, but faith works by love in raising them. He addresses baptism and church membership, the problem of denying children the Lord’s Supper, Christian education, holidays, hypocrisy, the Sabbath (“a day of humanity”), family prayer and all sort of possible objections.

In such a thorough and serious book, one of the best thing is the impression Bushnell gives of the light, joyful, and gracious environment of the Christian home. You wouldn’t know it by looking at picture to your upper left, but if he put into practice what he wrote, this is a happy man whose house you’d be glad to visit. Christians who are serious about discipleship often create a laborious and fussy atmosphere–let’s make the kids memorize the Catechism all day on Sunday! Bushnell reveals this for what it is: disobedient and counterproductive.

The only regret about this book is that it’s 300 pages long with 130-year-old 19th century prose. That will scare many off who would benefit enormously from it. Take up and read.

Christmas is Potent

This is a season of adoration for Jesus. We remember that though his parents were poor, shepherds heard and wise men traveled from the east. We sing and celebrate and give. We call out for peace on earth. People are nicer to each other during the holidays. It’s the season you can give something to your postman and he won’t wonder if you are a terrorist.

These are wonderful parts of the season, but they’re not the only ones. We remember that Jesus was born a king, a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and his birth brought rivalry and bloodshed. When the wise men kept Herod from finding Jesus, Herod had every male child under two years old in Bethlehem murdered. Rachel wept for her children and refused to be comforted, because they were no more.

Jesus was born a child and yet a king, and as a king he immediately had enemies, the kind that kill for power. Christmas, and celebrating it, is inescapably political. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal—they’re not bullets and ballots—but spiritual and mighty for pulling down strongholds. This includes our prayers, our songs, our joy and celebrations. It includes the preaching of the Gospel.

Jesus came to bear our sins, and to bring justice for the meek. Isaiah 11:4-5: “With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”

Remember that Christmas is potent, and your job is to keep it that way. So be kind, be generous and merciful, and be bold with the gospel. The King of kings, salvation brings. Let loving hearts enthrone him.

Wisdom from Proverbs

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. 

–Proverbs 18:1

People who isolate themselves often do so because of some rejection or offense, or perceived rejection or offense, they have experienced. Think of those estranged from family members, from friends, or from the church. Feeling hurt and sad makes us want to go it alone, to forsake the cost of connection because connection to anyone or anything risks the potential of pain and loss. You can’t even buy a goldfish without the possibility it will die unexpectedly.

When we are hurt and turn inwards to isolation, it feels safe and protected. What can hurt us when we’re alone? Who can question our wisdom when there are no contradicting opinions? It seems wise and conservative. But Solomon points out it’s nothing of the kind. It’s actually a bold rebellion against sound judgment. When you make decisions with no one’s input but your own, chances are your selfish desires are driving. No man is an island, and the one who thinks he is will be more convinced of his own wisdom even as he sets himself against the very thing.

As he says elsewhere, in a multitude of counsellors there is safety.