All Hat, No Cattle

Sin is a punishment as well as a disease. It is false pleasure, and what truer misery is there than false joy? It is like the pleasure of the man who receives much money, but it is all counterfeit, or the pleasure of the man who dreams of a feast and awakes so hungry and vexed that he could eat his dream. For this reason sin should be doubly hated, because it is ugly and false, because it defiles and mocks.

–Ralph Venning, The Sinfulness of Sin, p. 209-10

Now That I’m a Christian

Now That I'm a Christian: What It Means to Follow JesusNow That I’m a Christian: What It Means to Follow Jesus by C. Michael Patton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good introduction and call to discipleship. Aside from erroneously stating that some people (infants, the “mentally unable” and those who die in their mothers’ wombs) are incapable of faith, this book is accurate, sturdy and accessible. I like the way he talks about Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, not ignoring their errors but charitably acknowledging their faith. This book is only missing more of what Ian Murray calls the Puritan hope–confidence in the success of the great commission.



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Communion Every Week

Using phrases like “covenant renewal worship” can make worship start to sound complicated, esoteric, academic, and jargony.

But worship is not like that, so we should keep it simple. God forgives sinners, so we confess. He listens and speaks to us, so we pray and hear his word. God is our Father who provides and Friend who enjoys us, so we eat with him.

Adam and Eve had the tree of life. Worshipers in the old covenant had portions from peace offerings when they were able to make it to the temple. We have bread and wine every week, the body and blood of Christ, in the Lord’s Supper.

This is wonderful, and by faith it’s yours. Hear Solomon: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do” (Eccl. 9:7).

Restoration

I will heal their apostasy;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he shall blossom like the lily;
    he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive,
    and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
    they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
    their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Hosea 14:4-7

On Work

In the United States nearly one third, 100 million people, receive government benefits: 50 plus million on food stamps, 83 million on Medicaid, and when you add in Medicare and Social Security it becomes almost half. We are becoming a nation of entitled consumers rather than producers, and as Christians we should pause to reflect on the meaning of work.

Work is not something we do in order to pass the time or a necessary evil that we do as little of as possible. Work has dignity. In Genesis 1, before the God makes man, he works, creating and shaping, and then makes man in his image, made to imitate him. In 1:28 he tells Adam and Eve, the human race, to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over it. That is, get to work.

God works and man imitates him before the fall, before sin enters into the picture. Work gets harder after Adam’s rebellion as the ground is cursed and would now produce thorns. But God still blesses our work. The sleep of the laboring man, Proverbs tells us, is sweet. Even our redemption is couched in terms of harvest, 30, 60 and 100-fold.

Work is central to the life of a Christian. Jesus told his disciples the workman is worthy of his hire (Lk. 10:7), and Paul quotes him telling Timothy that a man who wouldn’t work to support his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:18).

Much of the church today has fallen back into thinking that certain people are called into ministry while everyone works a job. But this was addressed wonderfully by the Reformers and Martin Luther in particular who taught that each believer has a calling before God. Vocation extends beyond ministry. The Latin word for calling is vocare from which we get vocation. Luther said every single believer has a vocation, a calling, to which he or she was fitted by God and to which every believer should endeavor with faithfulness in order to be obedient to God and display his glory in a fallen world.

God made us to work and to find joy and fulfillment in our work. Resist the temptation to complain about work. Get to work early and be productive throughout your day. Care about those you work with and work in such a way that reveals your gratitude to God for your job and for the opportunity to work with them. Don’t make an idol of your work, but don’t work lazily, bearing the name of Jesus in vain.

You kids heading back to school, be thankful for the sacrifices of your parents and teachers, for the opportunity to learn and prepare to work faithfully and fruitfully your whole life. You get to learn all sorts of things; be interested in those things.

God blessed Adam to work, and in Jesus, the second Adam, he blesses us to work.

Every Reason to Trust

One danger of talking about what you believe and what you do is coming to the conclusion that you are really important. How many men have disqualified themselves from the ministry because they made small compromises, or what seemed like small compromises, along the way because the work was “too important” to slow down?

This Supper is a delightful reminder that God gives the increase. This is the culmination of our worship service—the honor we give to God—and here we are seated at his Table to be nourished by Him. It is obvious that we only work out our salvation because God is at work in us.

We don’t know what will happen this year, even this week or this evening. We should strive by every means possible to serve our Lord, but trust Him to give the increase, and to bless him when the increase is not what we expected. At the last Supper and the early meals following the resurrection, the apostles could not have anticipated the extent of the blessing of the Holy Spirit about to be poured out on the Church in Jerusalem. Nor would they have understood that within a generation most of them would be martyred for their faith.

We have no idea what God will do, and every reason to trust him.

Body & Soul

We are called to love God with all we have and all we are. Paul writes “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).

Notice that spiritual worship is accomplished with the body. We were created soul and body, and these can be helpful distinguished, but not separated. Only death severs the body from the soul, and that only temporarily. To put the two at odds in this life is to sin.

Our bodies are living sacrifices used for spiritual worship. This includes your hands, hair, eyes, legs, pants, shoes and make-up, everything. When you come to God, you bring it all, and nothing is irrelevant. We know that man can only see the outside, while God looks on the heart. But it doesn’t follow from this that God doesn’t also see the outside. He does, and he wants the two to go together in seamless love. When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being clean on the outside but filthy on the inside, the solution was not to reverse them. The answer was to the clean the inside. Hypocrisy can work either way, loving God with our internal emotions but doing nothing for him with our bodies, or despising him in our hearts and showing up for church all smiles anyway.

The grace of God works all the way down, allowing us to love and worship God with everything we have. Don’t minimize or neglect to present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God both here in worship and all week long.

God the Reality, not an abstraction

“What do we have today? We have the god of the philosophers, and the god of the philosophers is not the sovereign, transcendent, living God, he is an abstraction. . . .  God is not a philosophic concept. God is, and he alone is. He is life, and the author of all life and being. And they argue about him with their pipes in their mouths, and talk about him as if he is a term that they can handle and bandy about. You will never have revival in such conditions. God, I say, is not an abstaction, someone to be aruged with, and fitted into our schemes. Philosophy has always been the curse in the life of the Church, and it is the curse today.”

–Martin Lloyd-Jones

To Another Generation

One temptation of middle and old age is be frustrated with not being able to do what you once could. Even in middle adulthood, our joints creak, our bodies begin to weaken and things don’t work as well as they used to. But more than the physical, people miss the opportunities that have passed–career, family, and on and on. The older we get and the faster life goes, the more we wish we had another opportunity to do or redo the things from the past.

So what is the point of playing the back nine when it seems like every hole is harder and our game duller? The Psalmist writes:

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again.

-Psalm 71:17-21

He sees the gifts of God still work after decades–from youth God taught him, and he still proclaims His deeds. And what is his hope? To keep doing it, to live long enough to “proclaim your might to another generation” (v18). We are used to hearing about the generation gap, the relational distance between parents and children. But it takes two to drop the baton–the one handing it and the one taking it.

The Psalmist is talking about the hand-off, and he is eager to be around, through all his troubles, with grey, and probably less, hair. His vision is to be faithful and full of hope and to leave that to the young of another generation. This is the greatest inheritance one can hope to leave. From this perspective, old age isn’t our decline but our biggest harvest. The one who sows sparingly will reap the same, but the one who sows abundantly over a lifetime goes out with a bang.