Sabbath Rest

No matter how arduous the week may have been, no matter how afflicted and abandoned I may feel, every sabbath the Lord reminds me who HE IS and subsequently, who I am.

Yet, I think sometimes we remember to breathe once we hit the Lord’s Day as a space in between the mundane, as if it’s a capstone to the week, the manner in which we end our labor. What I think we sometimes neglect, though, is that the Lord’s Day is the FIRST day of the week. The benediction becomes even more relevant when framed as the sending out into the world as we begin our weekly labors. The Liturgy ends with a sending out into the milieu of the secular. The Sabbath is rest, but it is also the manner in which we begin our labors.

In effect, we announce that our lives for that week may not properly begin apart from the worship of the Lord. We have that first day to orient ourselves properly, to remind ourselves whom and what we truly love, and prepare to show that affection for the next six days.

And so every Sunday we gather to proclaim the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do so in a certain way and prescribed way. There is an ordered path to how we spend our time. We are greeted by the God who is; we are called to worship Him, His Law is read, His Gospel is proclaimed, we confess our sins; we are assured of His pardon; we are fed by Word and Sacrament and with the benediction we are sent out to proclaim His glory and love our neighbor.

It Is A Gracious and Loving Father They Need To Know

Confessional orthodoxy coupled with a view of a heavenly Father whose love is conditioned on his Son’s suffering, and further conditioned by our repentance, leads inevitably to a restriction in the preaching of the gospel. Why? Because it leads to a restriction in the preacher that matches the restriction he sees in the heart of God! Such a heart may have undergone the process that Alexander Whyte described as “sanctification by vinegar.” If so, it tends to be unyielding and sharp edged. A ministry rooted in conditional grace has that effect; it produces orthodoxy without love for sinners and a conditional and conditioned love for the righteous.

In the nature of the case there is a kind of psychological tendency for Christians to associate the character of God with the character of the preaching they hear-not only the substance and content of it but the spirit and atmosphere it conveys. After all, preaching is the way in which they publicly and frequently “hear the Word of God.” But what if there is a distortion in the understanding and heart of the preacher that subtly distorts his exposition of God’s character? What if his narrow heart pollutes the atmosphere in which he explains the heart of the Father. When people are broken by sin, full of shame, feeling weak, conscious of failure, ashamed of themselves, and in need of counsel, they do not want to listen to preaching that expounds the truth of the discrete doctrines of their church’s confession of faith but fails to connect them with the marrow of gospel grace and the Father of infinite love for sinners. It is a gracious and loving Father they need to know.

 Sinclair Ferguson, “The Whole Christ” pg 72

Assured Though Ill

I remember sitting in a psychiatric hospital so spun I could barely stay awake, let alone be contemplative, yet never once did a denial of my heavenly Father enter my mind. I never lost sight of the object of my faith. And I was assailed by doubt…constantly in fact. And as tenuous as it might have been, I found assurance and comfort knowing that I rested in the embrace of my savior. Knowing that I was kept by his promises (John 17:12) with an infallible assurance that rested upon a covenant keeping God, not an oath-breaking man, one of whom I was all too acquainted with. Bipolar disorder and PTSD have shown me unambiguously that I can have assurance nowhere else than in union with Christ. Neither keeping the law out of fear of condemnation and damnation nor a cheap grace that leaves no room for repentance or piety, but in my grasping hold of my savior, rejoicing in the Law as manifest evidence of my Fathers care and love for me as his child. Because I can do nothing else but acknowledge my guilt, rejoice in the grace of God, and display my gratitude, my love of the law and my savior by keeping his commandments.

This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

Westminster Confession of Faith 18.3

My question was always, “How can I gain assurance?” What can I do to settle my restless spirit? But what I found and where I found it was in a love for the law of the Lord and a burgeoning grievance with lawlessness and sin. Because lawlessness is hatred of the Law and by consequence of the Lord. And it is here that my assurance, and I would hazard a guess, the assurance of others, began to tremble. For as my sin grew, my hatred of his Law grew; pleasure and pain inexorably dampened and nearly extinguished my love of God. I was a wretched man who didn’t believe that God had any desire to set me free (Romans 7:24) That the gospel could find no purchase in my heart, which was constantly assailed by doubt. While the enemy stole my joy, in my despair I agreed with him.

But if I have learned one thing it is that true faith produces a true love of the Law of the Lord. The love of his Law bears the fruit of repentance and piety in my life. My assurance is founded on this, for none of that is possible apart from my union with Christ. Paul clarified that it is not a “what” but a “who” that cannot separate us from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:33-39). Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way:

Paul is not asking: “What can be against us? What charge can be brought against us? What can condemn us? What can separate us from the love of Christ?” Rather, his questions are: “Who…? Who…? Who…? Who…?” Satan, not circumstances, is in his crosshairs. It is the face of all Satan’s attempts to mar it that Paul enjoys the assurance that Christ keeps his people secure.

Sinclair Ferguson, “The Whole Christ” page 221

I have spent years chasing the white rabbit of assurance by works down through every warren it fled to. I have spent years broken and weighed down by a frantic repentance based on the fear of God’s judgement and wrath. I was fearful that my sin and pitiful works, what I now recognize as legalism, would disqualify me from receiving the benefits that belong to those in Christ. But I was afraid because I hated his law. I lived as an antinomian but I tortured my conscience as a failed legalist. In basing my assurance upon a fearful keeping of the law, yet living my life without regard to the law I was lawless and showed God nothing but hatred, casting his love for me and the savior that died for me back into his face. But now I can say with Paul,

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Romans 7:25-8:10, English Standard Version

Humility With A Sledgehammer

My wife recently said something to me I, in my often navel gazing regarding mental and spiritual issues, had either disregarded or never entertained. She pointed out that for her, living with my mental illness made living out her vows a struggle because of my often unpredictable behavior and their sinful consequences. It put in stark contrast how I thought my problems had affected her and how they actually had. It reminded me that though not sinful in itself, my mental instability, if not lived in the constant presence of the promises of God fulfilled in Christ, my life is a wild car chase careening into a crowd of people. And that crowd is foremost my family by blood and by confession.

Mental illness is a peculiar affliction. It’s almost impossible to inoculate against, is explosive in its effects and gives no quarter; as unpredictable as a Norse Berserker and as merciless as the worst tyrant. And it teaches humility with a sledgehammer; sowing chaos beyond those close to the afflicted, extending to everyone in the vicinity like an emotional claymore.

Whether it’s bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression or any other of the multitude of varying conditions, there is always an opportunity to glorify God and enjoy the comfort of his promises (2nd Peter 1:3-4). Though we should be wary of proffering empty promises of mystical comfort; mantras of peace, peace when there is no peace. But we have liberty in Christ to know and claim the promises of God for our own comfort. And it gives meaning to our suffering. And it enables our suffering to acquire purpose without claiming it as a blessing. Instead, it gives substance to the comfort we receive that we wouldn’t otherwise enjoy (Romans 8:18-28).

And the effects it can have on the spouses and children of those with mental illness is often overlooked because of the plainly obvious struggles of those who, like me, live with the constant companion of an often unpredictable condition that can build resistances to both medication and cognitive remedies. It becomes a stumbling block in the pursuing fidelity of vows to spouse and God we have made in the midst of his holy assembly.

Mental illness isn’t just something I deal with, but something that my family deals and to a lesser immediate degree, my church deals with. It isn’t just a spiritual condition that can be remedied through prayer and contrition. Nor is it merely a medical phenomenon that can be dealt with by a regime of medication and therapy. It takes both spiritual salves and the utilization of common gifts we have received through medical science.

Who Owns the Future?

As a definition, this take on what it means to be a “progressive” takes the wind out of the sails of social liberals, challenging their claim that, in tattooing “progressivism” across their chests, they own the moral/metaphysical high ground of today and tomorrow.

9780801039348-e1528300425939Beneath the paralysis that keeps many in our culture from giving over their identity to Jesus Christ lies the question about the culture: who owns the future? We live in a context where many people and ideas claim to be “progressive.” Think about it for a moment: the essential point of claiming to be progressive is that one owns the future, that the future is progressing toward the position I hold. So, for example, Barack Obama claims to be progressive, bringing in the way of the future; but likewise, the conservative Tea Party movement could call itself progressive, claiming that the way of the future is not big government programs. Musicians, actors, and others in popular culture claim to be progressive, bringing in the new to outdo the old. In politics and popular, various positions claim to be progressive, which is another way of saying, “I own the future on this issue.”

Yet in view of changing cultures and times, one could begin to have serious doubts about whether we have any sense at all of what it means to be progressive. My generation, Generation X, was told that the future belongs to us. Younger generations are told the same thing. But of course, that’s not really true since every generation has a generation following it. Things that seemed progressive to my generation are likely to seem retrograde the next. At various points in recent history, practices like eugenics and racial segregation were championed as progressive. The fact that they no longer seem progressive to us just shows how much the future is out of our grasp.

J. Todd Billings, “Union with Christ” pg 31-32

The Free Offer

Therefore, God his creator having pity on himhas loved the world, that he has given his only son Jesus Christ, for mediator, patron, advocate, and intercessor between him and man, to reconcile them to him, even when they were his enemies. Wherefore it follows, that he has done this, not having regard to any deserving of man, who neither had nor could deserve but only eternal death, but has only regarded his own goodness and mercy. Wherefore as there is but one only God, creator, governor & conserver of all things, nor any other saviour than he, nor in whom man may trust, nor worship, nor invocate: no more is there likewise but one only mediator Jesus Christ, by whom man may have access to God, and find favour in his sight and recover that which through his own fault has lost.

Pierre Viret

Trinity In Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Thomas Cranmer, Preface of Trinity Sunday

Trying To Gain Traction In A Slippery World

What happens when moral distinctions slowly disappear? More precisely, what happens when categories of decency and deviancy collapse into each other? What happens to a culture that adopts our actions as our identities and by extension normalizes our desires as human rights regardless of how they may violate preexisting moral understandings? These are important questions that as both a Christian and a parent trouble me as I seek to raise my children to be discerning while engaging the culture they take part in without becoming a casualty of amoral and distinction-less group think.

1 Corinthians 6:18 – Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

The initial question that confronted me was this, what is the social consequence of the normalization of deviancy? In other words, how do we say no to our children, how do we set boundaries for them when the world around them teaches that the restriction of “any expression” or realization of a desire is an abomination. That in fact admonitions to abstain and flee homosexual acts and desires, sex before marriage, etc, are sinful restrictions of their own self-discovery and realization. How do we parent in a world that is increasingly telling us that nothing is truly wrong?

One thing that we mustn’t do is be afraid to be quite clear that dressing up sin as righteousness is not love. That it isn’t love that wins when when the moral law is sidestepped or denied in the name of deviancy, but idolatry. “Love Wins” is not a victory for humanity but a declaration of our rebellion before God. Never has been Romans 1:21-28 been more real to me.

(21) For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

(24) Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, (25) because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(26) For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; (27) and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

(28) And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to [a]a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Romans 1:21-28 ESV