Think Local

Christians need to regroup and refocus on that part of the world in which God providentially placed them to have the most influence.

This was an open letter sent to the saints of Redeemer Church at the start of 2021.

Saints,

One of the things that I have been struck by, through the holiday season, is the source of strength and stability our church has been, when everything else has been turbulent and unpredictable. I am thankful for your faithfulness and fellowship throughout 2020. 

I think we can strengthen it, even as we harness its strengths to be a city on a hill. I want to highlight a theme that I think we should focus on in 2021; local. We should focus as locally as possible. Our own hearts, our own homes, our neighborhoods, our local church (redeemer and the broader church in the Puget Sound), local businesses and local politics. 

The national scene is distracting and overwhelming. Social media and MSM are diluting our local witness, by getting us focused on things well beyond our control and responsibility. 

How is your own heart? How is your spouse? How are the kids? How are your neighbors, next door and in the next pew? 

Get out the church directory. Plug some addresses into google maps. Which redeemer folks are nearest to you? Can you host them? For meals and fellowship, bible/book studies, movie nights, song sings and service projects? 

Who have you never had in your house before? Who hasn’t been there in a while, wherever they may live? 

Who in your neighborhood might be suffering unduly from the lockdowns? Who might be lonely? Even if you have to wear a mask, is there someone who could use a visit? Some prayer? 

Who is the police chief, utilities manager, mayor and local judge? Are you praying for them by name? Are there first responders in your neighborhood who could use some support and encouragement? 

Are there some homeschool moms who could use some help grading? A care package? Some midday babysitting so they can go shopping? A meal? Is there a couple who could use a date night? 


Put away the social media and put down the phones and the distractions and look around your pew, your street, your life. 

This year, I don’t want us to build a ghetto, but we need to strengthen the Christian community through mutually beneficial infrastructure like Christian educational organizations, businesses, church plants, inter-church fellowship, etc. 

Is there a Christian who owns a business you could spend money at? Are there Christians at work who you could meet with for prayer? Is there a neighbor who owns a business you could spend money at? 

Is there a local volunteer position or public office that you could run for? A foodbank, crisis pregnancy center or senior center? 

Now is the time to live like Noah. Noah? Yes. Noah built an ark in which he would save a community and yet was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). Noah knew judgement was coming, built a means to endure it and called people to it. 

Now is the time to be like the Israelites in Nehemiah 4:16–20 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, [17] who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. [18] And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. [19] And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. [20] In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 

Take up your sword and trowel. Fight for the truth, don’t hide or shy away from the overwhelming odds. Don’t fear men. Remember you were once “a slave in Egypt,” too and your world is full of “Egyptian slaves,” who need salvation. Spread the good news, even as you construct an Ark. Arm yourselves to defend the city, for which you labor. 

Study history, economics, poetry, theology and YOUR BIBLE.  

When the hordes came down from Central Europe to decimate Rome, it was in churches that the pagan people fled and where they were spared, because many of the barbarian Germans were actually Christians, who would not attack churches. This salvation was Augustine’s main argument for the City of God, in which he argued against the pagan accusers, who said that Rome was destroyed for abandoning its paganism.  The church was a place of refuge for many Romans, a refuge prepared by God, who worked through his people to save many. 

The Green Martyrs of Ireland, who lived at places like Glendalough, chose secluded places at the corners of the world to build thriving monastic cities devoted to God and neighbor, spending their days serving one another and copying books. When all Europe was destroyed by Vikings, Huns and Muslims, Western culture was preserved by little monks, who built and protected little Arks, in out of the way places. 

The Church offers community, order, culture and stability in a time when the world goes mad and implodes. For me, Redeemer is such a place. An Ark. A refuge amidst invasions. A city devoted to God.  

A local place from which I can draw stegnth. A place to call others to. Let us strengthen one another and from this overflowing grace and provision, draw what we need to feed and water a dying world. 

Blessings and Happy New year, 

Mike

The Constitution is King

**Guest post from Deacon Jered Leslie.

Saints, we have failed to uphold Paul’s words in romans 13: verse 1. … yes you heard me correctly. 

Saints, we are guilty of failing to obey his command, but not in the way you may be thinking and certainly not in the way the world would have you believe. 

Paul writes to the church in Rome. 

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. – Romans 13:1

The great thing about his verse is that it is clear and simple in its original context. Paul is most likely writing to the Christians in Rome during the reign of Claudius Caesar.  And during the era of the Caesars, the supreme authority of Rome and of the Roman world was what they called the imperium; the law of the Caesar. Under this imperium, Roman governors and officials were vested with authority from Caesar and served at his pleasure. They were appointed by him to rule and govern as the hand of Caesar himself. Therefore, Paul is echoing the same thing that Christ taught to his disciples. Don’t fight Rome, do not fight against your Roman authorities. God has placed them over you as your governing authorities. Pretty clear. 

But we do not live in first century Rome and if we assume our present context is identical to theirs, then we commit eisegesis

So how are we failing to obey our governing authorities? 

We must be reminded of who, in fact, is our governing authority as American citizens. The authority, that according to romans 13:1, God has instituted over us. 

Do we have a Caesar? No. 

Is jay Inslee your governing authority? No, he is not. Was Trump or is Biden our governing authority? No.

Who then is our authority? It turns out that we have the same governing authority as they do, the authority that they are sworn to support and defend; the Constitution. 

And the Constitution is very clear that it is the supreme governing authority. 

Article 6 reads;

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

That last phrase means if a state law is contrary to, or violates, the federal Constitution, then that state law is not legitimate. Thus, the U.S. Constitution remains the supreme law of the land .

It continues…

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the individual States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”

Saints, we have forgotten what our real governing authority is, just like our representatives have forgotten what they are sworn to support. 

Now, If Paul is correct, then God has instituted our U.S. Constitution as our governing authority to which we are subject. 

So, how can we be subject to men who are subject to the same thing we are? They are subject to the same authority that we are. 

We have abdicated our true governing authority and let godless men control us as though they wielded power. And By doing this, we have violated Romans 13:1. We are not subject to our true governing authority. Rather we are subjecting ourselves to men who have no authority at all. 

The fact that this is not common knowledge is to our shame. So, saints if you are willing, let us kneel and confess our sins of failure to be subject to our true authority. 

Magistrates Must Be Well-Governed, To Govern Well

“Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home” (1 Samuel 10:25).

In keeping with the stipulations set forth in the books of Moses, Samuel the Levite, makes available to the new king a copy of the law.

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18–20). 

Israel’s king is not a king like the other nations, from the very beginning. Israel’s king is a vice-regent, under the law of Yahweh, Israel’s true King. Royal submission to God’s law should protect Israel from tyranny and abuse. The Law establishes the longevity of the throne. Saul is under a law, that governs the kingship, not to destroy his kingship but to allow it to function properly.

A constitutional Monarchy was the form of government in Israel from the beginning. This understanding of law and authority was expressed in a theological work called, Lex Rex – The Law is King – by theologian Samuel Rutherford, who helped shape the Christian conception of republican government as a protection against sinful men, who seek absolute authority over their fellow men. Men are sinners and must be governed well by law, to govern well. What kind of tyrant is a father or husband or pastor or boss or government official, if there is not some law to govern their actions?

Men must be governed well to govern well.  

The belief that the magistrate, the person, is the law, is not an uncommon belief throughout history and is the common political view of many evangelicals.  But it is false. Law establishes the authority of men and acts as a final appeal. This is the biblical understanding of government. A man’s government of his home is not above God’s law or state law. Neither is a pastor’s, president’s, governor’s, County Sherriff, etc. The Law of God and the Law of the land establish authority. Like the scriptures amongst Christians, the law is the final arbiter. 

Twice the disciples, under the pagan roman rule and Israelite religious leadership, demonstrated that the laws were above men, no matter the office of the man. Passages like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 exist within a context in which no authority is absolute. 

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27–29).

The apostles owed obedience to God over men, when the magistrate’s orders were contrary to God’s law.

Furthermore, Paul appealed to the Roman Law as a Citizen of Rome. “But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25). The centurion’s authority was not absolute. It was subject to Roman law. Paul had a right to due process. No roman magistrate was above the Corpus Juris Civilis, or the twelve tables.  Paul did not say, “well you’re the magistrate so have at my back with that whip.” He appealed beyond the man to the law of the land. 

Texts like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 cannot be isolated from the rest of the Old and New Testament, which teach that no human institution is absolute. Everyone is governed by Law, Christian or Pagan. Israel was a kingdom of laws, not men. The reason for this, is that magistrates must be well-governed to govern well.  

Spiritual Weapons for the Right and and the Left

1 Samuel 11:6–7 And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. [7] He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. 

Haven’t we all been asking, like those worthless men in 1 Samuel 10:27; “How Can this man save us?”  Haven’t we been overrun by dragons? Internal and external dragons.

God’s answer for us, is the same as it was to Israel, “by the power of the Holy spirit.” The Spirit’s descent was always a prelude to holy war, just as the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost to equip the church to prosecute its holy war against unbelief in the great commission. Salvation comes down out of heaven to rest upon us and equips us to slay dragons. 

We need the whole counsel of God on this subject. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).  We are used to hearing about the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control from Galatians 5. And amen. But these attributes, worked into us through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, prepare us for wielding a mighty sword. Only a well-trained arm can wield a sword effectively. We need the right training to wield the sword of the spirit to slay dragons; “and take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). 

How do we slay dragons? With the word of God. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This is the prophetic voice. “He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away” (Isaiah 49:2). “Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light” (Hosea 6:5). The Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. This is the weapon of our warfare. “By truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” (2 Corinthians 6:7).

We are in great need of a sword and a Christ-like character to wield it. The Spirit provides us with both. The mission of the church is confrontation with the dragons of this world – the sons of that ancient serpent, Satan, as he is called in Revelation 20:2. 

Jesus said to the Pharisees; 

“Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. [32] Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. [33] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? [34] Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town” (Matthew 23:31–34).

Jesus slew the great serpent Satan, but his children still walk the earth. They still lie and devour and steal and cheat and corrupt. “And such were some of you.” Jesus ascended, knowing there were still dragons to be slain. So, He poured out his power on us in the Holy Spirit. He filled his Apostles’ with the words and they delivered His book into our hands. We are sent now – the prophets and wisemen and scribes – even to be killed, crucified, flogged and persecuted, by obeying god’s will unto death. To pour out our lives fighting the dragons in our hearts and in one another’s hearts. To proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection till he returns, teaching the nations the words of Christ. 

In this mission we are not left defenseless. But the sword we wield is held in hands that are shaped by the fruit of the spirit. We are given weapons with which to fight. Swords and arrows, too. We are called by God to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord; to fill our quiver with Gospel arrows. The reason for this is that to fulfill the great commission mission, we must be dragon slayers. One of the things I keep hearing among Christians is a concern over the current of culture, and how it threatens to devour our children. Part of the general fear is a fear over the rise of dragons in the land. But what concern is that to dragon slayers? We need to be and we need to raise broad shouldered swordsmen and mighty shield maidens. 

Jesus told Peter, as the first leader of the Apostles “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Gates are a defensive position. The gates of hell shall not prevail against us. I don’t care what your eyes of flesh show you, we are on the offensive, if we are wielding the Word of God. No matter what you see on the evening news, the Lord has the enemy right where He wants them. Out in the open, no longer hiding in the dark. Take up the sword, Church, for there be dragons in your hearts and in the land. 

And remember that we are raising dragon slayers who must be armed with the sword of the Spirit; weapons for the right hand and the left. The word of God wielded by the sons and daughters of God – who are loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled – because it is not the spirit of the World, but of God that is the seal of our inheritance in Christ. We do not fight like the world. We fight like Christ, in whose scarred hands rests the scepter of the Messiah King, a rod of iron. The Lord equipped Saul by the power of His own spirit and Saul fought with the tactics of his fathers, zealous, wise, forgiving, humble, fierce. And he slew dragons. 

Let us take up the sword, church, and cry to the thrice Holy God – “rend heaven and pour out your spirit again! Give us a deep love and understanding of your word, that we might be strong and well-equipped to slay dragons.” 

Let us attend the Lord’s Service this Sunday and renew our covenant with God – for that is what our worship service is – Covenant renewal. Let us be clothed in Christ’s righteousness and feed at His table.  “For an army marches on its stomach,” Napoleon said.  Let us take up the Sword of the Spirit – weapons enough for both hands – and slay the dragons in our hearts, our homes, our church and our communities. Go. Fight. Win. In the name and power of The Lord Jesus Christ.

And Amen.

A Righteousness That Works

 “We are not to conceive the Christian faith as a bare knowledge of God which rattles around the brain and affects the heart not at all…but it is a firm and solid confidence of the heart by which we securely repose in God’s mercy promised us through the gospel.”

John Calvin wrote these words in his Catechism of 1538. “Ideas” or “information” about God, are not the same thing as faith. Faith is a firm and solid confidence, security and repose. These are not disembodied “ideas.”

Knowledge is nothing, unless it becomes understanding. And understanding is action.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; (Proverbs 1:8–11).

Parents who instruct their children, are teaching them how to react to the enticement of sinners. Its real-world, right-now, practical – action. Habakuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17 both state it plainly, “the righteous live by faith.” Living is action.

Calvin explains in his Institutes, “The word is not received in faith when it merely flutters in the brain, but when it has taken deep root in the heart, and become an invincible bulwark to withstand and repel all the assaults of temptation.[1]

Turning away from temptation is an expression of faith. Putting the beer down, before it becomes one too many. Closing your mouth when the opportunity to gossip presents itself. Telling the truth. Confessing sin. Putting a filter on your computer. Reinforcing your children’s good behavior instead of yelling at them for their bad behavior. Complimenting your spouse. Taking out the trash. Putting the phone down, to play with your kids. Folding your hands in prayer. Taking up the bible to read. These are all actions of faith and righteousness.

Trust what the Lord has provided and is providentially doing. Do not seek the desires of your fleshly heart. Deny those desires, instead believe that the good and powerful God of the Old and New Testaments, is your God.

C.S. Lewis wrote that for the saved, “‘Works’ have no ‘merit’, though of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into works of love at once. He is not saved because he does works of love: he does works of love because he is saved. It is faith alone that has saved him: faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all Protestant doctrines originally sprang.”[2]

We are not talking about works righteousness. We are talking about a righteousness that works. Obedience is what we all need a great deal more of, at the moment. Let us grab hold of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and continual mediation for us before the Father.

And get to work. 

Prayer

Blessed God! I flee to your almighty power.

You see me surrounded with difficulties and dangers, and stretch out your omnipotent arm to save me.

Today I put myself under your protection. Let me make the shadow of your wings my refuge. Let your grace be sufficient for me, and your strength be made perfect in my weakness.

I dare not say, “I will never forsake you, I will never deny you,” but I hope can truly say, “Lord, I resolve not to do it. I would rather die than offend you.”

Root out the corruption from my heart. In an hour of pressing temptation it might sway me to view things in a different light, and so might betray me into the hands of the enemy!

Strengthen my faith, Lord, and encourage my hope! Inspire me to opposing every thing that blocks my way to heaven. And let me set my face against all the assaults of earth and hell.

If sinners entice me, let me say no. If they insult me, let me ignore it. If they threaten me, let me not fear!

Give me instead a holy and ardent yet prudent and well-governed zeal to see others convicted and turn to you.

Let me never be ashamed to plead your cause against those who oppose the faith. As the psalmist says, “Make me to hear joy and gladness in my soul, and I will teach transgressors your ways, that sinners may be converted to you.”

My fears continue, Lord, but there is no one to blame but myself. I join you in blaming me for my folly.

Keep me, O Lord, now and always. Whatever age or place in life I attain, never let me think I am strong enough to maintain the combat without you.

And even in my young faith, never let me imagine myself so weak that you cannot support me.

Wherever you lead me, let me follow. Wherever you take me in life, let me work there faithfully. Let me fight the holy war against the enemies of my salvation. And let me fall fighting rather than abandon my post.

You are my glorious Redeemer, pioneer of my salvation, the great Author and Finisher of my faith. When I am in danger of denying you, as Peter did, look on me with your majesty and tenderness. Keep me from falling, or quickly lift me back up to God and my duty again!

Show me how to learn from my missteps and to humble myself in even greater diligence and caution. 

Amen.[3]


[1] Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1845). Institutes of the Christian religion (Vol. 2, p. 139). Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society.

[2] Lewis, C. S.. A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[3] Doddridge, P. (2019). I Need Your Protection. In R. Elmer (Ed.), Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans (pp. 84–85). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

This is My Body, Broken For You

Ephesians 5:15-17 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

That’s the challenge; understand the will of the Lord and walk and act accordingly. But our flesh likes easy, safe, selfishness.

We have our own desires. We have our own wills, and they struggle against the Spirit and our faith every day. 

The mission of the Lord is others-focused. The love of the Triune God faces out. 

The will of the Father is that His children will lay down their lives for others just like our older brother Jesus laid down is His life for you. 

The calling of the Christian Faith is “This is my body broken for you…”

Husbands, Wives, Parents, Masters, servants, friends…this is your calling. Everyone, this is your calling. This is a calling so heavy only the humble can carry it. It will break the backs of the proud. “This is my body broken for you…”

Author N.D. Wilson wrote, “Lay your life down. Your heartbeats cannot be hoarded. Your reservoir of breaths is draining away. You have hands, blister them while you can. You have bones, make them strain – they can carry nothing in the grave. You have lungs, let them spill with laughter…I can be giving my fingers, my back, my mind, my words, my breaths, to my wife and my children and my neighbors, or I can grasp after the vapor and the vanity for myself, dragging my feet, afraid to die and therefore afraid to live. And, like Adam, I will still die in the end. Living is the same thing as dying. Living well is the same thing as dying for others.

You are all dying, right now, by the very fact that you are mortal living creatures. Living well is dying for others. You were given bodies, strength and voices to give away. 

Be as generous as your King. 

Look around. Look around your family. Look around your church. Look around your neighborhood. 

You were not given bodies and redeemed for mere pleasure or self-centered pursuits. Life was poured into you so that you could pour it out in the service of others.  

“This is my body, broken for you…”

It requires prayer and repentance. 

It requires faith and the Lord’s Spirit.

It requires rejecting the easy safe selfishness that our flesh loves so much. 

It requires looking up and looking out. To the condition and welfare of others.

Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 

Let us confess and ask God to forgive us for our selfishness and ask for the Spirit of God to reveal and lead us in understanding the will of our Lord. 

A Lust For Scapegoats

1 Samuel 14:45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place. 

So eager was Saul to set himself in the right and gain God’s favor that he determined to put Jonathan to death. Ironically, without Jonathan’s heroics, there would have been no victory, and the rank and file, who had by their silence protected Jonathan, now take matters into their own hands and saved the one who had wrought salvation for the nation, in Hebrew he had wrought yĕšûʿâ, that day. He has wrought with God, they say, acknowledging that the whole episode had been a divine rather than a human deliverance.

The curse of a king, like every other royal utterance, is ultimately the word of a human being and mired in the frailties of creatureliness and the fall. It is not absolute. And we see here the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates, for the royal curse is countermanded by nameless “men” (v. 45) who said “Far from it!” to the king’s demand that Jonathan die. The men thus “ransomed” the king’s son, from the king. Let the hearer understand, the authority and power of earthly kings is limited and bound. It is not absolute. “Shall Jonathan die…as the LORD lives…” The people use the same oath that Saul used in v. 39. They obviously think God spoke much more clearly in Jonathan’s victory than in Saul’s rash oath 

Jonathan’s faith and boldness brought about the defeat of two enemies of Yahweh’s purposes – one external, the Philistines, and one internal, a misguided Israelite king. After Saul was rebuffed by his soldiers, he ended the battle and let the remaining Philistines get away. Though Israel had won a victory on that day, Saul—and consequently kingship—had suffered a humbling defeat

Ultimately, though, this story is about more than human thrones. Saul was chosen king by casting lots, an echo of story about Achan. The process of determining a king and a thief is the same. The other time Israel used the casting of lots, was on the day of atonement to identify the Scapegoat in Leviticus 16. The priest was to cast lots for two goats. One of them was sacrificed for a sin offering while the other was driven out of the camp after the priest laid hands on it, confessing over it the sins of Israel. 

The motif of a creature chosen by God to carry the sins of the people out of an inhabited place to face God’s judgment in the wilderness, reappears several times in the NT, though the image of the scapegoat is never directly applied to Jesus. Jesus is called the sacrifice for our sins (Heb 10:1–18). John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). And in Hebrews 13:12–13 the point is stressed that Jesus was crucified outside the city. 

Again, the disposal of sin is considered as an almost physical process: sin is loaded onto Jesus; he is driven out of town and given over to God’s curse.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” –  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith”(Galatians 3:13–14)

Jesus is more explicit when applying Psalm 118 to himself. Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (Matthew 21:42). This verse points to the expulsion of a single victim and the later reversal that turns the expelled victim into the keystone of the entire community. 

Jesus is the great Scapegoat. The desire of fallen man’s heart. We see this symbolism in Jesus’ Passion.

“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation” (John 11:49–52).

Pilate’s offer of Jesus and Barabbas was meant to appease the mob, because the shrewd Pilate knew they wanted someone’s blood. Pilate’s trial of Jesus was a kind of casting lots for a scapegoat. And in this we come to the ultimate struggle of our hearts. Saul desired the complete destruction of the Philistines. In this he was denied. Saul desired Israel to deny its identity and not eat, even the honey flowing in God’s promised land, until Saul had vengeance upon Saul’s enemies. In this he was denied. Saul wanted a word from God. In this he was denied. Saul wanted someone to pay for all of this, under the guise of atoning for sins, he wants a scapegoat. He wants blood. And in this he was denied.

You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4:2).

When we can’t murder the one who is withholding our desires we turn to others. To scapegoats. As philosopher Rene Girard wrote,

“The kick the employee doesn’t dare give his boss, he will give his dog when he returns home in the evening. Or maybe he will mistreat his wife and his children, without fully realizing that he is mistreating them as “Scapegoats.” Victims substituted for the real target are the equivalent of sacrificial victims in distant times. In talking about this kind of phenomena, we spontaneously utilize the expression “scapegoat.” The real source of victim substitutions is the appetite for violence that awakens in people when anger seizes them and when the true object of their anger is untouchable. The range of objects capable of satisfying the appetite for violence enlarges proportionally to the intensity of the anger.”

This is called the principle of transference. But this rarely leads to acts of physical violence, it does lead to Psychological violence that is easy to camouflage. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Hate is emotional and psychological. Jesus told us that we can commit violence toward one another within our hearts.

Desire is the source of sin; whose wage is death (Romans 6:23). Our fallen desires lead to death. They require death. There will be blood. But whose blood? The injustices we commit, our quarrels and our conflicts are a matter of the heart, and unchecked they lead to homicide. And all homicide is actually deicide, for man is the image of God. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). When our desires are unfilled who is ultimately thwarting us? But we can’t kick God, can we? Like Saul, our desires are unsatisfied and this leads for a lust for a scapegoat, someone who will pay. Saul could get his hands-on innocent Jonathan, but who was his hate and rage really directed toward?

Ultimately, we want God to pay for his will, his providence, his autonomous sovereignty. Who bestows on us our body type? Our quantity of children? Our vocations? Our temperaments? But we can’t get our hands on Him, so we murder those to whom he erroneously bestowed his gifts instead of us. Our bodies deteriorate. Our bodies can’t carry babies to full term. We aren’t what we want to be.  Life is harder than it should be. We are broken and so we want to break. But God’s neck is too big to fit our hands around. So, we go to work on one another.  And then God descended from heaven amongst us. And what did we do to Him? What we do to one another every day. We murdered him. Our utmost desires grew up to maturity and when God came in the flesh, within our grasp, we went to work on Him.  And like Jonathan, Jesus said “Here I am, I will die.” 

Our desire for this violence, this punishment for our unmet desires is death – our eternal death and until that desire is satisfied, man will remain in his sins, dead. This is a simple truth, which once accepted, sets us free. Jesus fulfills the deepest desire of our heart to murder God for what he has denied us and what he has done to us. For that thing we want and can’t get – an apple, a slim waistline, a promotion, sex, respect, more children, tenderness. For His telling us no. For his silence in the face of our desire. For this, He will pay. And so, He did. And thereby secured our freedom from these desires. 

We no longer have need to murder one another, the mere image of God, for we have murdered God Himself. There is no one left to blame, there is no one left to punish. Be free. When you covet or lie, or your anger breaks forth, when we fear man more than God, when we lust and unsatisfied, loathe. When we steal and bow down over idols to whore with them. We know the filthy desire of our hearts. We must confess it. We must Cry out to God that murder lies in our hearts. 

And from this, our only hope is to look upon his Son on the cross and be satisfied. There is no one left to murder. The Lord Jesus has fulfilled the one desire at the center of our hearts that keeps us from Him. Because His will is greater than ours. He rose up form what we did to him that we might be free for new desires, holy desires, that we might be his today, forever.

A Lust for Murder

The ten commandments were given on two tablets. The first tablet covers how to love God. The second tablet covers ho to love our neighbor. The 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th commandments are simple and brief and they prohibit the most severe acts of violence we commit against one another, beginning with the most severe; you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness. 

The tenth and final commandment is distinguished from those preceding it in both length and object. Instead of prohibiting actions, it prohibits a desire. It is directed toward the heart of man. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). The verb covet means desire. This Hebrew word is used to describe Eve’s desire for the prohibited fruit, the desire that instigated the original sin. This covetousness, this desire, is not reserved for special hardened sinners. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).

Desire is at the heart, literally, of every human sin. “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16–17). 

The desire prohibited in the 10th commandment is the desire of every human heart. It is the overarching commandment of the second table of God’s law because we unceasingly desire our neighbor’s goods and our neighbors, themselves. This rivalry is at the heart of human social relationships. Our desires, unmet, endanger the harmony and survival of all human communities, marriages, homes, businesses, neighborhoods, churches and nations. 

Look at the news with its unceasing power struggles, the social justice movement, the Marxism, the politics of envy and identity – people desire what others have. This desire, unchecked, is the cause of our strife with one another. Look at your own anger, you own actions toward spouse, children, neighbors, co-workers and fellow Christians, even strangers. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:14–15). But this death doesn’t just consume the individualit leads to violating the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th commandment. 

This is the fundamental reality of fallen man and of men and woman being sanctified by the Lord Jesus. Yet, it is contrary to our self-image and understanding and humiliating to admit, so we prefer to deny it outright. The tenth commandment prohibits desiring our neighbors and their goods, attempting to prevent a host of sins that follow these unmet desires – violence we commit against one another. Everywhere we go we find neighbors. They are the model for our desires. Their marriages, their bodies and their belongings. Their emotional, spiritual, economic and social realities are the source of our fleshly desires. When our desire for someone else, something more, someone else’s –  is thwarted  – instead of accepting it and moving on, our desire resists our authority over it and intensifies our longing, expanding into actual violence. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? [2] You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1–2).

If we ceased to pursue the desires of this world, we would cease to desire the good of our neighbors, then we would never commit murder or adultery or theft or false witness. If we obeyed the 10thcommandment, the 6th -9th would be superfluous. I want to close with this. You are probably struggling to see this reality of this in your own lives. The framework I’ve described is death to self. We flatter ourselves, knowing that we are not actual perpetrators of real violence. But our Lord stated this reality in clear terms. “And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. [21] For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, [22] coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. [23] All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23). And Jesus’s standard is the very heart of man, for he knows that our self-deception runs deep enough to satisfy ourselves in our righteousness because of externals, instead of judging the heart. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

The desire in our hearts for our neighbor and their goods is not mere death for us, unchecked, it is death to them as well. And we can do this violence to one another in the comfort and hidden place of our hearts. We have to realize how Jesus deals with this fundamental desire of our flesh, that Christ might set us free to have new desires. 

All Authority Descends From Above

Derived Authority

Why are so many Christians making such a big deal out of having to wear masks? Why are so many Christians talking about defying the government’s orders to not gather indoors for worship? 

They argue that, “Jesus told us to love our neighbor and obey the government, rendering unto Caesar his due.”

These are reasonable questions by well-meaning Christians. Does the government have the authority to limit worship? Does the word of God give unlimited authority to the civil government in every area of or lives? 

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Romans 13:1 “…For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…”

Jesus was shaping the New Covenant mission of God’s people and taught his disciples that Jesus was the highest authority in heaven and earth, so that the Apostles would be equipped to address the lesser authorities in their evangelism and conflict with pagan cultures. 

Paul understood this, and therefore encouraged the embattled Roman Church in their proper responsibility to authority, even pagan civil authority is derived by God. Authority is always derived and is therefore limited.  

Anyone in a position of authority receives that authority from God. It is similar to Jesus’ instruction about receiving the one whom He sends; by receiving the one Jesus sent, you receive Jesus. If you reject the one Jesus sent, you reject Jesus. 

The same principle applies to authority. Positions of authority are not autonomous, and neither are they to be ignored and scoffed at. God rules a world with hierarchies, therefore, to live faithfully in God’s world, we must avoid both being scofflaws or treating authorities as if they are absolute. 

All authority in heaven and earth is the Lord’s, who appoints people to positions of authority by His sovereign and wise will, who are therefore required to obey His rule.

Some would argue that Romans 13:1-5 makes no qualification to our obedience to authorities and that authority is autonomous and absolute. And that is true, there is no explicit qualification, but an implicit qualification.  We see, by good and necessary consequence, that there is a qualification given in v. 3 “rulers are not a terror to good conduct.” So, what happens if they are a terror to good conduct? Has God left us with no recourse? 

No, our defense for such a wickedness is found in sphere sovereignty; authority is given to different leaders that overlap and correct corruptions, protecting us from one another’s wickedness. Such as fathers and policemen, Congress and the President or State Governors and County Sheriffs. A biblical example of the protection provided by Sphere sovereignty is found in the coup committed by the High Priest Jehoiada in 2 Kings 11. Jehoiada led a violent overthrow of the evil Queen and the installment of the true King of Israel. 

Imagine a Pastor who wants to dictate exactly what his parishioners can and cannot watch on TV or how they must brush their teeth. Both of these are things outside his authority and the elders of the church, and the fathers within the community, should protect those parishioners from that overreach. Imagine a wife whose husband demands his wife wear only red, or dictates who she can and cannot be friends with or he gives her a bedtime – all appealing to his authority as her husband. The elders of their church should intervene and protect her from her husband’s tyranny. These varying authorities are not autonomous or absolute. The overlapping authorities protect us from one another’s wickedness and tyranny.

Currently, civil governments in the United States are violating the Fist Amendment of the Constitution by restricting whether the church can gather for worship or not, whether they can sing or take communion in that service, or not. But the worship of the church is regulated by God’s word and God alone. The authority to determine when, where and how the church worships is delegated to the authority of the Church, not the civil Government. As American citizens, we do not obey men, we obey the Constitution and the elected officials enforcing the constitution. Once those authorities are violating the constitution, then they have become tyrannical. 

As Pastor Trewhella wrote “America’s founders understood that the civil government’s authority was delegated, and therefore, limited. They state in the Declaration of Independence that all men are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They understood that rights did not originate from the State, but rather were given to men by God, and it is the Government’s respnsiblity to protect those God-given rights. 

Authority is derived from God. God has appointed different kinds of authority to different governing bodies. Therefore, those authorities must recognize the objective and absolute authority of God and operate submissive to the law of the Land and the Law of God. No authority is absolute or autonomous. 

The Church needs to consider the different spheres of authority and exactly what is within each of their purviews to do and not do. We are commanded by God’s word to respect, pray for, honor and obey all rightful authority. This requires us to know the difference between properly exercised authority and tyranny. 

All authority is derived from God and is therefore not absolute. 

Church Newsletter 2020-8-5

Saints,

Elder Baker’s sermon came at a providential time. God is in heaven and does as He pleases. I think many of us are getting weary over the lockdown/COVID nonsense and are aghast at the chaos and violence that is baring its teeth in the open light of day. 

In Portland, the protestors are burning bibles and crosses now. 

I am in one sense, quite thrilled by this development. The enemy is showing itself for what it truly is. This is not a culture war. This isn’t a mere political imbroglio. This is spiritual warfare. And we serve the victor. After a long peace those crosses and bibles have never meant so much, to a nation devouring itself in an orgy of emotional subjective relativism. Being a man of God and a woman of God has, in this nation, never meant so much, nor been so risky. 

Now is the time to gather. Now is the time to worship. Now is the time to show, not only the world, but so many professing Christians what it means to serve the living and loving Triune God. 

The public schools are being shut down and people are scrambling for alternatives. The idol of entertainment is being toppled. The progressive revolution is beginning to devour its children. 

You were born to live out the gospel here and now. This is what God providentially decreed. You, here, now. COVID-19 is a virus. It is being obedient as what God made it to be. It spreads, it inflicts, and it is healed just as God designed it to be. 

Are we going to be less obedient to our merciful creator than COVID? What does true obedience look like today, for you, in these circumstances? 

See you on the mountain 

Filling up the Edges

Psalm 18:1–2 I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

David was falsely accused by Saul of treason against Israel. Saul attempted to kill David several times. Saul hunted and conspired against David to destroy him. David led Israel in victory over all of her enemies like Edom and Philistia. All of these events are echoed in the life of Jesus. But both David and Jesus experienced God the Father’s protection and deliverance. Nothing could befall them outside of His will. The Father was their refuge again and again, in every danger and threat. 

The text of the psalm is almost identical to 2 Samuel 22. The two songs differ, however, in their context: Second Samuel 22 is David’s personal expression of gratitude to the Lord, while Psalm 18 is the adaptation of that song for the whole people to sing, because their well-being is now tied to the offspring of David (2 Sam. 7:4–17). 

When God’s people sang this, then, they were to give thanks for the Davidic line and to pray that its heirs would be faithful to the Lord and would be valiant military leaders, so that Israel might carry out its God-given purpose of bringing light to the Gentiles.

As Christians these are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Psalm 18 opens with a doxological statement of confidence in the Lord’s exalted position, which provides strength and protection for His people.   

The Hebrew term, Horn of my salvation, indicates a place so high as to be beyond the reach of danger. It is a high rock or crag affording a safe refuge. Hence the figure is not borrowed from the horn of the buffalo as most interpreters argue, but from the summits of mountains, called horns in many languages, as in the Matterhorn in the swiss Alps or the Faulhorn in the Bermese Alps. The horn is frequently the figure of strength and victorious power, yet the reference here is not offensive, but defensive. 

The term is more than geographic, it is covenantal. Psalm 121:1–2 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. In view here are the covenantal hills; Eden, Ararat, Sinai, Moriah and Zion. All the summits where God met Israel’s needs. All the summits where God renewed covenant with Israel out of sheer grace and loving-kindness. The horn of our salvation is the height of God’s Divine Mountain in Heaven, our place of strength and protection – God’s exalted Son – Jesus Christ. 

Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father prophesied and rejoiced that Christ was the fulfillment of this hope, declaring joyously that “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,” (Luke 1:68–69). Our high and sure protection is the exalted Lord Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father on the temple mount in heaven. 

Psalm 18:1-2 could be translated Christologically as “I love the Lord my strength, my foundation, my fortress, my protector and deliverer; I am in Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, high and exalted – where my help comes from.” 

But if David’s confidence in God is so strong, how do we explain phrases like “How long shall my enemy be exalted over me,” from Psalm 13? Or this statement from Psalm 22; “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me” (Psalm 22:16–17)? 

Are the protection of the Lord and a believer’s suffering mutually exclusive? There is wisdom in the fact that no matter what happens to us, we do not get what we deserve as sinners. Suffering is an integral part of God’s discipline and education of His children. Comfort is not the same thing as safety. Sometimes what is safest for us is not what we would consider safe. Like a father teaching a child to ride a bike, there is calculated risk for the purpose of maturity. 

We have to remember the words of God recorded by the Prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9). This is something the Prophet Daniel knew. God, in his infinite wisdom, may not deliver us from the martyr’s end or from earthly suffering. Daniel knew that God’s ways are above us in wisdom; “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Daniel never doubted that God could, it was a matter of whether God would, save them. 

We have to make distinctions between the redemption of the fallen world and our final hope. No matter what circumstances and travails befall us, our enemies do not have the last word. All of God’s enemies will be defeated. We will stand in the flesh and see Christ face to face, victorious, at the right hand of God, the Father. 

1 Corinthians 15:25–26 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Even on the pyre of martyrdom, even in the shadow of death, even in the grip of evil men – our present and future security is the exalted Lord Jesus. 

One commentator mentions that “the images, which are most of them of a martial character, are borrowed from the experience of David’s life, and the perpetual struggles in which he was engaged.” 

These analogies are somewhat foreign to us. But the nature of the them is something like our Mother’s lap as a child; a place of security and safety and healing. No matter the booboo, no matter how scary the movie, no matter how uncertain the neighbor’s dog – mother’s lap was always the place to turn for protection. 

Defensive towers dot landscapes the world over, from the Wooden blockhouses of Whidbey Island, WA built by settlers against raiding Indians to the towers like Glendalough and Clondalkin scattered throughout Ireland to protect medieval monks from raiding Vikings. 

The second Amendment is a recognition of our desire to build towers of defense. Since the invention of gunpowder, those small grains of potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur are a stone tower of sorts, we build in towers of 17 round magazines. When people need protection and safety, strength and refuge – they build high towers, but what tower is higher than King Jesus enthroned on the temple mount in the Highest heavens? 

John Calvin’s comments on this passage are enlivening; “David, therefore, here furnishes the faithful with a complete suit of armour, that they may feel that they are in no danger of being wounded, provided they are shielded by the power of God…Let us, therefore, learn from his example, to apply to our own use those titles which are here attributed to God, and to apply them as an antidote against all the perplexities and distresses which may assail us; or rather, let them be deeply imprinted upon our memory, so that we may be able at once to repel to a distance whatever fear Satan may suggest to our mind. I give this exhortation, not only because we tremble under the calamities with which we are presently assailed, but also because we groundlessly conjure up in our own imaginations dangers as to the time to come, and thus needlessly disquiet ourselves by the mere creations of fancy.”

There are dangers all around. Some of our own making – the fear of men, anxiety and uncertainty about the future. There is also a pandemic, fallout from our Government’s response to that pandemic. There is social unrest stemming from the brutality and violence of Police officers which has unleashed brutality and violence of mobs. Satan likes to work on our fears to distract us from our calling. From loving God and neighbor. 

We need to remember our rock of refuge and sure foundation. We need to remember our High tower – the horn of our salvation – the Lord Jesus Christ. 

David did not just express need or assurance in receiving something; the gifts and blessings of having Jesus as our fortress. David expressed love. 

David says in Psalm 18:1–2; I” love you, O LORD.” The word is usually used to affirm God’s compassion for people. It implies the need of the one who received the compassion and is associated with a mother’s care for her children. David is expressing commitment to the Jesus, who is David’s source of strength, comfort and sustenance. “I love you,” communicates the intimacy of his relationship with the Lord based on experience. 

Do not merely cry out to God. Cry out to God with endearment, for you know what Christ has done for you and knowing that, you know that you truly have nothing to fear. You know where he sits. You know how far he is willing to go to provide everything you need. You know he isn’t safe, but you know He is good.

Around the web

Pastor Wilson gives us some uch needed aphorisms on liberty. https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/aphorisms-on-liberty.html

Devotion

Psalm 5 

Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.

For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield. 

Amen