HAVE YOU BEEN BAPTIZED?

September 20, 2019 // CALEB MCCLARREN

I remember my first real jersey. It was a red Umbro jersey with weird, abstract white boxes decorating the front. It didn’t really fit right, (because all the jerseys were the same size) and it wasn’t super-fly, but it looked just like 21 other jerseys – and it was mine. I happily wore that jersey with pride – not because it was particularly cool – but because it identified me with something greater. That jersey distinguished me from the other team, the bystanders, and the referees, and it identified me with my team, and it identified my team with me. I wasn’t just watching; I was all in – and the jersey made that visible to everyone. 

When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he was identifying himself with the sinners he came to save. Jesus stood with the crowds of people who were anticipating the Messiah and identified completely with them. By being baptized, he was essentially saying – “I’m all in.” 

Today baptism hasn’t changed. When someone is baptized, they are publicly identifying with Jesus and with Jesus’ people. They are saying, “I’m not just watching; I’m part of this team.  I’m all in with Jesus.” 

What Does “Baptize” Mean?

Baptize: To be “dipped or immersed.”  It means to go “all in.”  A soldier who is dropped into his first firefight is “baptized by fire.”  He is no longer a rookie to warfare; he has been abruptly and completely immersed into the war and his life will never be the same.

There are lots of different kinds of baptisms in the Old Testament, some of them were ritual baptisms that symbolized their need for to have their sins washed away, and some of them were baptisms of anticipation, and preparation. Think of these baptisms like baths. Sometimes you take a bath to get clean, and sometimes you take a bath to get ready for something. But when Jesus died on the cross, he washed our sin away and he made us ready for his presence. Following his resurrection from the dead, Christians quit practicing the old baptisms, and instead received two different kinds of baptism: Spirit Baptism and Believers’ Water Baptism.

·      Spirit Baptism is what happens when you become a Christian.[1]  The Holy Spirit fills, seals, and begins to change you from the inside out. You have been “baptized” by the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of debate around exactly what “Spirit Baptism” is and looks like, but that is a study for another time. 

·      Believers’ Water Baptism is what happens when a person expresses their faith in Jesus as their personal Savior, God, and King, and someone dunks them under water as an outward demonstration of their expressed inward transformation. From now on, when I talk about “Baptism” I am  talking about Believers’ Water Baptism.  

What Does Baptism Do?

When you trust Jesus as you Savior and King, the Holy Spirit makes you part of the team. When you are baptized by water, you put on your jersey and show that you are part of the team. The water doesn’t make you part of the team any more than my red Umbro jersey made me part of my soccer team – but baptism does distinguish you from everyone else and identifies you with the Christian team you are already on.[2] 

What does it mean to identify with someone or something?  It means that you willingly share their reputation, risks, and rewards.  If you join a team – or any other group – you willingly identify yourself as part of that group. On a team you share the work at practice, the glory of victory, and the humiliation of defeat. When you take the field you physically demonstrate your team identity.  In so many ways you sacrifice some of your individual identity in order to unite with a greater identity.  You willingly identify with every other person that has worn, is wearing or will wear that same jersey – for better or worse.  It would be ridiculous for you to join a team and yet refuse to wear the jersey.  Even when a player is hurt and can’t play, he or she still ride the bench in his or her jersey!  If you said you were part of a team and refused to wear the jersey on game day, no one would believe you!  It just wouldn’t make any sense! 

In a similar way, Christians identify with Jesus and with Jesus’s people through baptism – it’s like our jersey.  When we stand up in front of the church, get dunked, and raised back up, we are physically identifying with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection – “Buried in the likeness of His death; raised in the likeness of His resurrection!”[3]   Our actions are shouting, “I am sharing in Jesus suffering and in Jesus’ glory.”  Our actions are also identifying us with everyone else who has, is, or will ever call themselves “Christian.”

Baptism Demonstrates Submission. The method of baptism – getting dunked – signifies that we are willingly submitting ourselves to Jesus and His plan for our lives. We are demonstrating that we have died to our own pride, plans, and priorities and have begun a new life with Jesus in charge. When we are baptized, we are helplessly submerged, and totally dependent upon someone else to bring us back up out of the water. When we become Christians, we acknowledge that we are helplessly in need of Jesus to take control.

Baptism Symbolizes A Spiritual Bath. Why do you “baptize” yourself in the bathtub?  To get clean of course!  Christian baptism isn’t all that different. It is an outward symbol of something that Jesus has already done in your life.[4]  All through the Old Testament the people of God practiced all kinds of baptisms. These were to physically demonstrate their spiritual need for cleansing. In a symbolic way, they would physically baptize themselves – or be baptized – because they knew they were polluted by sin – i.e. they were dirty.  Christian baptism physically demonstrates the spiritual “bath” Jesus has given us.  Jesus washes away our sin like water washes away dirt.

What Doesn’t Baptism Do?

Getting wet Doesn’t Save You. In the Bible, Baptism usually happened right after someone became a Christian. It was the immediate response when someone placed their faith in Jesus and trusted Him as God and Savior. However, Baptism didn’t, doesn’t, and won’t save anyone.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, not by works that you have done so that no one can boast…”[5] There is no “deed” that we can do that can make us more or less Christian – including baptism or a special prayer.  We are saved when the Holy Spirit allows us to see the horrific nature of our sinful self, causes us to run helplessly to Jesus, beg Him to forgive all our sin – past, present, and future – and trust Him to do what He has promised.  It is by his grace[6] alone through faith alone that we are saved.[7] 

3 Reasons Why Someone Should Want to Be Baptized 

1.     To obey Jesus: Jesus commanded it.[8]

2.     To identify with Jesus and his people: Jesus identified Himself with us literally and symbolically.[9]

3.     To follow the example of other Christians: It is the example of all Christians, beginning in Acts and continuing on until today.[10]

Who Should Be Baptized?

Every person who has trusted Jesus as God and Savior should be baptized. The Bible seems pretty clear that we should first make disciples and then baptize those disciples.[11] It doesn’t matter how old you are. The Bible doesn’t give any age requirement for baptism, but it is clear that the person being baptized should be able to understand and demonstrate their personal faith in Jesus.[12] Because of this, at Grace we ask each person to write out their understanding of the gospel, how they became a Christian and why they want to be baptized. 

Should I Be Baptized?

If you are a Christian, than you should be baptized to identify with Jesus, to identify with Jesus’ people, to demonstrate your willingness to submit to Jesus’ plan for you, to physically demonstrate that your sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus. It really is that simple. Baptism is the Christian’s Jersey. Jesus calls his followers to suit up.

If you would like to know more, please plan to attend the Baptism Class that is being held this Sunday.  Click here to sign up for that class.


[1] 1Corinthians 12:13

[2] Romans 6:1-11; Colossians 2:11-12

[3] This statement is repeated in many churches when people are baptized.

[4] Isaiah 1:18; Acts 22:16

[5] Ephesians 2:8-9

[6] Grace: An unmerited empowering gift

[7] Ephesians 2:1-10

[8] Matthew 28:19

[9] Mark 1:9; Philippians 2:5-8

[10] Acts 2:38, 8:39, 9:18, 10:47-48, 16:33, etc.

[11] Matthew 28:19

[12] Acts:10:47-48; Romans 10:9-10


REDEMPTION

September 13, 2019 // Alex Bode

In 1867, a Swiss inventor and engineer name Alfred created what is known today as dynamite. He was studying and looking for ways to use explosives for commercial use as there were not many things available stronger than gunpowder. While dynamite was a great marvel in terms of the industry, not everyone praised its work. Accidents started to rise with the use of dynamite causing the public to frown upon its use. In 1888, Alfred’s brother, Ludvig, died, but newspapers made a mistake. They thought that Alfred was the one that had died and they published his obituary. As you can imagine, Alfred went on to read what they had written about him. The title of one newspaper wrote, “The Merchant of Death is Dead”. Needless to say, Alfred wasn’t too happy with the way the world was going to remember him. He needed a way to redeem himself to the public. Alfred having no wife or children decided to leave his rather large fortune in the form of a prize that could be given to inventors, engineers, authors, and scientists for outstanding work in their field. Today that prize has been given to 106 different recipients like Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and many more. If you have not guessed it, the Swiss inventor we have been refereeing to is named Alfred Nobel, the creator of dynamite and the Nobel Prize.

The Biblical Understanding of Redemption  

Alfred knew when his premature obituary came out that he didn’t want to be remembered as the, “Merchant of Death”. He came up with a plan of redemption. Even the most ungodly people and situations have an understanding of the word redemption. Webster says redemption is this, “the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil”. What does the Bible say about redemption? A biblical understanding for redemption, first must start at the what, why, and who.

What: Redemption can also be known as an act of repurchase or ransom. We need to be ransomed, because of our sin or act against God. We can not have a relationship with God our Father without the ransom being paid for our sins. Jesus paid them all and acted as our ransom. Mark 10:45 says, “For the Son of Man also came not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. The Son of Man gave his perfect and sinless life up for us in order that we can be saved from our sins.

Why: We need redemption, because, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”[1]. Our sin keeps us from a relationship with God our Father. Jesus gave his perfect life as a sacrifice for us. He gave us his righteousness and goodness and he took our sin. Jesus bring reconciliation between God our Father and us. “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation,”[2].

Who: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him,”[3]. Redemption is found for those that believe in the perfect life, the sacrificial death, and the remarkable resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Alfred Nobel wanted to redeem his name. He wanted to do something that would redeem himself among generations to come. While he did succeed in how people would remember him, he did not know that true redemption could only be found in Jesus Christ. This True Redemption will continue surpassing even the Nobel Prize until Christ returns.

[1] Romans 3:23

[2] Romans 5:11

[3] Romans 10:12


AM I A FOOL? DO I LIVE WITH ONE? IS THERE ANY HOPE?

 September 6, 2019 // Caleb McClarren

The Fool is a major player in the book of Proverbs – and, if we’re honest – is a major player in our lives as well.  If you, or someone you know is trying to figure out just what to do with a fool in their life or where to look for help, the Bible gives some clear direction.  First, look in the mirror.  Second, look around. And finally, look to Jesus.

Am I a fool? Look in the Mirror

Derek Kidner in his Classic Commentary on Proverbs[1] unpacks the 3 words translated “Fool” (or Folly”) in Proverbs like this: A fool is Dull and Obstinate, Stupid and Stubborn, and willfully Boorish.  Proverbs doesn’t see foolishness as a result of an individual’s mental capacity, but as his chosen outlook on life. 

A fool is a man who has no patience or concentration for the pursuit of wisdom but imagines that he can simply buy what he needs over-the-counter as it were. He can outsource wisdom and get what he thinks he needs when he thinks he needs it. But wisdom doesn’t work that way! You actually need wisdom to know when you need wisdom!

 A wise servant will rule over a disgraceful son

              And will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.[2]

 That son will simply throw his inheritance away

in an effort to profit from wisdom he refuses to learn himself. 

             Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no sense? [3]

 Wisdom requires humble questions, careful listening, thoughtful reflection and precise application to real life situations. The pursuit of wisdom is a long term, personal investment, not a quick “as needed” transaction. Lady wisdom is a teacher to learn from and a guide to follow.  Wisdom is the right application of information to the complexities of life. Wisdom is more than knowing correct information; it is to personally and intimately understand the complexities of life and have skillful expertise in it. 

 A fool indiscriminately laps up the opinions of others with little personal reflection and ingests them without discernment. 

            The discerning heart seeks knowledge,

but the mouth of the fool feeds on folly[4]

 It is far easier to quote a headline or repeat a sound bite than it is to learn the complexities of life’s questions.  Therefore a fool’s knowledge is a thin veneer.  It is a paper copy of someone else’s knowledge.  It doesn’t take much to scratch through the surface and expose what’s underneath all their talk.  Therefore his “wise words” with have no lasting effect or they turn around to make him look ignorant and silly.  However, he will never realize or acknowledge this because he cannot imagine a world in which he could be mistaken. 

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,

But the mouth of the fool gushes folly [5]

Every prudent man acts out of knowledge,

But a fool exposes his folly [6]

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding

Than a hundred blows into a fool [7]

 A fool is not foolish because of a mental or spiritual deficiency – No!  He likes his foolishness – and will return to it even after it has been exposed.  The same dog that indiscriminately laps up and ingests whatever sounds good will also gladly lick up his own vomit because he likes the taste. 

             As a dog returns to his vomit

                        So a fool repeats his folly [8]

 A fool has little respect for truth, preferring illusions to reality.

             The wisdom of the prudent is to give through to their ways,

But the folly of fools is deception.[9]

 At the end of the day, the fool has rejected – and is rejecting the humbling and enlightening fear of the Lord – and this rejection is what makes him a fool.  His flippant complacency is truly tragic and will be his downfall.

             The complacency of fools will destroy them [10]

 

Do I live with a fool? Look Around You.

But humans are not isolated creatures.  We are built for community and we impact one another. The fool is a menace to all the people he interacts with.  At best, he wastes everyone’s time, since he is bent on selfishness and contributes little – if anything of value – to those around him. 

             Stay away from a foolish man,

                        For you will not find knowledge on his lips

            The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,

                        But the folly of fools is deception.[11]

 But it is far more likely that he will be a serious pain in the butt.  If he gets some idea lodged in his head, no reasoning will stop him. Proverbs 17:12 says it better:

             Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs

                        Rather than a fool in his folly

 Whether a prank or some fight he must pick, give him space because the companions of fools will be implicated in their foolishness because a fool is argumentative, doesn’t know when to stop, knows no restraint and has no sense of proportion.

            He who walks with the wise grows wise,

                        But the companion of fools suffers harm[12]

            It is to a man’s honor to avoid strive,

                        But every fool is quick to quarrel[13]

            A fool shows his annoyance at once,

                        But a prudent man overlooks an insult[14]

            Stone is heavy and sand is a burden,

                        But provocation by a fool is heavier than both.[15]

 Perhaps his outlook is most clearly realized in Proverbs 14:9: “Fools mock at making amends for sin.”

Regrettably there are some people who cannot really distance themselves from a fool.  Perhaps he or she is a coworker, a teammate or a family member.  To those who love him, he will bring only sorrow, bitterness and ruin.

             To have a fool for a son brings grief

                        There is no joy for the father of a fool

            A foolish son brings grief to his father

and bitterness to the one who bore him[16]

            A foolish son is his father’s ruin[17]

 But the fool is too conceited to care.  He has litter concern for the pain, sorrow, and ruin he causes those who love him. Instead he despises their corrections and mocks their pain.

             A wise son brings joy to his father

                        But a foolish man despises his mother[18]

Make no mistake, Proverbs paints a pretty bleak picture of the fool.  One established in his willful pigheadedness, there is little hope for the fool to change his mind and there is much suffering in store for those who love him. But this inditement is not God’s last word about fools.  God extends life changing hope to fools, their families and their friends.

Is there any hope? Look to Jesus.

When we think about fools, it is so easy to identify “those people” (or more likely that person), but the Bible will not let us off so easily.  The Bible insists that our thoughts about fools begin with a trip down memory lane – and good hard look in the mirror. 

 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…[19]

 The Good News about what God has done in Christ to save sinners – humbles us by reminding us that we ourselves – apart from Christ – are fools!   Remember, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction”.[20]  Christians are marked by the Fear of the Lord, repentance and a good memory of the pit from whence we were pulled.  That memory grows us in humility to love those who are hard to love, and boldness to tell them the truth.  The popular notion of Christians as self-righteous “I’m better than those people” hypocrites, may well be rooted in personal experience but is completely disconnected from the Gospel we claim to believe! The hope for fools is seen in verse 4 and it is a sight of the goodness and loving kindness of our Savior. 

 Am I a fool? Do I live with one? Is there any hope? The answer to all three questions is a resounding “Yes!”  But, the wisdom calls to us in Proverbs, came to save us in the Gospels.  And now, wisdom calls all people everywhere to turn from their folly, humbly trust Jesus, and confidently walk in obedient joy! 

[1] Kidner, Derek. Proverbs. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2018.

[2] Proverbs 17:2

[3] Proverbs 17:16

[4] Proverbs 15:14

[5] Proverbs 15:2

[6] Proverbs 13:16

[7] Proverbs 17:10

[8] Proverbs 26:11

[9] Proverbs 14:8

[10] Proverbs 1:32

[11] Proverbs 14:7-8

[12] Proverbs 13:20

[13] Proverbs 20:3

[14] Proverbs 12:16

[15] Proverbs 27:3

[16] Proverbs 17:21, 25

[17] Proverbs 19:13

[18] Proverbs 15:20

[19] Titus 3:1-6

[20] Proverbs 1:7


GOD’S SOVEREIGNITY  

AUGUST 30, 2019 // ALEX BODE

Fall is in full swing! Students are back in classes, the Pumpkin Festival is only 12 days away, the first official day of fall is 24 days away, and the weather is getting cooler and cooler by the day! Last year around this time I reminded you of these very things and that it is because of God’s sovereignty and plan that I am here at Grace Church to remind you again. For students in Middle School, we will have been discussing God’s sovereignty through the book of Daniel. We are going to be looking together at one of the best descriptions of God’s sovereignty through the mouth of Daniel in chapter two.

      “Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”                                

-Daniel 2: 19-23

Daniel’s Statement

God’s sovereignty is defined as God’s exercise of power over His creation. Daniel is expressing that the infinite Creator of the universe has the power, wisdom and might to change times, seasons, and kingdoms. According to His will, He bestows wisdom and knowledge and brings to light things that are in the dark. Daniel finishes His statement with praise and thanksgiving, because God has made known to Him the king’s dream. This statement that is nestled between an intense narrative, shows us on this side of the cross that God’s reign is mightier than that of this world. God’s sovereign hand over His creation lets us know that we have a gracious Father. A Father that desires a relationship with us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. So, when the smell of pumpkin fills the air and the weather gets cooler and cooler let this be a reminder that our Father reigns over all creation and season.


WISDOM: More than what you know

August 23 // Caleb McClarren

Should you schedule a meeting with the school counselor about your son’s behavior or just ride it out? How much emphasis should you put on your daughter’s grade point average? Should you travel to every away game, or take the time to date your spouse? Should you pursue that new job opportunity at this stage in your career? What should you say to your friend whose spouse just left? … And when should you say it? When should you overlook your own spouse’s spiteful jab and when does love demand a confrontation? 

 The 10 commandments aren’t going to tell you whether or not to meet with the counselor.  Roman’s isn’t going to sort out your family calendar, and the Gospel of John isn’t going to teach you conversational timing. But don’t assume that these decisions are irrelevant to God.

Our relationships do not only consist of standards, promises, and moral choices.  Relationships live and breathe within the complexities of life. Decisions about whether to work or rest, speak or listen, stay or go, act or wait are incredibly important to every part of our lives! If a surgeon and chooses to operate instead of getting a second opinion, she may well ruin someone’s life and lose her job. But the same could be said if she chose to get a second opinion when she should have operated immediately! There is no commandment direct these kinds of situations, but these everyday decisions irreversibly shape our lives and form our character.

 Derek Kinder rightly observes what we all intuitively know: “there are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet decisive in personal dealings.”[1] The Law of God [civil, moral or ceremonial] prescribes certain actions, reveals the character of God, uncovers the flaws in our own character, exposes our need for a Savior and reminds us of the harmonious lives we were created to live. But the Law is not at all sufficient – or intended – to tell us when to speak up in a meeting and when to bite our tongue, if we should take one job or another or whom we should marry. Similarly, the Prophetic books point to the redemptive and corrective purposes of God and may well expose flaws in our character, but they too are largely unhelpful for navigating the complexities of everyday life. If you are going on a family vacation to the Big Apple, it is helpful to know that New York City is East. But if you intend to get there, you probably need some more information along the way.

 No, in these situations – and so many more – we need a different kind of guide, so God in his wisdom, included 4 books in the Bible (Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon) especially designed to help his people navigate the complexities of life East of Eden.  In these Books of Wisdom, the voice of God changes its tone.

The blunt ‘Thou Shalt’ or ‘shalt not’ of the Law, and the urgent ‘Thus saith the LORD’ of the Prophets, are joined now by the cooler comments of the teacher and the often-anguished answers of the learner.  Where the bulk of the Old Testament calls us simply to obey and to believe, this part of it…summons us to think hard as well as humbly; to keep our eyes open, to use our conscience and our common sense, and not to shirk the most disturbing questions.[2]

In a real way, the Wisdom Books are a post-fall[3] exposition of life in God’s good, yet sin ravaged world. They are written to illumine the path of life and help God’s people live real life for God’s glory, the good of God’s creation and their ultimate joy.

 Job: the Problem of Evil and Suffering

In Genesis 1-2 God made humanity to live forever in perfect community with himself and one another in a world without pain, sickness and death. But Job writhes with the painful reality of evil and suffering in light of the goodness and sovereignty of God. If God is good and all powerful, why is there evil and suffering in the world? Or, why do bad things happen to good people? Every other ancient Near-Eastern literature that deals with the question of suffering ends without an answer; and the same could be said today. When pressed with the question of suffering, the world religions and philosophies answer with the same verbose and hollow speculations and accusations of Job’s friends. But when God answers Job, he gives him something far better than answers. He answers Job’s “Why” with “Who.” God doesn’t give Job reasons for his pain. He gives him an irresistible reason to trust him in the midst of it. He answers Job with a sight of divine glory. 

 

Proverbs: the Light that Illumines Life

In Genesis 1-2 God created men and women to know him and commune with him.  Unrestricted access to wisdom was only a question away. But sin extinguished that good relationship and plunged the world into the shadows. The wisdom of Proverbs shines like a light to help navigate the difficult situations we encounter along the path of life. Proverbs is not a bunch of promises; it is not really a portrait of morality, or a list of best practices. Proverbs is a book written to teach its readers to listen and identify the voice of lady wisdom who calls out from every corner of creation or culture and to resist the siren calls of folly who continually walks the streets to seduce those who lack wisdom.

 

Ecclesiastes: the Meaning of Life

In Genesis 1-2 God created humanity in his image to know him, reflect his glory in the world and reflect the praise of his creation back to him in worship. But sin took a ball peen hammer to that reflection. Now the image of God lies shattered in billions of pieces all over the globe. In the Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrestles with the purpose of this shattered life, and tries desperately to reassemble the mirror in all the wrong ways. He spent his life trying to project purpose by pursing pleasure, power, work ethic, knowledge, sex, philosophy, amusements, wealth, and even madness. In the end, he found it all to be utterly meaningless and empty.  Ultimately Solomon found that he was made to reflect God’s glory, not project his own. 

 

Song of Solomon: the Good Selfless Pursuit of Intimacy

In Genesis 1-2 God invented marriage and sex and they were naked and unashamed. But sin brought with it conflict which ate away at the fabric of every relationship, pitting husbands against their wives, wives against their husbands and people against their God. Their nakedness was covered in fear and shame. Song of Solomon reminds the reader of the deep community, intimacy, and shamelessness her/she was designed for – while giving plenty of warnings to not awaken love prematurely, to wall up your heart against the lustful perversions which masquerade as love, and to hunt down the sins – the little foxes – that will ruin the most intimate of relationships. 

 

What is wisdom and where can It be found?

At the end of the day, wisdom can be understood as the right application of information to the complexities of life. It is not less than knowledge or the ability to make moral judgments, but it is far more. The Hebrew word translated as “know” throughout much of the Old Testament (included the Wisdom literature) is a word which denotes intimate relationship and skill as well as intellectual knowledge. To know something is to understand the complexities of a given subject and have skillful expertise in it.  We all need wisdom! We need personal and intimate understanding about the complexities of life in order to rightly navigate it. 

 

A right – experiential knowledge of God – is imperative for a right view of all of life. The Bible insists that the right and skillful application of information to the complexities of life is predicated on a correct and personal knowledge of God[4] – which is a faith claim. That means that what you can know about life is built on the foundation of what you believe about God. We don’t think this way in our culture. We tend to think about faith and knowledge as distinct from one another.  But that is exactly opposite from what the Bible teaches. The popular belief that the only things we can really be certain of are what can be proven by science, is itself a faith claim and cannot be proven by science! It can be disorienting to realize that the most popular basis for skepticism about faith in God is built on a faith claim![5]  A.W. Tozer in his book The Knowledge of the Holy, rightly says “what you think about God is the most important thing about you.”[6]

 

But Wisdom is not limited to wisdom literature, or even to Scripture. It is woven throughout all of life. Proverbs talks about Wisdom like a woman, calling to you in the streets.  In fact, one of the main things that Proverbs points out is that wisdom

leaves its signature on anything well-made or well judged, from an apt remark to the universe itself, from a shrewd policy (which springs from practical insight) to a noble action (which presupposes moral and spiritual discernment).  In other words, it is equally at home in the realms of nature and art, of ethics and politics, to mention no others, and forms a single basis of judgment for them all.[7]

 At first blush, it may seem as if the theological, religious or pious content of much of the Wisdom literature is quite thin since they are filled with many pithy sayings, poems, unanswered questions and maxims for life. However, upon a closer consideration, the reader will see that the first principle of wisdom is that all wisdom begins with a right view of God and walks out into the rest of life in the most ordinary of ways. 

 So, should you schedule a meeting with the school counselor about your son’s behavior? The wise answer will grow out of your intimate, experiential knowledge of both God and your son. Why don’t you talk with both of them about it. You may find the conversations enlightening. 

 

[1] Kidner, Derek. Proverbs. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2018. 13

[2] Kidner, Derek. The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1985. 11

[3] Genesis 3

[4] Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 15:33

[5] Psalm 14

[6] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.

[7] Kidner, Derek. Proverbs. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2018. 15


THE STORY BEHIND THE STONE

August 16 // Caleb McClarren  

In the year 1050 B.C. the 12 tribes of Israel gathered on top of a mountain called Mizpah. They came from miles around for a single purpose – to turn from their idols and seek the face of God. As they fasted and prayed, the Philistine army assembled – seeking to subdue this ragtag nation once and for all. After the dust settled a great stone was erected atop Mizpah to commemorate what happened that day. 

 This is a story of desperate repentance, divine eucatastrophe and enduring witness, and can be found in 1 Samuel 7. Although you and I are more than 3 millennia removed from the events that transpired that day, there is much we can glean from their struggle. We do not fight to defend our home from invading armies, but as Christian parent we stand in open conflict with three much more sinister adversaries: the world, the flesh and the devil.[1] We would do well to never forget Mizpah.

 Desperate Repentance: 7:1-9

Those who wish to join the hosts heaven’s armies, must begin, not with weapons of war, but with the works that keep with repentance. Repentance is an often miss understood concept. Repentance is a process of active turning that leads toward reconciliation. There are at least 5 markers on the road called repentance. There is much that could be said about each of them, but for the purposes of this article, I will only touch on them briefly.

1.    Conviction is characterized by acute guilt.  “All the house of Israel Lamented after the LORD”[2] They couldn’t focus, couldn’t rest, they were out of sorts until they got things sorted out. A lament – or conviction – on its own does nothing…but conviction is meant to lead to confession

2.    Confession is characterized by humility. The People said, “We have sinned against the LORD.”[3]  Confession means to say the same thing as God.  If candid confession of sin is wanting in your repentance, then your repentance is not honest. Name it, claim it, own up to it and all its ugliness

3.    Repentance is Characterized by Work.  It is the simultaneous acts of turning away from false idols and turning to God.  In this story we find two works of repentance: their turning away from Idols back to God is demonstrated by 1) pouring out water and 2) fasting to demonstrate their expectation that God alone would fill their needs.[4] True repentance is always demonstrated in personal sacrifice.

4.    Sacrifice is Characterized by Cost“So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord.”[5] Sacrifice demonstrates on the outside what has happened on the inside. In the Old Testament, Sacrifices were the foundation of corporate prayer. They were participatory, costly and substitutionary. Samuel offered the whole lamb – undivided – as a representative for the whole people – undivided. The people were wholly seeking reconciliation with their God. The sacrificial lamb was young – probably only 8 days old (Leviticus 22:27).  In the Bible, sacrifices are representative. A ram in the place of Isaac or a goat for the sins of the people.  This young lamb served as a symbol of a nation reborn, utterly dependent upon the provision of God for its very survival. They were totally defenseless.  Their sacrifice declared their desperate need for God to intervene on their behalf.  

5.    Reconciliation is characterized by RenewalAs God’s people turned their hearts against their idols in single-minded worship of God, God turned his hand against the Philistines in the defense of his people.   The “thundering of God”[6] was a dreadful sound to his enemies and a glad shout-out to his people. Remember, these nations were not 21st century humanist skeptics.  The exploits of the God of Israel were well known among the people.  They were not so far removed from the miracles of the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan and the exploits of the Judges. There was only a span of about 350 years between Moses and Samuel.  It had only been 50 years since Samson had decimated the Philistines.[7]  And, only a short 20 years had passed since God had sent plagues upon the Philistines and literally beheaded their idol.[8]  No, the thunder of God was something the Philistines feared, and it was the means of a Divine Eucatastrophe. 

 Divine Eucatastrophe: 7:10-11

God often turns evil for good in unanticipated ways. J.R.R. Tolkien made up a word to describe these unexpected turns in narratives – Eucatastrophe.  A Eucatastrophe is the unexplainable turning of utter darkness, despair, hopelessness and gloom to sudden glory, joy, certainty, and celebration.[9]  The vulnerability of the prayer meeting at Mizpah summoned the Philistines who wished to overrun God’s people.  But God, thundered from heaven – he held them in derision and routed them from the land.   There is a great blessing in corporate repentance. It is in these moments of vulnerability where we have the opportunity to see God’s ability and love. We can never know “The God who is our help” until we have found ourselves helpless. 

 With this in mind, there are 3 things to know about God who is our help.

1.    God responds to the needs of his people.  God answers our prayers according to his great plan and our great need. Their prayer was not all that demanding…it was desperate. They fell wholly on the mercy of God.[10]

2.    God is more than able to defend his people. God doesn’t need any help…he just thundered, and the battle was won! 

3.    God empowers his people to join in his victory.  God does this all over the Bible.  God knocks down the walls, but His people rush in and take the Jericho.[11] God defeats the Midianites, but Gideon and his 300 yell and clean up the mess.[12]  God defeats Goliath through shepherd boy, then the people give chase.[13]  Jesus curb-stomps sin, Satan, death and hell, but the Bible says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan – UNDER YOUR FEET!”[14]  “We are more than conquers through him who loved us.”[15] The help of God is always empowering.  The Grace of God is not merely an unmerited gift; it is an unearned empowering gift that enables us to join in God’s victory!

Enduring Witness: 7:12-14

We are people who are made to tell of wonderous things: Good movies, epic stories, great vacations, Grandma’s mashed potatoes and so many other things.  But what of the wonderous works of God?  What of his abundant provision for our needs?  His provision for a car for your son or daughter?  His provision for food every day?  His provision for a situation at work? His provision for a situation in your family? His provision in Christ for you sin debt and mine?  His provision for eternal life?!  We have all sorts of things to help us remember all sorts of things: pictures, souvenirs, keepsakes…Perhaps we should each raise a few stones – so that when our children ask, “Why do you keep that stone on your desk” or, “Why do we have a rock on our kitchen table?” Or, “Hey, why is there a pile of rocks in the bottom of your locker?”  We can tell them the story behind the stones!  “In the Spring of 1992 on the steps going up to my bedroom, God Saved me.” “In summer of 2001 in that hot sticky chapel, God began to woo me into pastoral ministry.” “In October of 2016 God provided a truck so I could serve others and stop borrowing Chads.”  “On October 7, 2017 God healed Grandpa and put him back in his right mind when he called him to his eternal home and provided hundreds the opportunity to hear the gospel!” 

 Remember when God met you in your need.  Set up a stone of remembrance, so that when your children ask, “what is the meaning of these stones” you can tell them: “This is when God met us in our need.  This is the story behind these stones.  Till now the Lord has helped us!”

 [1] Ephesians 2:1-3; 6:10-20

[2] 1 Samuel 7:2

[3] 1 Samuel 7:6

[4] 1 Samuel 7:1-9

[5] 1 Samuel 7:9

[6] 1 Samuel 7:10

[7] Judges 13-16

[8] 1 Samuel 5

[9] Eucatastrophe - Tolkien Gateway. Accessed August 15, 2019. http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Eucatastrophe.

[10] 1 Samuel 7:8

[11] Joshua 5:13-6:27

[12] Judges 7

[13] 1 Samuel 17

[14] Romans 16:20

[15] Romans 8:31-39


A LEGACY OF DYSFUNCTIONAL GRACE

August 9th // Caleb McClarren

I’ve good news and bad news. All Families East of Eden are a mess – yours and mine included. But God has a habit of using messed up people. In our own special ways, we all are part of interactive and interconnected living history museums of dysfunctional grace. Abraham and his dysfunctional family reminds me regularly about how hard I work to keep my mess behind closed doors – and how uncomfortably thankful I am that God doesn’t share my preoccupation with hypocritical perfection. 

Following the fall of Adam and Even in Genesis 3, the book seems hell-bent on illustrating the very personal and far reaching implications of indwelling sin and humanities desperate need for the Son of promise – the snake killer[1] – to come, reconcile broken people with God and one another and restore the harmony that was lost. One of the major points of Genesis is that sin has destroyed, and will continue to disintegrate, the oneness and community God built his people to enjoy. The family unit was designed by God to reflect divine intimacy, selfless love, and creative dominion, but when sin shattered this speculum of glory, God, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus”,[2] reached down and began to pick up shattered sinner after shattered sinner like so many broken shards of glass, grinding each one down, tenderly polishing their edges, and skillfully soldering them together into glorious vitrails of grace. Genesis ends with a wonderful reminder of God’s good purposes even amid evil and pain.[3]

Abraham and his family are no exception.  In more ways than one, they are the prototype of unmerited favor for the rest of the Bible.[4]  Abraham and Sarah, though commended for their faith,[5] in real time, often chose to live their lives quite pragmatically. In Genesis 12-21, Abraham and his two sons (Ishmael and Isaac), are being contrasted with Lot and his two sons (Moab and Ben-Ammi). Though there are many ups and downs in these parallel stories, the most significant difference is that of divine covenantal love. God set his love upon Abram and gave him an irrevocable promise.[6] Abram was bound by sovereign love and followed God in faith, marking his sons with the sign of the covenant and leaving them both a rich heritage of divine blessing and a life of faith.[7] Lot, having no such promise, was bound only by his own self-interest.  Consequently, he left his sons nothing but a legacy of drunkenness, despair and incest.[8]

But God’s covenantal love didn’t erase the deep seeded and lifelong issues present in Abraham’s family. Abraham was 75 years old when God first promised to give him a land, give him a son, and bless the world through his family.[9] At that point he and Sarah were long past childbearing years and had no children of their own. After ten additional years of waiting, Sarah took matters into her own hands and together with the consent of her husband, made a baby with her Egyptian maidservant Hagar.[10] Tension came almost instantly. Hagar despised Sarah, Sarah disrespected Abraham, Abraham denied responsibility altogether, Sarah abused Hagar and Hagar ran away.[11] But God saw her, intervened, sent Hagar back to Abraham and gave her a blessing of her own.[12] And so, Ishmael – the son of faithless pragmatism – was born when Abram was 86 years old.[13] The next verse skips ahead thirteen years when God renews his covenant with Abraham and marks, he and his family with the sign of the covenant – circumcision. It is interesting to note here that Ishmael is simultaneously included and excluded from the covenant. He, along with Abraham is circumcised, but God makes it quite clear that the covenant promises are for a son not yet born. In light of this, Abraham pleads for his son of pragmatism and God blesses Ishmael as well.[14] When Sarah gives birth to Isaac several months later, tensions again surfaced. Ishmael’s adolescent foolishness and Sarah’s deep seeded insecurities blew up at a big family party.[15] Abraham – the man whose legacy was bound to both faith and pragmatism – was in anguish as his family disintegrated before his eyes. But, even in the midst of this mess of his own making, God remained faithful. Both women kept their sons and both sons’, marked by the faith of their father, received blessings from God. 

Dysfunction is part of every family – yours and mine as well – because sin is part of every person. Our sin has alienated us from God and one another. Whenever alienated, selfish, sinful people get together in a home and form a family something is bound to explode. The good news for broken, dysfunctional, sin-ridden families like ours, is that God has a habit of using broken people to make beautiful things in order to show off his goodness, glory and ability.[16] If you go back and read the story of Abraham and Lot closely, you will discover that Abraham’s faith was demonstrated most often in his humble repentance. He blew it often – yet each time when he hit the wall, he turned around, retraced his steps as best he could and sought the face of God. But God’s faithfulness to Abraham was demonstrated quite apart from Abraham’s obedience. When Abraham’s life is sin alongside Lot’s life, it becomes quite clear – God upheld Abraham – Hard stop. Finally, Abraham was quick to plead for the blessing of others.[17] These narratives illustrate very clearly that people can, and do change for better and worse and that God is at work in and through his people. Both sin and repentance grow deep roots and bear abundant fruit for generations to come. 

In our own special ways, we all are part of interactive and interconnected living history museums of dysfunctional grace. Abraham and his dysfunctional family remind me regularly about how hard I work to keep my mess behind closed doors – and how uncomfortably thankful I am that God doesn’t share my preoccupation with hypocritical perfection. 

[1] Genesis 3:15

[2] Ephesians 2:7

[3] Genesis 50:20

[4] Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:9, 22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23; Titus 3:8

[5] Hebrews 11:8-10

[6] Genesis 12 & 17

[7] Genesis 17 & 21

[8] Genesis 19

[9] Genesis 12:4; 17:17

[10] It is interesting to note that Hagar was Egyptian (Genesis 16:1). All throughout the OT Egypt seems to be a metaphor for “the easy way that will ultimately enslave.”  Egypt is always a place Scripture associates with sin, disobedience, slavery, and faithlessness.  Egypt is also always a place of NATURAL retreat.  When a famine comes – Egypt looks green.  When an army is about to invade – Egypt looks like the obvious ally.  When the menu gets boring – Egypt looks like a buffet.   Egypt is a place of immediate satisfaction, but long-term slavery.  Egypt is a place from which God must free his people. But leaving will always be painful. Egypt is a place from which God’s people must be driven; a place God’s people are not to emulate, ally themselves with and or trust.  Egypt represents a Godless system, built on pride, lies, and the backs of slaves.  Like the pyramids, Egypt is impressive to look at, but is filled with dead men’s bones.  With this image in mind, it is quite interesting that Moses points out that Hagar is Egyptian, that they return to Egypt and that Ishmael marries and Egyptian.

[11] Genesis 16:4-6

[12] Genesis 16:7- 14

[13] Genesis 16:15-16

[14] Genesis 17

[15] Genesis 21:8-10

[16] Ephesians 2:1-10

[17] Genesis 17, 18, 21


JOY IN DELIVERANCE

August 2, 2019 // Alex Bode

Did you know you can have McDonalds delivered to your door? Actually, most fast food and restaurants have a deliver service that you can place orders and never have to leave the comfort of your home.  Think about all the things you can have delivered to your home. Clothes. Meal kits. Animals. Our 21stcentury minds understand delivery, but what does it mean to have joy in deliverance? In our last article of our Joyseries, Paul is going to talk about Christians having joy in our deliverance in Christ. 

      “Yes and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death.” Phil. 1:18b-20  

Paul’s Circumstances

As Paul is writing to the Philippians in chapter one, he is sitting in prison. He is trying to encourage the Philippian church to rejoice in the gospel of Christ while sitting in a dark oppressive prison cell. Make you think about your own attitude doesn’t it. While Paul’s hope is that he is delivered from his chains, he will still rejoice in Christ even if that does not happen. How could he possibly think this way? As stated in our past text reading, Paul does not rejoice in his circumstances, but in Christ. When his joy is in Christ then he must believe that all circumstances, whether good or bad, will glorify God. This is why Paul says with confidence that he will have courage, because Christ will be honored whether or not Paul ever gets out of that prison cell.  

Our Circumstances

You might find it hard to imagine what it would be like to be stuck in a prison cell so long ago, but it’s really not that hard to imagine. You too were once sitting in a dark cell, chained to a wall whether you knew it or not. Our sin kept us chained and in the dark begging for deliverance of some type. Christ comes with the keys of salivation and delivers us from our sin. He sets us free and we are deliver into His hands. Our hope is secured in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ which encourages us to have joy because we are a delivered people! 


JOY IN ONE ANOTHER

July 26, 2019 // Alex Bode

It can be difficult living in a house with a big family. My dad grew up with three sisters and two brothers in a fairly small house. More importantly there was only two bathrooms in the whole house. I have heard countless stories of fights trying to get ready for school or the struggle of just getting out the door to go anywhere. The people you live with, whether mom and dad, brother or sister, or even roommates, can be difficult. We are all by default sinners resulting from the original fall from Adam and Eve, but does that mean we cannot find joy in others? Now I am not saying finding our only joy in others, because our joy must be found solely in Christ (see last week’s article). But we can find joy in our God ordained relationships. Paul talks about this in Philippians 4:1.  

Paul’s Beloved

“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”[1] Paul is writing the Philippians Church from his prison cell and he is expressing the love he has for the church. He calls them his joy and crown as ways to express the gravity of his love for them. Paul also challenges them to stand firm in the Lord and not to change their position on Christ. Paul cherishes these people because Christ cherishes His church. They belong to God and as an Apostle, Paul takes that with a heavy heart. Paul was challenged to pursue and love the people of God, because God first pursued and loved His people. The author of Hebrews wrote this, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”[2] We can find joy in God’s people by loving, encouraging, and praying for them. Let’s be intentional about caring and loving others, God’s creation, on a regular basics. Let’s be encouraging one another in times of difficulty and trials. And let’s be praying regularly for each other that Christ would make His presence known among His people and be glorified in and through our lives. Who has God placed in your life that brings you joy?

[1] Philippians 4:1

[2] Hebrews 10:24-25