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Miscellaneous

Church vs. Chaff

July 3, 2022 • Sean Higgins • 2 Kings 19:30–31

On our first Lord’s Day assembling in our new church location. # Introduction Sometime around 700 BC Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, and his army was swallowing up nations like locusts in a plague. King Sennacherib didn't even bother traveling to the land of Judah, he sent a representative by the title Rabshakeh. The Rabshakeh talked smack against the men defending the wall in Jerusalem, using their language and the name of Yahweh and their terms of devoted to destruction. The Rabshakeh said the Assyrians were doing God’s will in conquering the Judeans (2 Kings 18:28-38). A while later the Assyrians sent a threat letter to Hezekiah, the King of Judah (2 Kings 19:8-13). Hezekiah took the letter to the house of the LORD and prayed to the LORD for help (19:14-19). The Assyrians were a genuine threat (see verses 16-18 in particular). Then the LORD responded through the prophet Isaiah, and Isaiah replied with a word about the Assyrians and for those in Judah. Read 2 Kings 19:20-37. # Rooted for Fruit Hear again our primary text for this morning: > And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD will do this. (2 Kings 19:30–31. ESV) This is one of my favorite phrases in the Old Testament: **take root downward and bear fruit upward**. The only other use of the complete phrase is in Isaiah 37:31, and Isaiah 37 is the retelling of this same story of Hezekiah. In context, root and fruit has to do with food supply. Various threats had been having effect for a couple years, depleting resources and making planting inconsistent. The LORD said that there would be enough growing of itself for them to survive, but then in the third year they would be safe to work their fields again and He would cause their cultivated crops to blossom. But also in context the rootedness and fruitfulness refer not just to the food but to the *assembly*. The people were agricultural, but the agricultural analogy referred to the people. The Lord was going to plant His people in the land. He would give them a home. What doctrine can we learn from this? This passage is *not* a promise that TEC would be able to purchase our own property. But while we are not in 2 Kings, the God of Hezekiah and Isaiah is our God. What we learn from 2 Kings 18-19 is that the only two options are to trust in men or to trust in God. Stated differently: > “There are only two principles that carry within themselves a characteristic world, an entirely distinctive world: eternal election and humanism.” (Abraham Kuyper, _Rooted & Grounded_) Also note that those who trust in men and the plans of men, albeit unwillingly, are merely fulfilling God's plan. The Lord is sovereign. “Our God is in the heavens; He does all the He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). He works for His name and because He loves His people. He purposes for enemies to have temporary success upward and then fall downward, and great is their fall (for different examples see Matthew 7:27 and Revelation 18:2). For the Lord’s own, He gives them root downward and then fruit upward, and great is their fruitfulness (for the principle see Matthew 13:8; John 14:12, 15:16). # The Zeal of the Lord There are only three places in the Bible where the phrase "the zeal of the Lord" occurs. Two of them are in this repeated promise to cause His people to take root downward and bear fruit upward. The other place is in Isaiah 9:7: > Of the increase of his government and of peace > there will be no end, > on the throne of David and over his kingdom, > to establish it and to uphold it > with justice and with righteousness > from this time forth and forevermore. > The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. > (Isaiah 9:7 ESV) Jesus is the child born, the son given (Isaiah 9:6). He Lord of all, and this is our confession (Romans 10:9). It continues to color all we do. The **zeal of the LORD** refers to His fierce energy and commitment. Christians are careful when it comes to God's passions, His emotions. We do not want to make it sound as though He is moody or tossed about in His feelings like we often are. And yet, He reveals Himself to us as one committed and indefatigably on point in steadfast love for His people and in jealousy for the glory of His name. This zeal is described in other terms as well, for example, in 2 Kings 19:34 the LORD says that He will protect His people “for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” The Lord, Yahweh, chose a people for Himself and chose a place for them and chose to make them fruitful. This is what the zeal of the Lord will do. # Not Brittle or Blown About The opening of Psalms continues the imagery of roots and fruit. Those who meditate on the law of the Lord will be like trees planted by streams of living water, whose leaves are green and who bear fruit in season (Psalm 1:3-4). The unrighteous are like chaff, the brown and brittle and blown about little disconnected pieces (Psalm 1:4). The Lord's assembly are the righteous, the church is filled with the word of Christ and singing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16). In doing so we are united to Him, abiding in Christ, able to bear much fruit. In the world there is the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). There are the righteous and the unrighteous. There is the church vs. chaff. There is no question as to who thrives. According to the sovereign grace of God, the zeal of the Lord will do this. Brittle, brown, blown about, or blessed and embedded and blossoming. # Making a Point So the church is God's statement. > To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8–10, ESV) In His wisdom He has made an assembly to proclaim His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9-10). We are obviously not the church in its entirety, we are a church in a specific locality, yet we are part of His display of His zeal and wisdom. # All Over the Place > In days to come Jacob shall take root, > Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots > and fill the whole world with fruit. > (Isaiah 27:6, ESV) This is eschatological, and while not yet complete it is already expanding. Are you familiar with aspen trees? One tree sends its roots out and they start popping up all over the place. What appears to be a new little tree is actually from the main system. # A Building for the Body We did not *need* our own building for rooting and fruiting to happen; the blossoming of our church body has already been being blessed by the Lord. And also, what an additional blessing to be able to have a place of our own. What are we doing to do with it? This is a *tool*, not a trinket for our collection. This is a trampoline, not an easy chair. This is a launch pad, we are the rocket. In one sense, the building represents us, and there is work to do. In another sense, the building helps us to represent the Lord. We want it to be fit, and we want it to be used up on His behalf. # Rejoice, and again, rejoice! Of the things that I don't want to miss today, it is rejoicing in the work and zeal and wisdom of the Lord. (See Philippians 4:4) This place on this day is an answer to many prayers. It is not necessarily what we thought the answer would look like, and as usual, it is different-but-better in a lot of ways. # Conclusion It will take a while to get used to calling this place the "church," and of course, the *assembly* is the church more than the building. The point is, it is the church's church, the body’s building. Our previous landlords have been used by God to bless us, and now this owned space is a blessing for us. This is the sheath, you are the sword. This is the sky, you are the sun, the light of Marysville, the light of the world. Our worship is the fire, you are the refined gold. Let it be said in Marysville, the Lord has done great things for us, and let us be glad in Him as He causes us to take root downward and bear fruit upward. ---------- ## Charge You are rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:17), so be fruitful and multiply your joy. This is only possible with the Lord’s blessing, and He promises blessing for those who fear Him (it’s wise), love Him (it’s the great command), and delight in His Word (it’s the way to good success, Joshua 1:8). ## Benediction: > The LORD bless you and keep you; > the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; > the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. > (Numbers 6:24–26, ESV)

Let the Humble Hear and Be Glad

June 26, 2022 • Jim Martin

from Selected Scriptures

The Burden of Fellowship

October 3, 2021 • Ryan Hall • Galatians 6:1–5

How Time Flies

August 29, 2021 • Sean Higgins • Ecclesiastes 5:18–20

# Introduction I want to remind you, *encourage* you, as well as myself, that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Paul asserted such to the Corinthians at the end of his great argument for the Christian's resurrection. > Therefore (in light of your resurrection to immortality and glory in Christ's resurrection), my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that **in the Lord** your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58) You might suppose that certain resurrection, to an existence where perishability and dishonor and weakness is no more, would make our sowing in the natural, temporal body only as significant as the dust we're made from (see 15:42-44, 49). But Paul says the opposite. And if we connect it with the same wisdom Solomon pundit-ed we grasp that our perceiving of life *beyond* the sun is the only guarantee of meaning and *joy* in our toil under the sun. All sorts of things are ramping up even as summer winds down. The school year, arbitrarily determined as it is, sets almost as many of our current rhythms as the calendar year and the changing of seasons. The start of the school year is a mini restart, and whether you are a student or parent or parent-teacher or teacher or just someone who drives through slower-speed limit school zone traps, we can see that there is a Wholelotta Work to do. *And*, as much as ever it would be easy to be disturbed/distracted/discouraged from our work because the world has gone crazy. The world is in a war of crazy. The world is full of those apparently trying to outdo one another in crazy (contra outdoing one another in showing honor as Paul exhorted in Romans 12:10). In many ways the crazy is hard to ignore. As the man pointed out in “Hoosiers,” there is a difference between a man who gets naked and howls at the moon and a man who does the same thing in your living room. Folly seems omnipresent, if not eternal. But folly *isn’t* either. The Lord gives His people *perspective*--wisdom and hope, as well as *pleasure*--a glad satisfaction, when He enables them to see beyond the sun, when we know there is more than the disrobed howler in eye-sight. So as you get back into a season of earlier mornings (maybe), and moldy water bottles, as the rain inevitably returns and dampens your enthusiasm, as you keep watching the (intentional) damage being done to us, our country and companies, by our own representatives, may the word of the Lord encourage your *labor* in the Lord, and may He give you enjoyment in the process. # Having Only Half All of what we have is **gift**. We have *nothing* that we weren't given (1 Corinthians 4:7), even if what we were given were “raw” resources to obtain other things. It's important to remember that because we're supposed to be thankful to the Giver, and also because we cannot make or find joy on our own. This is the dark side of King Solomon’s coin in Ecclesiastes 6. Solomon observed a heavy evil, a brutal burden on men who are given everything they think that they could want except for *joy*. > he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them (Ecclesiastes 6:2) This man has money, toys, and respect. He has a thousands-of-years long life (6:6) and hundreds of great-grand kids (6:3). But he doesn't have thankfulness, "his soul is not satisfied" (6:3), whether it’s because he wants more and more (the law of diminishing returns) or because he finds that his huge pile really is hollow. All he has is in this life, and all he has still isn't the life he wishes for. Ecclesiastes describes the vanity of vanities under the sun, that is, life *not* in and for the Lord. “Under the sun” is almost a technical phrase to describe the perspective of the [this-aged man](https://tohuvabohu.org/2021/08/not-in-the-now/), the man for whom the present is his only perspective and priority. Solomon himself tried to find his happy place, and couldn't find it through great projects or many women or feasting parties or platonic contemplation. Work and wife and wine and weekends aren't wrong per se, but unless they are received as gift from God they can never be a satisfactory god. Solomon had great exterior glory (per Jesus in Matthew 6:29), but it could not make him glad. We are relentlessly tempted to think that gladness is a step or two away. Gladness is Then. It's sure to be found at the bottom of the laundry basket, when the inbox is empty, when the work week is over, when the final grades are entered, when the baby comes out, when the mask mandates are not just over but *vindicatedly* over. It's like saying that we'll be glad when the sun stops and the earth is still. Celebrate the ends, sure, but finishes and the ability to hold them well also comes from God. He alone gives power to enjoy them. # How Time Flies There are a few similar sections in Ecclesiastes about where real joy is found. The first is in 2:24-26, the second is in 3:12, and the third 5:18-20. This third buoy sets up the contrast in chapter 6, and gives us wisdom to know how time flies. > Behold what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot (Ecclesiastes 5:18) As contrasted with evil and vanity/emptiness (6:2), this is **good** and **fitting**, quotidian joy-finding. **To eat and drink** are to live, they are ordinary and daily, with only breathing more vital, but typically less consciously accomplished. Even when you're on vacation you eat and drink. Solomon wasn't writing wisdom for a bunch of vacation hopefuls anyway, but for the day laborers. He calls it **toil** twice. Since Genesis 3 it's been *hard work* (NET), labor (NASB), *travail* (Wycliffe), and not recess. Toil makes tired. Toil takes a toll. Toil, even for your dream job, still means your time isn't spent doing something else. Find enjoyment **in** it, not after it or outside of it. Find in enjoyment in **all** of it, not just from 9-5, or 4 days per week, or a majority percentage. The Hebrew verb is just “see,” which means look for it, hence **find** it. Just as *whatever* food you eat and beverage you drink, so whatever work is toil, whether professional or amateur, whether for business or household, whether glamorous or menial. Does it need to be done and are you doing it? Find the joy in it. The fact that you will only be around for about four thousand weeks (80 years, see also Psalm 90:10, which also says “their span is but toil and trouble”), on earth is no discouragement *to God*. Your days *are given*, they are gift, including--and this takes wisdom--the gift to see all that did *not* get done today. > Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) We spend too much time looking for a better job instead of looking better for joy. What a gift, that we live in a day when there are all sorts of ways to earn money to buy food and wine so that your body can turn those into more energy for work (and joy). But we are missing out by focusing on a resume instead of focusing on rejoicing. "Can rejoice no matter the job" would be a lot of virtue on a *cirricula vitae*. Looking for joy in all the wrong places, namely, in the places we're not. We're supposed to find joy, not find the job. There's more. > Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil--this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 5:19) We're back to seeing all of life as gift, and here is the complete package, including acceptance of assignment, including vocation without feeling the vanity, including enjoying the process. The phrases overlap. **Power to enjoy** is conscious gratitude, **accept his lot** is conscious gratitude, and **rejoice in toil** is conscious gratitude. *You* don't have to be here at all. None of the good, none of this work, none of you or me is necessary for the universe. It is gift. Your job, seen from beyond the sun, is amazing. Who knew *that* could be a job? Who knew people would pay you to do it? Who knew how frustrating it could be? Who knew you had so much endurance in you? Such sight, and the purpose to see good, is gift. Not everyone gets it. In chapter 2 Solomon says it similarly: > There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26) As Doug Wilson once illustrated, God gives cans of peaches *and* God gives can openers. The blessed get both. It's what makes time seem like it is flying by. > For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:20) I am not saying that everyone needs to be Tigger, but it is a sign of judgment that our culture has no bounce. We are consumed with envy, with perceived hurts and grievances, with complaints about how everyone else is so wrong. We have become the Discontents, the Malcontents, and this is not because we see better, it is because we are *blind*. We are speaking the same language, just like babbling is one, so is grumbling (*γογγυσμός*); it all sounds the same. Such misery is a slow burn, and makes every line feel longer. Even in our battles, may there be more rejoicing, more of a jovial warrior spirit. What I mean is, jovial in the joy of the Lord, not that we get to humiliate another human, even if that man is presidentially incompetent. # Conclusion Here’s a pithy point by C. S. Lewis in his address, “Learning in Wartime” given 51 days after Germany invaded Poland at the beginning of WWII: > “Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’” (62) Be decisively joyful. Let joy be the bass drum, always setting the pace. Gird your loins to rejoice in your toil—this is the gift of God. Yours is a lot of rejoicing. ---------- ## Charge Don't fear those who are only living for this life because that's the only thing they can see. Their narrow, and anxious, concerns make sense to them, but we do not need to adopt the same shortcomings. Look to the hand of God, and to the Son of Man who is at God’s right hand (Acts 7:55; Colossians 3:1; 1 Peter 3:22), for your work and rejoice (!) in wonder of all He's given. ## Benediction: > Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, ESV)

What You Must Do

August 22, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures # Introduction Lord willing, I will begin preaching through the book of Romans when we get to September. That leaves a couple Sundays of sermons before then, and that gives me a shot to address some other things. In God’s providence we are still being confronted with COVID panic, or we are being confronted again, or we are being confronted somehow with heretofore unprecedented measures. We have been told to stay home, we’ve been told to mask up, we have been told to vax up, and now we’re supposed to re-mask up. We’ve been told if we stayed home for 15 days we could get back to normal. We were told that if we wore masks we could get back to (a new) normal. We were told that if we got vaccinated we wouldn’t have to wear masks. We were told that if a certain percentage of the population got vaccinated we could be done with all restrictions. And now, many of you are being threatened that if you don’t get vaccinated you can’t keep your job, and it’s being teased that if you don’t get vaccinated you won’t be able to travel or shop in stores or eat in restaurants. Just this past week in Washington state, government employees were given an ultimatum for vaccinations, as well as health-care workers, and all school employees, whether public or private schools. It is surprising, and it would be just silly if it weren’t for how many people are taking it seriously. # In a Sermon? I considered whether or not this should be a sermon. I asked the elders what they thought. A sermon isn’t the only avenue of communication available to us at this point; I could have sent an email, posted it on the website, etc. But this seemed to be a profitable use of my preparation time, as well as a way to edify the congregation. So, yes, a sermon, for the stimulation and strengthening of your faith, both in content and capacity. What we believe—that is, what we've received from God in His Word—teaches us what and how to think in the world. And as we remember some of these relevant truths may God make us more bold in living according to them. And, yes, a sermon, because we're going to work through *religious* exemptions. The pastors are not doctors (or lawyers) and, even if we were, the teaching and authority of the church has limits. What we are required to provide for God's people is religious counsel and shelter. What this sermon will *not* be is a set of reminders about your Constitutional rights as a United States citizen or citizen of Washington State. It will not be scientific or medical stats or stories (though that is available and I'd be happy to share what I've read and listened to). It will not be about the *necessary* questions regarding the believability of our public officials or media outlets, about their changing of the goalposts or flip-flopping messaging without corresponding evidence. It will not promote an alternative fear to the virus, a "conservative" fear about tyranny, even though we should have our eyes open. Instead I want to remind us of what we know in summary form and to affirm our church's support for your decisions made by faith. So it's not a legal defense, or medical exemption, or pleading of sanity (as sure as you may be the sane ones). A couple qualifications about terms. I will be speaking about *religious exemptions*, especially for those of you who wonder about the legitimacy of claiming that status or who desire to seek such an exemption from your employers regarding "forced" vaccinations via threat of termination or retaliation. But even as I give the first point below, what we believe is not a footnote, a digression, an incidental allowance for ourselves as some sort of crazies. Seeking an "exemption" is what it has come to, but those who are acting in the place of God have the first problem. Playing *savior* of others is a hard job, and there will be no exemptions from judgment before God for such arrogance. You may not even want to play along with the pride of men, or be put on their list like some sort of beggar. So be it. But I will speak toward the forced vaccinations situation regarding religious exemptions. Also, from what I've read so far, it is not obvious that these requests for exemptions need to be super specific. For example, the few forms I’ve seen are small, and there have been no declared intents to check the *sincerity* of belief via church attendance or giving records or number of Bible quotes posted on social media (which makes one wonder why certain officials seem so happy to offer the exemption in the first place). For that matter, the exemptions are *supposed* to be personal, not corporate, though what is supposed to be and what things are have not been very congruous. # Faith There are three things that are part of our faith, truths we believe in this religious “sect” of ours called Christianity, that apply to your appeal for a religious exemption from mandatory vaccination. They are broad truths that are relevant to “forced” medical procedures, and, ironically, *these are the truths that established the principle of religious exemptions in the first place*. These truths are true whether or not your request is accepted. These truths are true even if we are persecuted for believing them. ## 1. God's Sovereignty Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8). He is God, Creator of all, and He “does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). His Son is the King of kings and Lord of lords, risen from the dead. There is none like Him. As stated in our longer What We Believe document: > We believe that God upholds and governs all things - from galaxies to subatomic particles, from the forces of nature to the movements of nations, from evil to good, and from the public plans of politicians to the secret acts of solitary persons - all in accord with His eternal, all-wise purposes to glorify Himself Which means that we believe that God is sovereign over sickness and health, that He works through miracles and medicine. It means we also believe that every authority on earth throughout history has been established by Him. > For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1, see also John 19:11) We believe in God's existence and power and authority, which already makes us weirdos to those busy trying to suppress their knowledge of God (according to Romans 1:18, 21). Part of the reason for our religious exemption is that we think there is a God over science, not that science is god. We think there is a God over the President and CDC and Governor and County Health District. In our current circumstances, these authorities are not just "doing the best they can" against a virus, they are acting without any reference to God at all. We object to their conceit, and to their entire lack of context “under God,” because of our faith. As Christians we also are comforted by this truth of God’s sovereignty. He is God and *Father*. He clothes us, feeds us, cares for us (Matthew 6:26). He knows what we need before we do (Matthew 6:32). He knows that the Gentiles panic about getting their little greedy hearts less anxious. Because God is sovereign we are *secure*. ## 2. Limited Government Though that phrase isn't in Scripture, it is a truth found in Scripture. Limited government is *religious*, and particularly *Christian*, not based on political conservatism or libertarianism. God sets up kings, and He removes them, at will. God also says what government must do, and what they must *not* do (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:14). He also reveals that sinful men, in their power-hungry pride, will often abuse their positions (Ecclesiastes 8:9). While He is in control of evil men, He prohibits us from obeying men rather than God (Acts 5:29). God has commanded us to submit to earthly authorities, but not absolutely everything that they mandate. Plus, it turns out, our system of government in the United States is "the people," as asserted in our Federal Constitution, which was established to *limit the government's authority*. The founders got that principle from knowing that the State wasn't God. God gave authority “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14). He commands that we pay “taxes to whom taxes are owed…honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:6-7). This does *not* mean that we will never be on the government's bad side, it means that when the government acts badly we may suffer for doing good (1 Peter 2:15; 4:19). But again, this means the government does not have absolute authority. The State may make a "law" that theft is legal, and that will cause the people to groan (as in Proverbs 29:2), but it is *wrong*. The State may mandate a medical treatment, but it is *wrong*. Of course the State can use its force, but that is abuse of authority. We object because of our faith. ## 3. Liberty of Conscience Scripture does not use this exact phrase, but the truth is there. It has been recognized in political and church history ([see a good example of this going back to 1721](https://founders.org/2021/08/13/vaccine-mandates-and-the-christians-liberty-of-conscience-from-2021-to-1721-and-back-again/)). We are not even allowed to speak evil against one another, let alone bind them to a moral good we’ve defined/declared outside of God’s Word. > There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12, see also Romans 14:4) It turns out that there are laws for our protection in this regard as well, even as we recognize that those laws themselves depend on *religious* truths, including the Bible’s teaching about personal responsibility before God. Your body does not belong to the Governor, but to God, and it is not the Governor’s choice to make you safe from every illness, from all cancers (or climate). You are responsible to God as a steward to consider what is best for your body. What great opportunities God has given us for learning and for seeking counsel with those who have done more medical "practice." But a public professional cannot dictate your conscience. We object to that because of our faith. > Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20) > You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23) > I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2) > whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23) > Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:16) Though many governors have taken up our own Christian language of "loving our neighbors," they do not get to define that. For what it's worth, neither do other Christians (pastors, ethicists, bloggers) seeking to make Christians feel moral guilt for not submitting to certain medical treatments, like vaccines. ([Here is a *bad* example of such an attempt](https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2020/12/73110/), with [a good response here](https://founders.org/2020/12/10/no-divine-law-equals-no-moral-obligation/).) Additionally, there are specific questions of conscience related to the current vaccines for COVID-19. *All* of the currently available vaccines depend on cells from an aborted baby for their production, or they have been tested on such cell lines ([here’s my source for that claim](https://cogforlife.org/guidance/)). At the same time, I thought [this was a helpful article working through distinctions between production of and testing with cell lines](https://www.epm.org/blog/2021/Jan/13/covid-vaccines-fetal-cells) by Randy Alcorn. We believe in the dignity and sanctity of life from conception to death. Certainly all of this is relevant to our choices, and our consciences. # Force And so the use of “force” through threats of termination, discrimination and retaliation, *are sinful abuses of authority*. Can the State, and employers, promote, encourage, and provide help? Of course. Does the Bible authorize the State to quarantine persons with certain sorts of contagious illness? We would say yes. But the Bible does not give State, or “masters”/employers, the authority to force any medical procedure on any person (or eat specific food, or only drive on Tuesdays, etc., for the “good” of your neighbor (Romans 14)). **What you must do is not go against your conscience before God.** > The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5) For more see [The Warrenton Declaration on Medical Mandates, Biblical Ethics, & Authority](https://warrentondeclaration.com), most of which I could sign, and then also [this statement by the CREC](https://www.crechurches.org/news/#exemption), a Communion which includes many of the kinds of churches we are like. # Conclusion I am not saying that you must not get vaccinated. I am saying that *you* must make that choice, by faith, with wisdom through research and counsel. The elders agree that we are not the boss of your medical choices, *and* we agree that elected representatives or appointed officials or public health officials or business employers are not the boss of your medical choices. We are available to talk with you, to give you counsel, to give you support if applying for religious exemption including writing a letter on your behalf, to give you support in finding other employment. We labor for your progress and joy in faith (Philippians 1:25). These days, living by faith may bring you into collision with those who would try to force you to go against your conscience. Today has its own trouble, who knows about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Who knows what opportunities we will have to live by faith and call on the Lord. In our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood (Hebrews 12:4), and we are not to grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:3). As a congregation we are not really running lean yet, but we are running together, and that will continue to be important in whatever days the Lord gives us. Again, if you’ve considered the risks and have been vaccinated by faith, if you’ve been vaccinated because you willingly chose to make a sacrifice by faith, then you have our support. But what you must do is trust God, thank God, and be ready to give Him an account. > let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19) John Bunyan wrote a book based on this verse, a man who paid the price for obeying his conscience before the sovereign Lord. > "There is that of God to be seen in such a day as cannot be seen in another. His power in holding up some, his wrath in leaving of others; his making of shrubs to stand, and his suffering of cedars to fall; his infatuating of the counsel of men, and his making the devil to outwit himself; his giving of his presence to his people, and his leaving of his foes in the dark; his discovering the uprightness of the hearts of his sanctified ones, and laying open the hypocrisy of others, is a working of spiritual wonders in the day of his wrath, and of the whirlwind and the storm." (John Bunyan, _Advice to Sufferers_, 694) ---------- ## Charge Keep calling on the Lord. Keep fearing the Lord, not man. Keep living by faith, and let Him call the shots. ## Benediction: > \[May] God make you worthy of his calling and fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12, ESV)

Donuts to Disciples

August 15, 2021 • Jim Martin

Affirming One's Identity

August 8, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures # Introduction The identity industry is building bigger banks to hold their dollars these days. It has been for a while, even while it's updated it's branding over the last decade. Buy these shoes and you'll be like Mike, buy this toothpaste and your breath will be sexy, gorge yourself at this restaurant and being fat never tasted so good. More up to date advertisements promote apps to connect you to an online doctor who will send you meds in the mail so that you can stop being a male, or try to be a male. The ultimate sale's pitch came a long time ago when a woman heard that if she ate some fruit then she'd have the identity of a god. We've been rebelliously attempting to redefine certain identities since. Knowing "who you really are" usually requires less backpacking across Europe and more reading of the Bible. It really doesn't demand questioning *everything*, rather it more demands listening to wisdom. They've taken wisdom off the shelf and into the backroom these days, but God gives it to those who fear Him (Proverbs 2:1-8). As it turns out, when we fear the Lord, when we seek Him, we come to know ourselves as the kind of beings who can't be explained without reference to Him. All of the above belongs in a discussion about the realities of baptism into Christ, the process and progress of discipleship to Christ, and membership in the body of Christ. These issues relate to our morning liturgy of worship, our pastoral aim to see every man loving like Christ (1 Timothy 1:5), the command to fathers to raise their children in the nurture of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), and even church discipline. What we have in front of us is all about identity, and how it points toward telos-level love and telos-level glory to God. God is the one who decided that, after forming Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam's side, every other human being would be *born* into the world, and born as a *baby*. Humans always start *tiny*, *immature*, albeit cute, which helps, because they are *needy*. Every newborn has some built-in characteristics and desires; they are one sex rather than another (regardless of what the American Medical Association lies about), and have other markers of identity that can't be changed, even if they are developed and directed. Kids will eat, but they need to learn not to eat dirt, while also identifying some things to eat that grow out of the dirt. They need to learn not to eat deodorant but also to apply it. They have to learn how to speak and what is acceptable speech. They have to learn to walk and work and worship. They are humans, not monkeys or donkeys. He is male, she is female, born of this mother not Mother Earth, born in a given town and nation, given certain opportunities but not endless ones. We do not withhold food until they can *prove* that they are hungry, we do not wait to give them chores until they show us their resume of experience. Everyone has to start at a place they usually don't end at. Somehow, the church—and her pastors and the families within her—has gotten super confused, convoluted, carried-away, and counter-productive. We've taken Solomon's observation that the end of a thing is better than the beginning (Ecclesiastes 7:8) and we've tried to put all our projects immediately into the grave so we can be done. We've also lowered the standard/definition of the "end" so that what used to be a beginning is now an end. The process is gone, or at least our appreciation of it (in others), or our persistent purpose in the middle of it (which, by the way, Solomon also praises in the second half of Ecclesiastes 7:8). Take baptism. Baptism is a public profession of faith by the one who is being baptized. Unlike circumcision, which was given to Jewish parents for their sons, baptism is a command for professing believers. Baptism is a declaration of allegiance to Jesus Christ. It is the believer's affirmation that he/she is *in Christ*, united to Christ, and committing to learn to obey and live for Christ. For the one being baptized, it is an affirmation of identity. It acknowledges that you needed Christ because of your sin, sin which God says deserves death. You rebelled in sin against God, and in that disobedience your identity was one of a hostile (Colossians 1:21), an enemy. It acknowledges that you trust Christ's death in your place, and that you've been given new life in Him through His resurrection. It is a step of obedience to Christ and a physical, embodied confession of faith. It is a credo-ordinance; it makes a statement. There are three related implications of this: 1) Affirming this identity is something to be developed by the disciple. 2) Affirming this identity is something to be discipled by the church. 3) Denying this identity is something to be disciplined by the church. ## Developed Baptism is not the telos. Baptism is an initiation in the direction of the telos. We are commissioned by Christ to: > make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19–20) No one is born again into the season of their manliest girth of joy-pants. A baby Christian is not in his most mature stage of being a Christian. Professing faith leads to the obedience of faith; in Christ faith works through love (Galatians 5:6). Baptism is the starting line, not something offered after 20 laps around the track. When you are tempted to sin, what should you do? Remember your identity. Is there something that helps with that? *Remember your baptism.* > What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1–4) Conversion to Christ begins a life of consecration to Christ. A convert is not complete; a convert has a new identity as a disciple, and a disciple has more to go. We could call this a "philosophy of immaturity,” meaning that the church (through pastors, parents, disciplers) *wants* and *affirms* this kind of early immaturity. ## Discipled Because the preceding is true, discipleship should not be a knee-jerk default reaction of questioning the disciple's salvation every time he sins. Many of us have been brought up with a brutal paradigm, and in the name of defending the faith we've been taught to default to doubt. We defend the faith by keeping people *out*. We have been taught to be suspicious of our own sincerity, and we disciple others to hesitation. It’s as if, since we’re drowning, we’re eager to criticize someone else’s swim strokes. Our spiritual growth of faith has been stunted Sunday by sermon, it has been confused and overwhelmed on Monday, and made us hypocrites toward our kids. There is such a thing as a false assurance of faith. But more of us, in this context, are familiar with false accusations of unbelief. This is where the typical church liturgy drives sermons which create an obstacle course for faith. And just as the pastor makes you skeptical of your salvation every week, so you challenge your kid's salvation every time she disobeys. Yes, Paul said “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13). But two observations about that exhortation: 1) while exhorting them, he *assumes* that Christ is in them. > Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5) And 2) remember the previous 28 chapters (just of what we have, since there was at least another letter we don’t) of Paul's inspired letters to the Corinthians where he *expects them to act like Christians*. Even toward that congregation Paul keeps calling them “brothers.” We worship *as Christians* every week, which includes confessing of our sins. We are coming to Jesus, again and again, *because* we are His disciples. We are still learning to obey all that He commanded. We don't need a bath every time, but our feet do get dirty (John 13:10). Discipling (which is included in parenting) is faithfully pointing the disciple to keep coming to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing by faith, not learning that our faith is futile and failed again. None of us love Christ, or our neighbor, or our wives, or our enemies, just as Jesus loved us (see John 13:34). Not yet. You might not know better, so, you know, learn better. You might know better, but sinned anyway. So, first, stop acting like it’s the unpardonable sin when someone else does it, and second, act according to your identity. This is where the church should start. Has there been a profession of faith? Has the believer been baptized? Then call that person back to his baptism. I ask this question especially to our younger baptismal candidates: if everyone sees you profess faith in Jesus are you ready for others to ask you why you’re not acting like Jesus? Likewise, parents, raise your children with the same sort of charity in their immaturity that you know you need from your heavenly Father. You need reminders of your identity, along with reminders of His standards. This belongs in a context of discipleship. ## Disciplined Baptism is an affirmation of identity by the believer, as well as an affirmation of identity of the believer by the church, as represented through her pastors. The pastors and the flock receive into, and as part of, the body those who profess their faith and commitment to follow Jesus. What happens when something goes wrong? This where the process in Matthew 18 starts: you go to your brother and tell him his fault, which is not the same thing as telling him he’s not a brother. (see Matthew 18:15-17) What happens when something goes really wrong? We keep following the process, increasing the accountability and prayers, until we can’t affirm his identity anymore. But that’s the *end*, not the place we start. We do not say to a married man that his vow is meaningless because he did not know everything about marriage, or about his wife, on the day he made his vows. We knew that he did not know everything that was going to happen in their life together, we even told him so, confidently if gently. He made a public promise to take on, and to hold on to, a new identity. He committed to continue. We don't say, "Oh, he said that 25 years ago when he was a lot younger, so it shouldn't count." Of course if there has been no pursuit of growth in love on his part, no renewal of his identity through daily sacrifices of love, if he's been given no encouragement toward his responsibilities to love or accountability for it, we may not be surprised if he breaks his vow. But we shouldn't make it easy. It's not right, and it's not good, whatever he claims he feels. In a church it is not good for anyone to deny their baptism. If they deny that identity, through words, or through a time of disobedience and defiance, the church must discipline them. It is not better for anyone, so it can't be neglected, or made easy. “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother” (1 Corinthians 5:11). # Conclusion We disciple those we *love*, we disciple them to *love*. We also discipline those we *love*, and discipline in such a way that restores their *love*. The gospel is not one option among many, no matter how pluralistic unbelievers want it to be. The gospel is a command for everyone: *believe in the Lord Jesus Christ*. Telling others that is not “pushing” our faith on them, and denying their new identity is not discipleship. Do they need to grow? Point them to Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Are they confused? Point them to Christ (Colossians 2:2-3, 6-7). Are they being attacked? Point them to Christ (1 Peter 2:21). Have they sinned? Point them to Christ (1 John 2:1). ---------- ## Charge God gives His people power to persevere in joy with *status* for the future. Cultivate your understanding of your identity in Christ. Keep believing in Him. Remember your baptism in Him. Boast in the Lord. ## Benediction: > [May you be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:11–12, ESV)

The Aim of Our Charge

August 1, 2021 • Sean Higgins • 1 Timothy 1:5

1 Timothy 1:5 # Introduction Through today's sermon, I pray that we would all remember our charge as disciples of Christ, to be growing into greater Christlikeness, which includes the work of discipling others. We come to Christ, we are being conformed to Christ, we should commit to helping others do the same. Part of the challenge is that the language is familiar. We just wouldn't give much time to those who professed to be Christians but not disciples, or to those who say the Great Commission is to make disciples doesn't apply to us. Being disciples and making disciples is common church language, as common as seeing the sun in the sky. But as with most things there is a way to use the same words and get to a different destination. So when we come to Christ, as we are conformed into His image, and as we seek to help others do the same, what does it look like? There’s not a singular answer in the New Testament, but it can be summarized. Here’s one summary that Paul told Timothy: > The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5) In context Paul contrasts his charge with other teachers who were getting stuck in “vain discussions” (verse 6), stuck in the swamp of subjects that promote speculations (verse 4). Paul’s ministry had something more profitable in mind. And the assertion in verse 5 also works as a positive statement, general enough for all ministry and discipleship. The telos (ultimate object or aim) of the charge is specific: *love*. That love is qualified as clean (from a pure heart) and fitting (so leaving a good conscience) and without any pretense or hypocrisy of faith (faith is sincere). Consider the kind of person who nears the telos level of love. Telos love is the fulfillment of the Great Commandment, and the second, and actually a fulfillment of the “royal law” (James 2:8). Telos love means we would be like Christ, whose love for the Father is without fail. Telos love means we'd be filled with the Spirit, whose first fruit in us is love. Telos love means the end of anxiousness; perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Telos love means great joy, partly because love of the lovely is its own satisfaction, and for that matter, so is loving the unlovely into greater loveliness. Telos love means that we would have perfect hatred for evil (see Psalm 97:10), and a full heart, courage (which means full-heartedness), for fighting the wicked. Telos love also means we would have compassionate bowels/hearts for the lost and broken and weak. Telos love means we would know the way forward as certainly as gravity teaches a rock the way down; abounding love approves the excellent (Philippians 1:9-10). Telos love would make us lovely, it would give us gravity, it would make us jealous-able. Telos love reflects and glorifies the God of love. Telos level love means that there wouldn’t be satisfaction with sin, or succumbing to people pleasing and fear of man. Being full of such love keeps people from being manipulated, from being unhopeful or irritated or resentful (as 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 clarifies). Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), so it is not easily offended. Love is big, it has big concerns, not petty complaints. Love doesn't obey grudgingly. Love doesn't run out. A loving parent knows when to help and when to lay back, let it go, or at least can be patient while figuring it out. A soldier with true and proper loves knows who the enemy is, and the cost of battle, and the need for it to defend his love. A loving shepherd protects against wolves and guides the sheep. A loving farmer weeds and prunes for more fruit. There are obstacles to the telos, of course. In the last days Paul prophesied that people will be lovers of self (2 Timothy 3:1), and half-hearted lovers. We are sentimental lovers. We are cheap lovers. So a preacher and pastor has plenty of work to do. But the telos is that every man be presented perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:28), abounding in love (Philippians 1:9), and glorifying God. A number of years ago I was convicted and humbled to realize that, though I would have used the words, I was not pursuing this sort of life of love. I’d made a virtue out of another end, which is only a subordinate end. > God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might be received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God's glory doesn't glorify God so much as he that testifies also of his approbation of it and his delight in it. (Jonathan Edwards) It’s as if love was the great commandment all along. So here are some very important implications of this telos of love. The goal isn't for a church, for *our* church, to get bigger. As the gospel increases, it is possible for the number of lovers to increase; the gospel bears fruit (Colossians 1:5-6). And if a group of lovers has gravity, then yes, the flock may grow. But size and attendance can't be the end. Neither is being a brand. They will know we a Christ’s disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35), not whether we are of Paul, Apollos, or Kuyper, or whomever. I am all for nicknames, but a Kuyperian Dispensationalist, or a Calvinist, or a Baptist, or a Reformed person, must see all the marks moving toward the end rather than an end. We are not just truth-tubes, gathering and filling our minds with more facts about the faith. Teaching is a part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). Teaching is part of presenting others complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). The pastor must teach (Ephesians 4:12), elders should be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2), they save themselves and their hearers by paying attention to their teaching (1 Timothy 4:16). Catechesis, doctrine, the Word, must be studied (1 Timothy 2:15) and proclaimed (2 Timothy 4:2) and defended (Jude 3). And truth causes growth, and growth is in love, till every one of us are doing our part in the body "so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16). Truth should be less like chemicals we're trying to mix appropriately in our science lab test tubes and more like rain that nourishes us as plants in a garden, with drips falling off our leaves that nourish other plants around us as well. This also means that teaching, as verb and noun, is not the end of our telos. Teaching is not the terminal spot. It is a way to it, but not it. It is inescapably important, like a map, but not itself the treasure. For example, I’m committed to the principle that school should be a *part* of a student's life, it should be for a student's life, but it should not be their life. That requires that our teachers have a life that is bigger than school. The aim of our charge is bigger than better standardized test scores. Our Lord’s Day liturgy reflects it. There is exhortation, preaching, meditation. There is call, reading, and charge. But those parts of worship drive at loving praise, loving communion, loving God and obeying. This means that we desire a flock full of lovers, not a flock full of the insecure. The aim of our charge is mature disciples, those who are growing in faith and building up a body of loving parts (Ephesians 4:16). There is such a thing as a first love for the Lord (Revelation 2:4). There is childlike faith and love. Those are appropriate, because there is a beginning to love, and there is immaturity in our life as disciples. Then we learn and learn to love more and more deeply. We shouldn't pooh-pooh first love, we should be able to recognize it, give God thanks for it, and then know what to do if it is "lost." We shouldn't criticize immature loves, we should nurture them and strengthen them. We also shouldn't limit them, or fear them, or try to control them. Can you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, *too much*? How can “all” be too much? If your love is out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, can you overshoot the telos? As if we would hear God say, “I didn’t mean that much.” The job security of pastors in the world does not come because they maintain control by questioning and criticizing the love of the saints. Their authority should be used to inflame the love of the saints, and not for themselves. There are too many Christian teachers who position themselves as needing to be needed, and that is part of what provokes competition. It's also what keeps the saints argumentative about truth yet timid to be wrong. I believe this is a visible difference between a truth-loving Teacher and a loving-by-truth Discipler. Too many teachers try to keep their place, whereas a good discipler from the start knows that he should be replaced. A certain sort of teacher wants to be the source rather than a resource. In its worst form the teacher needs to be needed rather than needed less and less. And if the aim of our charge is love, then the teacher you follow isn't enough, because *you* must love God, he can't do it for you. Pastors have job security because they are going to die and they will have run in vain apart from reproduction and reinforcements. They have security because, by the evangelization of children and neighbors, there are a spring of newbies to be raised to know and love the standard Giver. The fruit of your maturity isn't seen in teaching a Bible study per se. The fruit is that your Bible study strengthens your love for God and others. # Conclusion This has application for parents with their children, small group discussions and fellowship, and even for baptism, more on which next week. We are not aimed at getting you to call yourself I lover, as difficult of a hurdle as that may be, we are calling you to commit to learn to love like Jesus. Somehow love is both energy and rest, love is both ballast amidst the crosswinds and also wind in the sails of obedience. Love is powerful, and poetic. Is your love growing? Can you see how you are growing in love and connection with others, or are there other things, perhaps even good things, that are distracting you from moving more toward the telos? ---------- ## Charge Beloved, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. May your heart be singular, may your conscience be clear, may your faith and love be *strong*. ## Benediction: > Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (Ephesians 6:23-24, ESV)

Payback's a Blessing

July 25, 2021 • Sean Higgins

# Introduction I gave the impression to some that I was going to do a *series* on marriage rather than just one sermon. Okay. It will be a two-parter, and this is number two. Also, I really do understand that not everyone is married, just like everyone doesn’t have kids, which was the focus last Lord’s Day. But all Scripture is profitable, the parts about the dragon and the beast, and also husbands and wives, which I’m not saying are the same. Marriage is a mess because of Genesis 3. Sin separated Adam and Eve, and part of the punishment God gave them included difficulty in life together and between one another (see Genesis 3:16). Two sinners living in such close proximity will see sparks and stings and sorrows. It will happen even between couples who are actively being sanctified by God’s Spirit. The institution of marriage is a mess in our culture and there are levels of mess in marriages among us. *Every* marriage has some mess, but, by grace, it can be cleaned up. That said, only those willing to do the work (and endure some pain) truly see the profit. He *blesses* marriage, and husbands and wives taste it, and see the fruit. If we want our homes to be a destination, then the linchpin relationship is between the spouses. # No Exceptions One of the first and weightiest principles of marriage I ever considered was based on an observation about the household responsibilities in Ephesians 5 which are also visible in Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 3. > Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22–24, ESV) > Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25–33, ESV) Here is Paul’s two-verse edition to the Colossians. > Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:18–19, ESV) Both the husband and wife receive *commands*. Both also receive *clarifications*. Neither, however, receive any *conditions* based on the other person’s character or obedience to his/her command. Husbands, you must love your wife, dying to bring life to her, *regardless if your wife is*: - lovely - thankful - submissive Should a man choose the least-lovely-to-him woman to be his bride? No. But is her initial loveliness or her maintained/unfading loveliness a condition for his ongoing obedience? No. In fact, for him to really be like Jesus, he must love her when she is truly *unlovely*. > For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8, ESV) God’s love is so great that He loves His enemies out of rebellion and hostility into loveliness and fellowship. Jesus sacrificed because He loved us first. He **loved…and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her** because she is *not yet* sanctified. She is not yet **in splendor** or **without blemish**, but she *will be* by His love. We respond to His love, He does not love us because we responded. It’s also why Jesus taught that when you love those who love you, big whoop. This isn’t calling your wife your enemy, but she should get *better* treatment than your enemy. # Object in Mirror The costly love of a husband must be start with the subject rather than object, it must be based on what comes from his heart and not based on what he finds in her heart. The husband answers to God for his obedience whether or not she responds positively, quickly, or reciprocally. Holy Spirit enabled love, which is the context for these household commands (Ephesians 5:15-21), depends on the root of love not the recipient. You’ve got to start with the man in the mirror. Does your wife appreciate your hard work for the family? Does she speak well about you? Does she speak well *to* you? Does she attend to the priorities you’ve expressed, follow your lead, and cheerfully submit when you make a tough decision (assuming you are in fact communicating and leading)? If I am talking to the husband about these issues then the answer to all of those questions is the same: *Who cares?!* None of them, not even one, qualify you for an exception due to marital hardship. If she is cold to you, or even opposes you, you are responsible to obey God, to act like Christ, to love your wife, to nourish and cherish her. Will a godly husband care about his wife’s obedience to God’s commands for her? Of course he will. According to Ephesians 5 he is responsible to be presenting her blameless and blemish-less. That is part of the husband’s responsibilities. But, and this is a hard word, are *you*, husband, obeying? If only we could grasp the incongruity of admonishing our wives to get out of the rain while we are splashing about in mud puddles. She may in fact have a splinter in her eye, but did it break off from the log in your eye? Men, this is not the same thing as being a push-over. In love you will need to speak the truth. You will undoubtedly need to correct her thinking or confront her complaining or withstand her desire to rule over you (Genesis 3:16). But you will do this because you love her not because you can only love her if she stops behaving badly. You will do this because she is an “heir with you of the grace of life” not because she has earned her justification with God *or you* (1 Peter 3:7). It is easy to be weak and to let her wallow in sin because you’d rather wait and see if she’ll become lovely at some point. As Doug Wilson has written, *love bestows loveliness*. That is the heart of the gospel in three words. # Effective Obedience Wives, note that the command to you likewise has *nothing to do with your husband’s*: - respectability - thankfulness - leadership ability, wisdom, sacrifice, maturity, kindness, tone, romantic inclinations, time spent at home, etc. The barrage of “If only he would…If only he was…If only he…” cannot be supported by the Scriptures. In fact, the Scriptures argue “If only *you*…” > Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:1–6, ESV) Submission is divinely *powerful* and *attractive*. Submission may be used by God to bring about *salvation* and obedience and therefore, respectability. Too many Christian wives want to win the world’s way, by manipulation or demand. They will respond when there is something worth responding to. Of course husbands have the example of Christ to love the unlovely; Christ died for sinners. Wives don’t have an example of respecting a jerk because Jesus has always been *not* a jerk but instead perfect in His sacrifice and wisdom and righteousness and love. But that’s why wives get a different argument. Husbands, “love your wives, *as* Christ loved the church”; wives, “submit to your own husbands *as to* the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). You are not imitating Jesus, you are submitting *to* Jesus as you submit to your husband. Respect is not a barrage of strained flatteries, though it should include purposeful thanks. Sometimes respect means raising your expectations and then letting the weight fall on your husband. Find ways to give him a pat on the back, and make sure you let family burdens sit on his back. If it's his deal, it's not respect to act as if it's your deal. *Respect bestows respectability*, and you have *no excuses* for disobedience based on your husband’s lack of qualifications as you perceive them. Wives, you’re commanded to **submit in everything** whether your man is a stud or a dud. # Chronic Reactors What happens if neither husband or wife will obey? It will be a misery-go-round circle. He is unkind, she is cold, so he is more unkind. She is whiny-bossy, he withdraws, so she gets more whiny—bossy. He’s waiting for her, she’s waiting for him, and they are in a holding pattern except for the increasing bitterness *or* becoming satisfied with no feelings or interest in the relationship at all. Marriages like this will orbit the planets of anxiety, reactivity, and emotional terrorism unless someone stops playing the victim. Give some spillover attention back to 1 Peter 3:9. > Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. There’s no reason to think this *doesn’t* have application to spouses. Instead of rising to the bait, rather than adding insult to insult, be the other hand. Do the *contrariwise*. That's actually how the KJV translates the turn, the alt-route: > "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” When you're in the argument, be a good kind of contrary. Be contrariwise, which is a good, old word. Take the opposite way, not just the high road, but the road of good returns. You are not social justice spouses. Some couples hire a house-cleaner to pick up after them, some couples act like they need to hire a judge and jury to follow them around. "Repay" is the same word translated as “recompense,” which we recently heard Jesus say about His return; He's going to bring it with Him (Revelation 22:12). This is a different context between husband and wife. Pay him/her back with blessing. Be the grown-up. If they come at you like a lit match, be wet bread dough. > A soft answer turns away wrath, > but a harsh word stirs up anger. > (Proverbs 15:1) AND, think of the blessing you'll experience, the blessing you obtain by *not* jumping up and down in puddles of anxiety. Think about not being bound to severe litigiousness. The payback to your payback is blessing. It is not a burden to be free from reactivity. It is not a burden to be free from the quicksand of offended-ness. It is glory *not* to overreact, not to get bent out of shape by aluminum foil. > Good sense makes one slow to anger, > and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11) I am mostly thinking about “regular” problems. You may need outside help. There are homes where husbands are dangerous and where wives are unapologetic for their disrespect or unfaithfulness. Seek counsel. The elders are willing to help. But don’t do that *instead of obeying yourself*, do that as you yourself are obeying. # Conclusion Thankfully we are justified by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. We are not justified by our obedience, let alone by happy marriages. But the justified will want to be sanctified, and that includes a desire for sanctified marriages. The imperatives in Ephesians 5/Colossians 3/1 Peter 3 have *nothing* to do with the other person other than to identify him or her. This is a truth I knew and a truth I talked about before getting married. What I didn't know is how easy it would be to rationalize away. God doesn’t bless dealing with another person’s sin *first*. Maybe you aren’t the biggest problem in your marriage, but don’t shirk the blame for your problems. Be the right kind of spouse before being the spouse who is right. Work on adorning the gospel and being attractive in obedience. Trust God. Most of the time spouses should act less like Jesus in Revelation riding His white horse with flaming hair and a sword at His side, and more like Jesus in the Gospels riding a donkey to His sacrifice of love in obedience to God. ---------- ## Charge Hosea prophesied that those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind, and a whirlwind rips up whatever had been in the field anyway (Hosea 8:7). There’s a warning side to sowing. There is also promise. James wrote that “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18). And as Paul told the Corinthians, God Himself multiplies seed for sowing bountifully and overflowing blessing (2 Corinthians 9:6-12). ## Benediction: > Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7–9, ESV)

Blessed Fruitfulness

July 18, 2021 • Sean Higgins

Genesis 1:28 # Introduction The Revelation series is finished, and I probably won’t start a new book study until September. There are a few things I desire to preach about until then. Marriage is one of them. Marriage has been on my mind a lot recently, and the wedding yesterday was certainly a part of that. My upcoming message at the youth retreat is about what the Lord Jesus would have us do in our relationships, and this message is a version of something I spoke to them a couple summers ago. It especially relates to the kind of church, made up of the kind of families, extending into the kind of community, we pray God would make us into. For young people (like the 27 single gals waiting to catch the bride’s bouquet), for parents raising those young people, and grandparents talking with all of them, we are not raising kids as much as we are raising *reinforcements*. Though the song has problems, the chorus of a song called "Daughters," rightly considered, is convicting: > So fathers be good to your daughters > Daughters will love like you do > Girls become lovers who turn into mothers > So mothers be good to your daughters, too > —“Daughters” by John Mayer So let's think through this together, starting with two questions. 1. Who do you know who has the *best* fellowship? This requires that you have some idea about what makes some fellowship better than others, but I trust you. 2. What is the *result* of that fellowship? This answer doesn't need more than one or two words. I don't mean this exercise to be tricky. The answer to the first question is a no-brainer. Those who have the best fellowship are the three Persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. The result of their fellowship was to create human beings. Their joy and love multiplied, it spilled over, so that even more persons could taste some of the joy and love of divine fellowship. The earth, the heavens, time, Twitter, Tik-Tok, Instagram, What’sApp, old-school water-coolers, and corporate coffee pots, back patios and front porches, tables full with bread and wine, are all a result of *God's* fellowship overflowing into the human race. Before social media was social man, and before man was the Trinity. We can state it more succinctly: **God's blessed fellowship was fruitful.** He did not make us because He was bored; His existence was perfect and glad and happy, He is “the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11), “the blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Timothy 6:15). He did not make us so that He would have someone to domineer; His authority draws us up and in. Eternally blessed/happy Persons created a world for the practice of happy people. Building on that, here are two more questions. 1. What human relationship is most like the best fellowship? 2. What is the result of that fellowship? There is also no debate about the answers to these questions in the Bible. *Qualification*: I really do need at least one volunteer from every household, and from every Life to Life group, to be sort of a designated discussion helper here. What I am about to say has 'uge potential to be misunderstood, either accidentally because it's a new concept or purposefully because you already think you oppose it. The answer to which human relationship best enjoys Trinitarian fellowship is the first relationship created by God from the overflow of His goodness and joy: the husband and wife. Their fellowship is more intimate than any other in the world, or at least it *could* be if it is *blessed*. Among no other friends can it be said that the "two become one,” a physical and *meta*physical truth. The result of that fellowship is *not* a home mortgage, a Magnolia themed decor with shiplap as far as the eye can see, fancy dinner date-nights without the hassle of finding someone not only to ask out but who will say yes. The result of that fellowship, in its intimacy and love, is *children*. The result is *blessed fruitfulness*. > **God said, "Let us make man in our image." (Genesis 1:26) God created man is his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27) And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion...." (Genesis 1:28)** I used to make a joke about "one28" as the name of our youth ministry, which was named after Colossians 1:28, not Genesis 1:28. It's a good joke that connects to the importance of purity, but it's not purely a joke. This is recognized in the first Psalm we learned to sing corporately: "Blessed the Man that Fears Jehovah." The LORD says to the LORD-fearing man: > **Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.** (verses 3-4) > **May you see your children's children!** (verse 6) To be *blessed* is to know God's happiness, which means we can't be this sort of happy without godliness, without fearing Him, following His will, without *imitating* Him and reflecting His image. The *fruitfulness* is something that is *other than you* as a result of that happiness. You can have fun, you can have fun together, and you can have fun that sucks others in. But the fruit in Genesis 1 and Psalm 128 include *babies*, offspring, a family, a household, and even grandkids. There are some additional qualifications to make, and my designated non-overreactors please take note. If you are married and *cannot* have children, temporarily or permanently because of God's will, continue to fear the LORD and He will bless you in other ways. It obviously is a longing for some that becomes a burden while unfulfilled, and so humbly cast those cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7). It does not mean you cannot rejoice with those who rejoice, even as they weep with you who weep. If you are married and *have* children, even a lot of them, that doesn’t guarantee you’re blessed. Jacob had twelve sons, and many more headaches. If you are not married, and some are closer to the possibility than others, I am *not* saying, because God's Word does not command, marriage ASAP or children AMAP. If you're a young single person, (or parenting one), you do not need to get married *as soon as possible* nor do you need to have *as many as possible* children. Kids are not the only fruit that is possible. The cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28 includes other responsibilities. But you can still ask, what do you want with and to come out of your household? How do you view your current household, and any kids that are part of it? For that matter, without fearing the Lord, children can be an idol. David prayed in Psalm 17 for the LORD's protection from the wicked, > from men by your hand, O LORD, from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure, they are satisfied with children and they leave their abundance to their infants. (Psalm 17:14) David contrasted that with beholding God's face in righteousness and being satisfied with God's likeness (verse 15). Ecclesiastes 6:1-6 describes a man who “fathers a hundred children,” a man with wealth, possessions, and honor, “yet God does not give him power to enjoy them…this is vanity; it is a grievous evil.” But, in this world made by the Triune God, boys/men and girls/women are MFEO: made for each other. They are made, in most cases, for godly blessing and fruitfulness. --- A rabbit trail that I hope is fruitful. It was at a youth retreat, I think six years ago, during a cabin time when the guys were talking about work and goals. It was the first time I really thought about *making Marysville a destination*. That is not merely a geographical thing, it is a *generational* thing. As I continue to think about it, we will not Make Marysville Great Again (#MMGA) without Making Marriage Great Again (also #MMGA). The city will not be a destination if our homes are not a destination our own kids want to be. This includes having opportunities that are interesting/attractive/compelling for our young people to want to stay, learn, work, get married, raise a family, and see their children's children. This includes moms and dads who love their fruit, who give thanks to God for all their blessings, who make it so that their kids grow up and want what they have rather than to run away from it. It also includes families treating one another with love, and sanctified relationships between the young people. --- With the not ASAP/AMAP qualifications in mind, consider: 1. your vision of your future marriage/spousal fellowship should be about your happy fruitfulness. Want more than to be cute; think bigger. 2. your current relationships and fellowship with the opposite sex should be according to God's will, which means it is *not* time for many to choose their spouse. Don't practice being married before you promise yourself to someone in marriage. Keep your parts, and your heart, holy. The way to relate for now is as brother and sister. > **Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity** (1 Timothy 5:1b-2) At some point you will add the covenantally legal identity of husband/wife to your covenantally spiritual identity of brother/sister. You will not get to intimate fellowship with someone who is *not* in Christ. Choose from within the family. And live with one another, and pursue blessed fruitfulness, in a way that does not mess up the family relations. Remember 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, the will of God is sanctification, which is holiness, with is honorable, and holy. The warning of that paragraph is that God does not bless those who do not obey Him. The Gentile, the pagan, the unbeliever, lives in "the passion of lust." He is enslaved by wrong desires and expectations. Note who this affects: your *brother*: "that no one transgress(trespass against) and defraud (cheat/wrong) his brother in this matter." Again, until you are married, you should not have fellowship like married people. If you go where you don't belong, you are taking some of his blessed, and pure, fruitfulness. In our day it’s not new, but certainly ubiquitous, that men and women in usually different ways are attempting to get happy feelings by avoiding fruit and by refusing the work of loving relationship. *Ladies* can get attention, and a pretend sort of emotional security, by flattering themselves. They expect no promise/covenant from the guy, and barely make him do any work. It is not for sake of blessed fruitfulness that we can see all of your curves. We should not be able to tell which side of the quarter is facing out from the back pocket of your jeans. You cannot really think that is the fear of the Lord that a godly young man would be attracted to. Raise your expectations and your neckline. *Guys*, more than the problem of lust itself, pornography is the ultimate fruitlessness. It is not blessed because it is for self. It is not fellowship but isolating, and it wires your expectations towards self-gratification, not love and intimacy with another person. Ladies and guys: when you care about you, the fruit is usually resentment, envy, anxiety, and anti-blessing = unhappiness cycles. The devil loves for you to love your self. He loves you loving yourself. He loves miserable hearts and ruined relationships. He loves single whiners and excuse makers. He loves divorce. We have something better if we fear the Lord. - you will not feel guilty - you will not mess your future fellowship with him/her, and his/her spouse - you will get God's current blessings from obedience - you will learn the right levels for fellowship Sanctified/holy brother-sister fellowship will lead to the blessed fruit of husband-wife fellowship which will lead to your grandkids not hating your friends' grandkids as Marysville makes people want (or maybe at least wonder about) what we have that's so different. # Conclusion It took me too long to realize some things, like how dumb, selfish patterns can be very hard to unlearn and memories don't easily disappear. The gospel offers forgiveness; God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. But our minds and consciences are cleansed, not wiped. Also, it took me too long to realize that my kids are going to have a larger, and longer, effect than all my sermons. My fruit-as-father, blessed by God, will do more for Marysville than all my messages added together. Shepherding is a calling, teaching about and promoting and participating in the fellowship of the church body is fruitful. But my wife and kids, and grandkids, Lord willing, are an entirely next-level of fruitfulness. Fruit grows by *grace*. Fruitfulness is *glory*. Glory has *gravity*. May He give us the grace to know this sort of blessing. ## Charge Tolkien called artists sub-creators, but there is a sense in which this applies not just to artists but to humans. You are made in the image of the Creator, and though you don’t work *ex nihilo* (out of nothing) like Him, that means you have less excuses. You are not starting from scratch. And as His child, you are not starting without grace. What seed are you called to sow? ## Benediction: > May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)

The Divine Council

June 27, 2021 • David Light

Hindsight is 2020

December 27, 2020 • Chris Martin

Romans 8:18-39 Series: Misc

What the World Needs Now

October 4, 2020 • Jim Martin