Sunday, December 12, 2004

Advent Exhortation: Light

(Isaiah 9:2) The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

We light the third Advent candle recalling that Jesus is the true light sent into a world of darkness.

For many reasons, December is a wonderful month for Christians. And one of those reasons is that for a short span of time, the whole world seems pleased to join us in our fascination, veneration and celebration of light. Homes, neighborhoods and in some cases whole towns are bedecked with multi-colored bulbs and icicle-stringlets of tiny white luminaries. Although the world routinely expends an enormous amount of energy fleeing from the light who is Christ, for one month of the year, it seems content to enjoy this marvelous type and shadow of Christ’s glorious person and work.

2000 years ago the world did indeed lie in darkness. There was virtually no revelation of God’s promise and power to save among the Gentiles, and even among God’s covenant people, true religion was being strangled by the legalism of the Pharisees and diluted by the licentiousness of the Sadducees. But all that changed in a moment; the night Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus. One minute the world was enveloped in darkness, the next it was flooded with the light of him who is the light.

Quite suddenly, ignorance, fear and superstition were on the run, and understanding, peace and truth were on the rise. Within 100 years this light had illuminated the entire Mediterranean region all the way down to the western borders of India, causing Eusebius, an ancient church historian to gush, "Thus, then, under a celestial influence and cooperation, the doctrine of the Savior, like the rays of the sun, quickly irradiated the whole world. Presently, in accordance with divine prophecy, the sound of his inspired evangelists and apostles had gone throughout all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Throughout every city and village, like a replenished barn floor, churches were rapidly found abounding, and filled with members from every people. Those who in consequence of the delusion that had descended to them from their ancestors, had been fettered by the ancient disease of idolatrous superstition, were now liberated by the power of Christ through the teaching and miracles of his messengers. And, as delivered from dreadful masters, and emancipated from the most cruel bondage, on the one hand renounced the whole multitude of gods and demons, and on the other, confessed that there was only one true God, the Creator of all things.”

Within 300 years this light had flooded the continent of Europe and had even shined into the heart of Rome’s emperor.

Today, the light who is Christ graces every continent and is pushing back the darkness of unbelief as the people of God manifest the light of revelation that blazes forth from Word and sacrament in their assemblies around the globe.

So light your candles, hang your lights, trim your trees and push back the night. Sing psalms and Christmas hymns, and look for opportunities to join the world in its celebration of light, and for ways to challenge its foolish tradition of enjoying light’s benefits while rejecting light’s source: Jesus, the light of the world.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Craftsman Kids

Tools. I love tools. Craftsman tools. I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not have, use, love and crave more tools. I love the smell of tools. I love the feel of cold hard steel in my hand. I love the heft of a toolbox full of tools. I love the power of large wrenches, the crisp precision of brand-new screwdriver blades and the utility of vise-grip pliers. (“Vise-grips”, my dad would say beaming, “they’re just the handiest things.”) I can remember sitting on my father’s shop bench as he carefully applied wrench and screwdriver to various projects and appliances. I can remember handing him tools as he worked on our cars, “No son, the wrench, I need the wrench. No, the one just a little bit bigger than that one. There we go…..” I can remember as a toddler, carrying tools around tucked into my belt, or loosely clanging around in the pockets of my overalls. I can recall imaginary cars on which I “worked”, spinning wrenches and twirling screwdrivers in the air with great purpose and intensity. I remember turning wrenches on real bolts with my Dad hunched over me, his breath in my ear, his hand on my hand as we spun wrench and bolt together. “No son, the other way, remember we’re loosening the bolt. There, that’s it…”

I used my Dad’s tools until I could afford to buy my own. And when I bought my own, I bought Sears Craftsman. Why Craftsman? Because they’re the best tools for the dollar. Oh sure, you can pay more for tools. But Craftsman tools are good quality at an affordable price and they are guaranteed unconditionally if they break. If the tool breaks for any reason, you take it in to Sears and they replace it, no questions asked. Why would you pay more? And the cheap tools? Fugedaboudit! They’ll only wreck the things that you are working on, and when they break in your hands (and they surely will sooner or later) they will bloody your knuckles and you will be “out” whatever you paid for the cheap little pieces-of-garbage!

Do I sound prejudiced? Do I sound biased? That’s because I am. It’s odd though, I cannot recall a single lecture from my Dad on tool brands, or a persuasive speech on which ones to buy. My Dad loved tools (and still does.) My Dad bought and used Craftsman tools. He let me play with Craftsman tools. He enfolded my small hands in his and gently taught me how to use Craftsman tools. And later on (I think with much pride) he watched me work on my own cars and appliances with Craftsman tools. To this day, whenever I visit the shop or garage of another man, my eyes immediately scan the bench to critique his tools. If they look like no-name tools I think to myself, “Poor guy...” If they are Snap-on tools, I think to myself, “Sure, they’re great tools, but you should’ve bought the Craftsman tools and taken your family to Scotland with what you saved.”

Tools. I love tools. Craftsman tools. I also love the Lord Jesus Christ with a love that eclipses my affection for tools. Granted, the supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit were indispensable for the latter love. But the means used by God to cause me to love His Son were not unlike the means used by my Dad to inspire my loyalty to the Craftsman brand.

I began congregating with other saints around Word and Sacrament the Sunday after I was born. I cannot remember a time when I was not prayed with, and prayed for. My first stories were Bible stories, and later on the tales of Narnia, all of which were read to me as I sat in my father’s lap, his arms reaching around me, his breath in my ear. I cannot recall a time when I did not have, or was not reading my own copy of the Scriptures. Growing up, I was expected to exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and spanked when I did not. Many a night I went to sleep listening to the songs of the saints drifting up to my bedroom from the living room below. And later when I was in Junior High, I met with my own friends (and my father) in that same living room to sing praises to God and to study His Word. I cannot determine when I was converted. For I, like Timothy, have known the Scriptures which were able to make me wise unto salvation from my infancy (2 Timothy 3:15).

So here are a few questions: “When do we start treating our children like Christians? Do we wait until our offspring profess personal faith in Jesus Christ? Or do we from infancy assume (based upon the promises that God gives to faithful parents) that they are elect, and treat them as if they were?”

I would submit that if we desire our children to grow up loving God, that we need to treat them like Christians from the moment they enter this world. For example:

- We should think of them, and address them as “little saints” not “little pagans”.

- We should teach them to obey us in the Lord.

- We should insist that they love the Lord their God with all or their heart, mind, soul and strength.

- We should teach them to pray prayers that begin with “Dear Heavenly Father…” and end with “in Jesus Name.”

- We should lead them in songs where they sing: “Away distrustful care, I have Thy promise Lord to banish all despair, I have thine oath and word….Great is Thy faithfulness O God my father, there is no shadow…..Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…The Lord is my Shepherd, no want shall come nigh……A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing…..Whate’er my God ordains is right, holy His will abideth….This is my Father’s world….On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…”

- We should expect them to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) and discipline them (disciple them) when they do not.

- We should teach them to confess their sins.

- We should charge them to forgive one another as God has forgiven them in Christ.

- We should insist that they forsake not the meeting together of the brethren.

- We should charge them to live lives worthy of the Gospel and to hold fast the word of life.

- Simply put, we should require them to live their little lives as Christians.

Given the enormity of the task before us, that is, to teach our children to love, fear and obey God, didactic teaching is not enough. We must pick up the tools with them, and enfolding their tiny hands in ours, guide them in Christian prayer, Christian worship and Christian obedience. And we must do so looking to the mercy of God, not to our own faithfulness as parents. True religion never starts with good works, it always starts with faith in the promises. But true faith always exhibits itself in good works. So before you commence instructing and spanking your little ones, start by taking God at His word when He promises such things as:

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

Believe God’s promises for yourself and for your children. And then live and raise your children as if God actually keeps His promises, because He does. Remember that while it is indeed presumptuous to expect things that God has not promised, it is simply faith to trust Him for the things that He has promised. Search the Word to discover God’s promises for your children, and then disciple them. Love your children confident that you are God’s means for fulfilling His promises to them. Remember, your faithful child rearing does not obligate God to be merciful to your children, it is simply evidence of God’s mercy to them.

In short, raise your children as if God’s promises are true, and they will be.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

A Lord's Day Exhortation for Little Saints

(Matthew 18:3) And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Good morning little saints! I have special word for you this Lord’s Day.

Firstly, we adults are so very glad that the Lord has seen fit to bring you into our households and into this household of faith. We love hearing your enthusiastic psalm-singing and your belated amens; we love seeing your heads disappear behind the seats for the prayer of confession and your little hands lifted high as we sing the Gloria Patri. And although we are eager to see you mature in body and soul, we will nonetheless miss the way you are, and the way you worship, today.

Nextly, according to our Savior Jesus Christ, if we adults are to make it into the kingdom of heaven, then we must learn to imitate your faith. And this means that you have a very important duty to perform every time we gather together as God’s people: You must display in your life and speech the faith that saves, you must show us who are older how to trust God’s testimonies and how to receive His Son Jesus Christ. And what does this look like?

Mostly it just means that you need to keep on doing what you are already doing, but to not grow weary in the doing of it. So when people ask you why you believe in God, just keep saying “Because the Bible says so.” When people ask you how you know you are a Christian, just tell them, “Because I love Jesus and have been baptized into his name.” When people ask you why you love Jesus, don’t hesitate to reply, “Because I just do!” When people ask you exactly how the communion bread can be the body of Jesus, just tell them, “It is because Jesus said so.” When people ask you why you sing psalms, just say “God told me to and I love doing it.” Keep calling sin, sin, and keep crying over it and seeking forgiveness when you need to. Keep praying prayers in Jesus’ name (especially the ones you pray for your pastor every night before you go to sleep even though the constant repetition occasionally makes your parents a little grouchy.)

Keep listening to the sermons and asking your parents those hard questions on Sunday afternoons. Keep enjoying your inclusion at the Lord’s Table. Keep taking communion with your little eyes wide open to see the wonderful sight of Christ’s body seated all around you, and you as an important part of it.

If you will do these things faithfully, then it will make one of our duties as adults much easier. For, according to Jesus, one of our duties is to imitate your faith. We adults have a tendency to make things way too complicated, and are often embarrassed to give answers like, “Because the Bible says so”, “Because Jesus said so” or “Because I just know it’s true.”

So please take seriously your duty to model true faith, and we in turn will take our duty to acquire and teach you wisdom with equal seriousness. And all to the praise of Him who calls us by His grace, and fits us, young and old, for service in His kingdom.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Order Matters

(Colossians 2:5) "For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ."

Once there was a father and son who loved each other very much, but found themselves intensely out of fellowship for a period of about a week. The son had stubbornly refused to heed the counsel of his father, had snowballed his way into some serious sin, and was unwilling to either confess his transgressions or to seek his father’s wisdom on how to put things right again.

The son had a standing invitation to his father’s table on Sunday afternoons, but even so, the father was a bit surprised to see his son walking up the cobblestone to the front door just in time for the weekly feast.

Although the father was perfectly ready to hear his son’s confession and equally ready to forgive him, the son, stubbornly clinging to the deceitful drivel that “time heals all wounds” proceeded to foul the house and the feast as well with his sullen recalcitrance. The father tried gently to counsel his wayward charge, but the son was having none of it. Finally, just as he was about to leave his father’s house, the son’s heart broke and multiple admissions and pleas for forgiveness poured forth, which the father was only too pleased to grant. Fellowship was restored and some good coffee poured, but both men had preparations to make for the next day and so their communion was frustratingly brief.

The father chuckled to himself as he sipped the last of his espresso. “You know son, this afternoon would have been infinitely more enjoyable had we just done exactly what we did, except in a different order.”

“How’s that?” queried the younger.

“Well, you came here, to my house, at my invitation. So far so good. But you refused to do what you ought to have done before you even set foot in my abode: Confess your sins and receive my pardon. But on we stumbled through the den and to our meal, which, let’s be honest, neither of us, or for that matter, anyone seated at the table, was able to enjoy much. I gave you good counsel at table, but unfortunately, most of it bounced off the side of your head and landed on the floor. In contrast, your foul words seeped into our Sabbath fare and ruined the taste of both your mother’s pork roast and the Beaujolais. You did finally make a clean breast of things, but too late for us to savor one another’s company for long, and too late to retrieve my good words from the hardwood.”

“I think I see what you’re saying Dad.”

“Son, next time, and there will be a next time, let’s settle things out on the porch and save the living room for wise words and strong counsel, and the dinner table for long stories and deep laughter, good food and tasty drink, edifying speech and delightful verse. The table is well suited for celebration, but fouls so easily with the mention, or even the remembrance, of sin. All things in order eh?

“Sounds good to me” said the son with a slight grin. “Next time I’ll wipe off my feet before I come inside, instead of afterwards on mom’s good linen.”

“Now that should make for a more peaceful Sabbath, son. I think you get the idea. Now go with my blessing. I’m going to sweep up my Solomonic soliloquy lying on the floor around the table so as to have it ready for you next week. It’ll go perfectly with your mom’s lasagna.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

Paul rejoiced to see the good order of the saints in Colosse as they worshipped the Lord together. May the Lord Jesus Christ be similarly pleased with the worship that we offer to the Father in his name.