A Sun and Shield

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“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11, ESV).

            Psalm 84 continues to extol the goodness of God, and finishes with a note of joy (v.12).  This penultimate verse expresses delight in God’s kindness and care for His people.  The images of sun and shield emphasize God’s blessing and protection; the general sentiment is expressed in the second sentence, that all good things come not to those who wait—as our saying would have it—but to those who wait upon the Lord, who walk in His ways.

            Rejoice in the Lord, who cares for His children.  In difficult times, Christians have this greatest comfort, that our God is with us.  His favor endures beyond anything we may go through in this life; the honor He bestows outshines all the scorn of the world.  Seek Him with all your heart, and know the blessings of the Lord.

Better a Doorkeeper

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“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10, ESV).

            So superlative is the goodness of God’s presence, that it is better to be near Him in lowliness than to have honor and position among those who oppose Him.  This is one of the great lessons of the Old Testament, that worldly strength and splendor pales in comparison with the power and glory of God.  God’s presence is the surpassing good.

            Draw near to God; in His presence you will find the fulness of life.  Be wary of the enticements of the world, of seeking happiness on its terms.  In God, our Maker and Redeemer, we discover a stability and peace, an honor and glory, an unshakable hope, that nothing in this world can give.  May the majesty of the Lord capture your attention today.

Tuesday Tea-ology, 06/08/21

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Today on Tuesday Tea-ology, we turn to the holy mystery of the blessedness of God. How wonderful is the supreme beautitude of God Most High! How wonderful that God, forever glorious, forever blessed, has a blessed future for His people–where He will be glorified forever.

Strength in Him

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“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (Psalm 84:5, ESV).

            The psalm continues to extol the goodness of dwelling with God, making a slight turn towards the theme of relying upon His strength.  God’s almighty power is a source of perfect confidence for His people.  The theme of God’s might, shown consistently through the history of Israel, makes itself known also in the worship of the people of God.  Those who lean on Him are blessed, for their deliverer is omnipotent.

May the Lord be your strength as you persevere in faith.  God is worthy of total confidence and fullest exaltation.  In every circumstance, He is able to bring hope and healing, justice and vindication.  Turn your heart to the dwelling place of God, and walk in His way as you journey through this life.

Matrimony (III)

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            In November I wrote a little essay about the meaning and significance of marriage, in December a supplement about the place of marriage in society, and now I wish to cap them off with a brief postscript about what marriage is not and can never be.  The relevance of this should be immediately obvious in our culture, and my timing is not coincidental.

            I am addressing Christians, but I am not—more’s the pity—simply preaching to the choir.  The Christian revelation makes marriage most fully comprehensible (though nature has its witness), and only those who understand what marriage is are rightly positioned to understand what marriage is not.  But just because we should understand something doesn’t mean we do, and without proper reflection—in a world with little interest in proper reflection—we can miss things that upon proper reflection are staggeringly obvious.

            To the point: there is no such thing as ‘gay marriage.’  Regarding homosexual behavior, the Scripture uses such words as “abomination” (Lev. 18:22, ESV); but ‘gay marriage’ is a chimera, it does not and cannot exist—and no amount of legislation, ceremonial solemnization, and the waving of flags, can change that.  Polygamy is a perversion of marriage, but ‘gay marriage’ is simply an impossibility, as is marriage to oneself, marriage to an object, marriage to an animal, or any number of other absurdities which a lost and decadent society may embark upon.

            The reason there can be no such thing as ‘gay marriage’ (et al) is obvious if you understand what marriage is: marriage is the covenantal union of man and woman.  It is not the reflective union of any 1 thing with itself, nor is it a generic union of any 2+ things, any 2+ living things, or any 2+ humans (even if they purport to love one another very much).  Marriage is a term with a definite meaning, a meaning established by God when He created people and ordained the union.  Marriage is a unity that requires a commensurate complementarity.

            This reality was often not understood by well-meaning Christians during the debates about gay marriage in middle of the last decade; some argued that ‘gay marriage’ should be authorized in the secular sphere, and we should retreat to defending what the church will recognize as marriage.  With only a few years’ hindsight that position looks remarkably naïve, as it has become abundantly clear that religious convictions are not respected where issues of sexual identity are concerned.  But the argument was wrong-headed to begin with, because it conceded to some extent the root of the whole disagreement—the nature of marriage.  The vast societal implications of this error are grievously evident even in this short time.

            Lies, hollow things though they are, can be very dangerous.  Lying about marriage has cost our society dear, and who knows how much of the price we have yet to pay.  But the gospel hope remains, and the invitation extends to all who will receive it.  We can have the truth, if we will accept it.  We can know the one who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6); we can follow Him on the costly and joyful road of discipleship, the path of peace, the way that leads to glory; in a world of deception, the promise remains: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Ever Singing

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“Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” (Psalm 84:4, ESV).

            The sons of Korah continue to extol the wonder of God’s presence.  The longing for God (vv.1-2) is charmingly related to the animal world (v.3), for God is the Lord of all life, and cares for all His creation.  Verse four expresses the goodness of being near to God and of worshipping Him.  For this we were made, and in this we find the joy of fulfillment.

            Worship the Lord, who is worthy of all honor and praise.  May you find in your days, in the midst of life with all its cares and tasks and busyness, the remembrance to lift up your heart in worship.  Life with God is the lasting reward of His people, but also a reality that we can enjoy now, as we walk with Him through this life.

His Dwelling Place

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“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!  My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:1-2, ESV).

            This psalm of the sons of Korah gives voice to the soul’s longing for nearness to God.  God, mighty in power, is majestic in presence.  We were made for God, to be with Him, and that fellowship has been broken by sin; so the souls of the redeemed cry out for closeness with Him.  One day that longing will be fulfilled.

            Set your heart upon the presence of God.  Earthly joys can only allude to that blessedness awaiting believers at the end.  Draw strength in your present trials by drawing near to God, and hope in dark times by remembering the glorious inheritance of the saints—an eternal home with God, who has called us from this world of darkness into the light of His holiness and grace.

The Destroying Angel Comes to First Fairview (Part 3)

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The Destroying Angel Comes to First Fairview

A Rumination

Part 3

            …The angel could not believe what he had just heard.  There must be some misunderstanding—a possibility heightened by the fact that, contrary to the doctrines of some fundamentalist churches, English is not the divine language.

            “You,” he asked carefully, “know better than what God has said through the human authors in His inspired Word?”

            “I see,” the pastor replied, “that you have not only an enlightenment-bound understanding of language that leans too heavily on authorial intent, but, more importantly, that your understanding of God’s revelation is static.  I won’t say that’s bad, but static things are not good.  Dynamic things are good.”

            “I don’t think that’s—”

            “God is still speaking,” the pastor said.

            “Yes, of course God is still speaking.”  The destroying angel began to feel frustrated by this interchange.  “But when you say that, you seem to be suggesting that God has spoken things to you that are entirely contrary to what God has spoken in the Scriptures.”

“Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

“That…what…it seems to me…” the angel had to try several times to choose a constructive response to the pastor’s sloganeering.  “While one ought not place a period where God has placed a comma—or a semicolon, ellipsis, or em-dash for that matter—it would be at least equally offensive to place a comma where God has placed a period.  But these hypothetical metaphorical punctuation marks are all your own invention anyway, to justify adding to what God has said.  The church universal has held a closed cannon for the greater part of two millennia.  Granted the ending of John’s apocalypse references only his letter and not the entirety of the Scriptures, oughtn’t it disincline you to add or take away from the words of God?

“Perhaps more to the point,” the angel continued, “I wonder how you reconcile your theology with the stern warning of Galatians 1:8, or—”

“Well, that’s a matter of interpretation, now isn’t it?” the pastor said.

“No, I don’t…how would it be?  Surely there can only be one correct interpretation of so straight-forward a passage.”

“Ah,” the minister said, “Here we find another area, good fellow, where you simply aren’t up with the times.  The church in the modern world has come to realize that rather than there being one correct interpretation of the Scriptures, there are many faithful interpretations.”

“That is nonsensical,” the angel said,  “I suppose you think there are many faithful interpretations of the command not to steal, or that there are many faithful interpretations of the fact that God declares murder wrong?”

“Well, no…”

“No.  All these ridiculous things you’re saying are excuses for your desire to accommodate worldly sensibilities while still claiming to be Christian.  It’s deplorable!”

            “I understand that’s how you feel,” the pastor said, “and I’ll grant you we’ve made some moves away from traditional Christianity—always reforming, as the motto goes—”

            “Corruption is not the same thing as reformation,” the angel objected.

But the pastor paid no heed.  “—and though we’ve moved away from some elements of traditional Christianity, I personally believe that we’ve come closer to the heart of real biblical Christianity: as the apostle James said, “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

            “The verse finishes,” the angel said severely, “‘and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’”

            So saying the destroying angel departed, weary and bewildered, but ultimately satisfied that there was no need for his efforts here.  The foundations of the church had been eroded away till only the frailest tinder remained.  He felt sure that the next reading of the book, the faintest whisper of the Scriptures opening, would finish the old and broken church.  The rotted clapboards would crumble away beneath the weight of that high-mounted cross, and it would come crashing down, down, down and stand amid the ruins a more eloquent testimony than any words the pulpit had put forth for decades past.

The Destroying Angel Comes to First Fairview (Part 2)

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The Destroying Angel Comes to First Fairview

A Rumination

Part 2

            …the angel proceeded into the pastor’s study.  There he found the pastor himself, ensconced at his desk, diligently working on his notes for the seven-minute homily he would give on the upcoming Sunday.

            He seemed a pleasant man, this pastor, middle aged and still possessed of abundant hair.  Nothing about him screamed “heretic,” and his shirt didn’t read “Arius is my bro.”  So far so good.

            The accoutrements of ecclesiastical life cluttered his desk: thank you cards from congregants, a confused mess of papers shoved to one side, a “world’s best pastor” mug, a little plastic container marked “salt from the dead sea”.  The angel smiled at that, thinking it would be ironic if he was tasked to do the pillar thing to this fellow.

            The pastor’s bookcase selection gave the first really troubling indicator in the whole affair.  Some critical commentaries gathered dust on a lower shelf (dated Hermeneia volumes, mostly), together with Bultmann, Schleiermacher, and quite a few titles by Paul Tillich.  The less dusty regions made habitation for a brood of popular contemporary spirituality and pseudo-scholarship: Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Richard Rohr, Bishop Spong, etc.  It came to the angel that these must be the books the minister wanted to keep a close eye on so that unwary parishioners wouldn’t mistake them for edifying Christian materials.  His more orthodox books were probably kept in the church library proper where the congregants could peruse them at leisure.

            He turned once again to the pastor.  An awkward moment passed.

            The angel did not customarily chat with those he visited, but in this circumstance he somehow felt it might be acceptable to probe the matter.

            Angels really only have one conversation-starter.

            “Be not afraid,” he said.

            The pastor looked up.  His eyes widened momentarily, then he returned to his task.

            “I’m not afraid,” he said.

            “I can see that,” the angel managed.

            “Mhm.”

            “Well, usually people are afraid.”

            “In the legends, yes; but in a contemporary scientific worldview, we now know that angelic beings are mythical—though doubtless very significant symbolically.”

            “Oh?” the angel said.  “And what do I symbolize?”

            The pastor considered.  “The superfluity of divine charity, I expect.”

The angel decided to let that one go.  Perhaps it would be best to get straight to the point.

            “Nevertheless, I am the destroying angel, and your church is in grievous danger.  Your foundations are shaky.  I can feel it.”

            “I’ll let the church stewards know to look into it,” the pastor said, with a tick at the corner of his mouth that declared he would do no such thing.

            “Really,” the angel insisted, surprised by this lackluster reception, “we must talk about this.”  He looked down to make sure his sword still blazed with thermogenic fury.

            “Talk about what?”

            “Whether or not your church stands even now on the precipice beyond which lies the wrath of God.”

            “Impossible,” the pastor told him.  His face assumed a gentle and understanding smile.  “I know that Christians used to speak in those terms, but they took too literally the impressions of the Hebraic writers.  In the past, God was seen as being angry and wrathful and needing to be appeased by blood sacrifice.  But we know better now.”             The angel could not believe what he had just heard.  There must be some misunderstanding—a possibility heightened by the fact that, contrary to the doctrines of some fundamentalist churches, English is not the divine language…