Stuff March 31, 2010Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: 1 John 2:15-17, accumulation of wealth, book of life, God's creation, Good, Heart, love of God, love of the world, Matthew 6:21, salvation by Grace, Stuff, treasure, using wealth as an evangelistic tool, wealth, work of Christ
Thus, where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.
Stuff, stuff, and more stuff… We fill our lives with stuff, we fill our homes with more stuff, and we fill the homes of others with even more stuff. In and of itself, stuff is not bad—we need stuff to survive. We need food to eat; we need water to drink; and we need shelter and protection from the elements. All of that is stuff. Certainly, some have more stuff than others, but it still is stuff. Frankly, I like stuff; I cannot deny it, but I would suggest that God also likes stuff. Roughly 6,000 years ago, God decided to create, well, stuff. And not only did God create stuff, but he pronounced it, “good.”
The problem with stuff is not the stuff itself, but what we use it for. Often, our stuff just collects dust. We fall into a trap of wanting to have stuff and more stuff just for the sake of having the stuff. Even worse, we find ourselves embattled with others, each trying to gain and secure more and more stuff than the other. Our lives begin to be consumed by the pursuit of stuff. Where does it all end!?!
Ultimately it does come to an end. There will come a time when all of us will die and leave behind our stuff to others. Death is the great equalizer as someone once said; we all die and we cannot take any of our stuff with us. Where we go next is not dependent on the stuff we have or even on what we have done with our stuff; where we go is dependent upon the finished work of Jesus Christ and whether or not our name is in his great Book of Life.
So, if my salvation is neither dependent upon the stuff I have nor upon how I use it, what does it matter? Jesus has some words to this question, because while your salvation is not dependent upon anything but Christ’s finished work, Christ’s finished work in your life should affect what you do with your stuff in this life. We are taught two major lessons about our stuff in scripture. The first is that God blesses us with stuff primarily so that we can be a blessing to others—not only in how we share our stuff with them, but in how we share our stuff with them for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.
The second thing we learn from Scripture is found in this verse—our heart will dwell with what we treasure. Now, for the Hebrew culture, the heart not so much reflects the passions as it does the personality and mind—in other words, the thing that you think about all of the time will be what you treasure. For the Christian, our minds and thoughts ought to be on Christ and upon God’s word; sadly, we often are tempted to fall into the trap of pursuing more stuff and in that pursuit they become consumed. The Apostle John warns about this trap:
Do not love the world, nor that which is in the world. If a certain person loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all of the things in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and arrogant living-is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away as well as its lusts. Yet, the one who does the will of God will continue living eternally. (1 John 2:15-17)
So, the question is not so much about the stuff, but it is about the heart. Have you set your heart upon God and upon the things of God or is it on the stuff that those who live in this world set their hearts upon. If, then, your heart is set upon God, the stuff that you have and accumulate in this life becomes rather secondary. And when stuff is secondary, using it to bless others becomes second nature. All our stuff comes from God anyhow, let us use it as an evangelistic tool and not an end in and of itself.
Love God with All (Mark 12:30) December 24, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, The Greatest Commandment (Mark 12).
Tags: Deuteronomy 6:5, dichotomy, Heart, Jesus and the LXX, Life, Love God, Mark 12:30, mind and spirit, passions, personality, psyche, spirit or soul, strength, trichotomy, understanding
“And you will love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your life, and with all of your understanding, and with all of your strength.”
Jesus continues the passage with an explanation of what it means to be committed to God as Wnyheloa/ (Elohinu), or “our God.” And Jesus says that the way we live this out is by fully committing ourselves to God’s adoration and service. The first section of this passage is a direct quote of the LXX, the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, yet, it would seem, at the initial onset, that Jesus has added to the text as we move to the latter half of what Jesus is teaching, but we will address that as we get to that section.
Jesus begins with the command from Deuteronomy 6:5 to love the Lord our God with all of our heart. In the modern, Greek, mindset (remembering that our way of thinking is predominantly influenced by Greek thought, not Hebrew thought), the heart is the seat of the emotions or passions. Thus, when many of us read this line initially, we immediately assume Jesus to be commanding us to love Yahweh with all of our passion. While Jesus certainly does command us to love Yahweh with our passions, that is not what he means by heart. In the Hebrew mindset, the heart was the seat of one’s personality and reason. If a Hebrew person wanted to speak of one’s passions alone, he would talk about something as being from our bowels (I can’t figure out why Hallmark hasn’t picked up on that idea—I can just see the Valentine’s Day cards now; I love you with all of my bowels, dear…). Thus, the command that is being given is that everything that makes you a reasoning human being—the whole of your personality, if you will—is to be dedicated to the love of God. This would include, then, not only your reason and intellect, but also those little quirks that make you who you are. Beloved, have you ever considered the fact that you are to love God with your idiosyncrasies? They are part of your very makeup, thus, they are designed to be used by you to the glory of God!
Jesus continues with the command that we are to love God with all of our life. This is the Greek term yuch/ (psuche), which is the word from which our English word “psyche” comes. Many of our English translations will translate this word as “soul,” but I have opted to translate this as “life” out of deference to the Hebrew word that yuch/ (psuche) is being used to translate in this case. The Hebrew term is the word vp,n< (nephesh), which refers to all that which gives life to and animates the body. It is variously translated as life, breath, and even soul, but it is distinct from the word x;Wr (ruach), which means “spirit.” In modern English, we don’t normally distinguish between the idea of a soul and of a spirit, so to preserve the Hebrew distinction, I have opted to translate this as life. In Hebrew, the spirit is understood much in the same way as we understand a spirit today, but the soul was intimately bound to giving your physical body life, and hence our translation. Thus, the idea being communicated in this first half of Jesus’ statement is not a dichotomy between the passions of man and the soul of man, but a united image of how we are to love God with our personality and with all that gives us life and breath in this world. We are to be wholly committed to Yahweh, our God.
Now, as we look back to Deuteronomy 6:5, from which Jesus is quoting, we find a peculiar difference. The Hebrew concludes with a third command, that we are to love God with all of our daom. (meod), or, literally, all of our “veriness.” The idea expressed, by making the adverb “very” into a noun, is that of applying all of your abundance, all of your blessings, and all of the external things that God has put into your life toward the worship of God. All of the rich blessings that have come to you in this world, as they have come from God, are to be used and applied toward the love of God. That raises an important question for all of us—how are we using those blessings? How do we use our vacation time; how do we use our savings; how do we use the finances that we have been afforded; and how do we use the retirements that God has given to us? Beloved, we are often guilty of applying these things—these things that make up our “veriness”—toward our own ends and not for the love of God. How we need to regularly look at our lives and see just how we are using the blessings that God has afforded us.
Yet, Jesus does not use this language, nor is he quoting from the Greek LXX, which reads, all of our du/namiß (dunamis)—or might (dunamis is the word from which we get the English word, “dynamite”). Instead, Jesus breaks this final command into two separate parts: dia/noia (dianoia) or understanding and ijscuß (ischus) or strength. My initial response was that maybe Jesus was breaking up the language of vp,n< (nephesh), or life, as yuch/ (psuche) and dia/noia (dianoia) and replacing du/namiß (dunamis) with ijscuß (ischus). Thus, the idea of life would be expressed by both life and mind or soul and mind and power would be changed to reflect the idea of strength. The problem with this interpretation is two-fold. First of all, it seems odd that Jesus would add the word dia/noia (dianoia) to yuch/ (psuche) when yuch/ (psuche) is a direct quote of the Greek LXX. Secondly, given that Matthew does not record Jesus as saying ijscuß (ischus) at all, but ends with dia/noia (dianoia). Matthew, being a good Jew, would have been intimately familiar with the text and importance of Deuteronomy 6:5 and it would have been very unlikely that he would neglect to record an element therein.
That leads us with one other reasonable alterative, and that is to understand Jesus as expanding on the idea of our loving God with all of our daom. (meod), or veriness. Instead of using the LXX translation, then, we see Jesus giving his own translation of daom. (meod) into Greek by using two terms: dia/noia (dianoia) and ijscuß (ischus). In other words, Jesus is saying that for us to worship God with all of our abundance, or veriness, requires us to do so with our mental capacity, or dia/noia (dianoia), and our physical capacity, or ijscuß (ischus). In other words, all of the energy we might expend, to accomplish all that we do in this life, we are called upon to use to love God. We are to think about God, reason about God, meditate about God, and then the work of our hands—as mighty as that work may be, must too be done for the glory and love of God. Indeed, this translation would capture the idea of the abundance that God has given us (as that abundance so often comes through the labors of our hands and/or our minds).
Thus, Jesus, in quoting Moses here, leaves no stone unturned when being asked the question of how we are to express our love and adoration for God on high—every inch of our life is to be devoted to God’s glory regardless of our career, trade, or background. Does this mean that all should be preachers and missionaries? Certainly not! Yet, this does mean that whatever you do, whether hobby, curiosity, or career, should be done to the glory of God. Dear friends, I wonder, can we say this about our own lives? Can we say that the way we have ordered our career or the way we have spent our leisure time is designed to glorify God? Oh, beloved, how we should look deeply at our hearts, our lives, and our efforts and ask ourselves, “how is God glorified in this.” And then, when an answer is shown, work diligently to change how we live our days so as to submit ourselves to the challenge of Jesus’ words. May our lives be lived all for the glory and honor of God alone.
Circumcise Our Hearts! (Deuteronomy 30) November 03, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Occasional Sermons, Sermons.
Tags: Baptism, Church, Circumcision, Circumcision of the Heart, Covenant, Heart, Paedobaptism, Sacrament, seal, sign
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Westminster Presbyterian Church
Circumcise Our Hearts!
We have the great joy and privilege this morning to celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism with the Fuentes Family. Ivan and Adrian will soon be presented by their parents by the profession of their parents’ faith and the covenant sign and seal of God and of his covenant community will be placed upon their heads. And this is not a guarantee of salvation for these boys, but it is, as Peter would word it, an appeal to God of a good or of a clean conscience, that as believing parents, as Zach and Jenny raise these children in the faith and in the presence of the covenant community, and under the means of grace, that God will bring these two boys to faith in himself. For God’s word will not go out void, as Isaiah tells us. And if we train up a child in the way that he should go, he will not depart from it, Solomon writes in the book of Proverbs.
With this before us, I thought that it would be appropriate for us to spend some time reflecting upon baptism and its role within the covenant community. And particularly as Presbyterians who baptize our children, understanding Baptism to be the New Testament replacement for the covenant of circumcision, to briefly lay out its purpose and its role in the light of God’s covenantal promises.
To start with, we need to ask the question, what is a covenant? And what is a covenant community? We use that language a lot and we speak in that way quite often, but sometimes I wonder whether those familiar phrases are really phrases that we know what they mean. In the most basic language, a covenant is an agreement between two parties, typically one party is more powerful than the other one, and in ancient times there were regular covenant agreements that were oftentimes called Susrain/Vassal Agreements, where one was a Susrain or a King would make a covenantal agreement with those who were to be his vassals, those who were to be his underlings. “This is what I will do for you—I will protect you, typically—and here are the penalties for you if you are unfaithful to me.” “And these are the aspects of this covenant.” And these covenants were typically sealed with the shedding of blood.
Now if you go back to Genesis 15 sometime you will find the great example of how God was making this kind of covenant with Abram (Abraham). Abram was commanded to go and gather a series of animals and he was commanded to divide those animals in half, separating them into two rows with the bloody entrails stretched out between them. And of course, the typical way in which a covenant would have been ratified then would have been that both parties would come and walk through the gory blood trail as a signification and to say that if I don’t keep this covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me.
Something very special and unique took place in Genesis 15 when God made that covenant, because Abram (Abraham) was not instructed to walk through that pathway of blood. Instead, God put Abram to sleep and God came in a great vision and God walked through those split animals in Abram’s stead. What God was communicating is here is the covenant and here are the expectations that I am placing upon you, Abram, and upon your children. And if you don’t live up to those expectations, may what happened to those animals happen to me. And indeed that is part of the reason that God’s Son had to come and die upon the cross in a horrible way, that he was the one shedding his own blood that those animals represented—because of our covenantal unfaithfulness.
This is the idea of the covenant and this is the idea and importance of the blood of that covenant. We get to Genesis 17, though, and God gives Abraham a sign of this covenant is circumcision. God tells Abraham that not only must he be circumcised, but all of the children in his household from eight days old and up must be circumcised—indeed, all of his servants who are under his protection—his covenant household—were also to be circumcised. The bloody sign of that circumcision being a sign and a seal of that covenant, God’s bloody covenant which he made with his people beforehand.
Yet, notice something, as we look to Deuteronomy Chapter 30, and this is one of the reasons that I wanted to look at that this morning. Because God speaks in scripture of a second kind of circumcision. Deuteronomy, Chapter 30, verse 6, Moses says, “And the Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring.”
What is the purpose of this second kind of circumcision that scripture speaks of? Moses will tell us: “So that you will love the Lord you God with all of your heart and with all of your soul”—literally, “for the sake of your life.” Do you see what God is doing here? God is pointing back to the external sign of circumcision and saying that this language, this idea, this pointing to the covenant, this seal is a seal of something that is also pointing to an inward reality of faith and the new life that is given.
Paul picks up this language that is given in Romans, Chapter 2 and Chapter 4, to speak of how this outer circumcision is not enough without the circumcision of the heart that accompanies it—the spiritual rebirth that comes through faith. For how can we love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul if God has not first given us new life? Thus one circumcision is an outward sign and the other circumcision is an inward reality that the first circumcision points toward.
Yet, if this is the case, why are we told that outward circumcision is no longer to be practiced in the new covenant age—in the New Testament age of the church of Jesus Christ? The reason is that the circumcision is a bloody sign and Christ has already shed his blood to fulfill the covenant that God has made with his people, illustrated all of the way back in Genesis 15. No longer, writes the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews, Chapter 10, do we need to repeat these bloody sacrifices, for Christ has sacrificed his blood for us once and for all. Thanks be to God for that gift! And as a result, we who are believers stand before a righteous and almighty God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and not our own righteousness. And we are called righteous, we are called justified, and we are called sons of the living God.
So just as the bloody celebration of Passover, which represented God’s redemption is replaced by the blood-less celebration of the Lord’s Table, so too, the bloody outward sign of circumcision is replaced by the blood-less sign of water baptism—signifying the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Thus, in Acts 2:37-39, when the people were cut to the heart, we are told, under Peter’s preaching, and they asked, “what must I do to be saved?” Peter said to repent and to be baptized—and verse 39—“and this promise is for you and for your children and all who are far off and all who the Lord calls to himself. As the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:26-29, “for in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith. As many of you as who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, but we are all one in Christ. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise.”
So as we go into baptism, we understand that it is a visible sign of the covenant of grace, a sign that will be sealed officially and fully when these children come to faith on their own. It is an outward sign of being part of the covenant community and of the fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ.
So how does this tie back into Deuteronomy 30? I think that we have already seen that this language of the circumcision of the heart is what we tie back into. This language of God, in the hope and in the promise of a good conscience, that these two children being lifted up before him and God placing that covenantal seal on their heads. And the hope and the prayer is that as we present these children that God will indeed make real what that sign represents in their lives.
With that in mind, I would like to make three observations. First, note the emphasis on children in the verses of Deuteronomy 30. Verse 2: “repent to the Lord, you and your children as you return to the Lord.” Verse 6: “God will circumcise you and your offspring.” Verse 16: “and you shall live and multiply,” recognizing that the children that God has given us are blessings that come into our lives. And verse 19: “Choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”
One thing that we protestants do exceptionally well is to put forward the reality that salvation is by faith and by faith alone in Jesus Christ. That there is no works that bring us salvation—there is no lineage or family tree that brings us salvation. There are no statutes or roles that will guarantee our salvation. That salvation is through a personal relationship—an intimate relationship—with the Lord God.
Yet, in light of that emphasis, I believe that we have lost a sense that Scripture has put before us that faith is something that is to be taught and passed down, if you will, in principle, from generation to generation. That a church is not meant to start over, if you will, every generation as it goes from scratch, but instead, children are expected to pick up the mantle of faith and obedience to Jesus Christ that these signs that we place on them point toward and that their parents model for them. In our protestant churches, so often it is not the norm that you see two or three or four generations gathered together for worship. But so often, the norm is that of children rebelling against the faith of their parents. I am not advocating that we as protestants should try and fulfill some kind of Roman Catholic or other idea that is part of this—but advocating that we question whether or not we are placing enough emphasis not just on the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but in raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And indeed even raising and pointing our children to that same faith.
My prayer, my exhortation for you, Zach and Jenny, in particular, but also for all of us who have children or even who have adult children who have moved on in life, or who have grandchildren, is that we raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord—that we are being deliberate about pointing our children towards faith in Jesus Christ in a powerful way. That we raise our children in the church, that we raise our children always pointing to the reality that the sign that has been placed upon their head points toward. With the expectation, not the general hope, but the expectation that they will come to faith in God himself. And that we strive, that we not see generations rise up as we read through the historical books in the Old Testament, particularly in Judges, that does not know the things that God has done—not just in Biblical times, but in the history of our nation, in the history of the world, in the history of the church, and in the history of their individual family. Children should know their parents’ witness story—children should know their parents’ confession of faith and how their parents came to faith in Jesus Christ. And we as parents should be deliberate about pointing our children toward that reality and that expectation that they too would come to faith in our Lord and Savior.
Secondly, note too the language of blessing and cursing that is attached to covenant membership. All too often we like to talk about the blessings as comfortable and pleasing to do. But we don’t often talk as freely about the judgments that are given in connection with the blessings. Those who are born again believers—those who are redeemed need to always remember one thing—we have been redeemed from something and that something is the righteous judgment that God brings for sin. If we don’t preach judgment and we don’t preach the threat of judgment at the same time that we preach redemption, redemption won’t have its meaning, it won’t have its power because people won’t understand what it is that they have been saved and delivered from. Eternal Judgment of God. If we are to preach the gospel of redemption to our children and to our neighbors, we must also not be afraid to preach what we have been redeemed from.
Christ did not die to make you nice—he died to make you holy. And he died to deliver you from the wrath to come. Make sure that when you are sharing the gospel with others that you understand the stakes that you are playing with. This is not a kids game of penny poker, but this is a matter of life and death. The stakes are eternal. Do not take them lightly. If you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will be rightfully condemned to the fires of hell. If your children do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, they will be rightfully condemned to eternal damnation.
Beloved, are you comfortable with those stakes, because these are the stakes that we are playing with. Are you satisfied in knowing which side of the divide that you stand upon—and your loved ones stand upon. If not, this is the day of decision. This is the day that you have the time to speak these words to your children, to your families, and to yourself.
And Thirdly, finally notice the emphasis on your response to choose life. In verse 16, Moses writes, “Obey the commandments.” How do we do this? Love the Lord our God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes and his rules that we might live and multiply. Do you see what he is saying? That just coming to faith, just saying, “Lord forgive me,” is not simply what you have been called to do—that is a first step. But we are also called to live it out. We are also called to walk the walk of faith. We are also called to walk before the nations proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, loving the Lord, walking in his ways, and keeping his words.
I would like to close this morning with verses 19 and 20 of this chapter. Moses speaks these words to you and to me, and he speaks as follows:
I this day, I call heaven and earth as witness against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him for he is your life and length of days. That you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob to give them.
Beloved, choose this day whom you will serve. Choose this day what inheritance that you are seeking—an inheritance that is here in the wealth of the nations, or an inheritance that is being reserved, as Peter writes, in heaven, free from being defiled and corrupted.