Thanksgiving Psalms and Food

Psalm 147:9

He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry. (ESV)

Psalm 136:25

he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 111:5

He provides food for those who fear him.

Psalm 104:14-15

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Psalm 104:27, talking about all of creation:

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

In fact, just go read Psalm 104 in its entirety. I’ll wait until you are finished.

Done?

Jesus is probably pulling from the ideas expressed in these (certainly not exhaustive) Psalms, and in turn from Deuteronomy when he says in Matthew 6:26

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

We are the same as the animals because, like them, we are completely dependent on God. But we are not like them, because we are in the image of God, and are more valuable.

So do not worry. Be thankful, for our Father’s mercy endures forever. Be filled with good things.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Blood of Christ and Abel

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:16,17)(ESV)

Why is this so? Why would the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God lose its efficacy if the Resurrection had not happened? The shedding of blood is the shedding of blood, is it not?

And that is the point.

The writer of Hebrews says that the blood of Jesus speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24). Blood pollutes the land and guilt rises up to infect the inhabitants (Deut. 21:1-9), and this is intensified when we consider the blood shed from the first murder. Abel’s blood cries out against the earth itself and against God’s image bearers.

Jesus, God’s perfect image bearer, finally answers the crying out for justice with his own blood and drowns out the noise.

And yet we are left with more innocent blood. The levies of Abel’s blood were simply overwhelmed with the pure blood of Christ. And innocent blood cries out. If anything we are more doomed, and our sentence even greater, for we absorb the guilt brought on by the murder of the Son of God. The sons of Adam are all culpable. We have Christ’s blood on our hands.

Without the Resurrection, this is where are left, still in our sins. End of story.

But there is no gnostic “gospel.”  Christ bodily rose from the dead. The sentence was reversed. Death itself was swallowed up. The blood of Christ still remains sprinkled on the earth, but the song it sings is now a different tune.

Thanks to the Resurrection, the blood crying out for condemnation now cries out for mercy and atonement. Thanks be to God for this wonderful gift.

Baptizing the Straw Man

I grew up in a tradition that claims baptism is necessary to be saved, or to be right with God, or to enter into the covenant. I still believe this. But among much of the American evangelical world , people who believe this are said to hold to the false teaching of “baptismal regeneration,” that it is the act of baptism itself that saves.

But this is a straw man.

We all love straw men, so it’s understandable. They’re so much easier and lighter to carry around than actual arguments. For my side, it’s easy to use them along with a few proof texts to “debunk” Calvinism, to rip off a few petals of the TULIP and then act smug as if the whole flower has been uprooted and flung on the sidewalk.

No one I know actually believes baptism alone saves.  Not many people think that falling into the pool has eternal consequences.

The spectrum of beliefs isn’t a ping pong table, where the ball is on one side or the other.  It’s not all or nothing, where either baptism does nothing, or baptism does everything.

You have most Baptists who think baptism doesn’t actually do anything and is just an outward sign of what has already happened. A part of the public confession, but a person is saved before they get wet. For sure, it is an important act of obedience that every Christian should perform, but if it was necessary for salvation, wouldn’t that mean salvation was dependent on a work of man?

But this denies the power and sovereignty of God.

Namaan and Noah and Israel, Oh My!

The example of Namaan is helpful here. Do we dare scoff at water as he did? As Leithart says:

Like Namaan, some Christians doubt what the New Testament says about the power of baptismal water. (1 & 2 Kings, p. 194)

We would do well to listen to the words of Namaan’s servants:

“My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13)(ESV)

Would Namaan have had his flesh restored “like the flesh of a little child” if he had not baptized himself? Would his new birth have come?

Leithart continues:

To say that water can cleanse leprosy, wash away sins, or renew life is an insult to intelligence. Water is just too simple, not to mention too physical and tangible.  But that is exactly the point. Baptism is an insult to the wisdom of the world: through the foolishness of water God has chosen to save those who believe. (1 & 2 Kings, p. 195)

A few more hypotheticals.  What if, when God parted the Red Sea, the Israelites just stood there and didn’t cross? Or what if Noah made no move to get on the ark when it started to rain? The baptisms of the flood and the Red Sea were real acts of salvation, and yet each required a form of obedience. And yet, when the Israelites looked on from the opposite shore, they knew it was God that had delivered them, and not the shuffle of their own feet.

So, when presented with baptism, do we look up to God and with Namaan say “Why don’t you just wave your hand and make it so without me getting wet? Seems easier.”

And I must draw attention again to this brilliant satire video that sums up some of the New Testament teachings. I’ll let it speak for itself.

What About the Children?!

I read a lot of the Federal Vision Reformed theologians (Leithart being one of them), and they continually affirm that baptism does indeed do something.  I can get behind that, because it obviously does justice to the larger body of Scripture. However, they typically then take it and try to apply it to infant baptism. On that issue, I stand with the Baptists and am firmly credobaptist.

I understand the desire for paedobaptism.  The idea is compelling and some of the arguments bring up some interesting questions, such as what is meant by 1 Corinthians 7:14.

However, the foundational idea is that baptism has replaced circumcision in marking the people of God.  Hence, baptizing infants into the promise is good and proper.

But I think Paul in Galatians makes it clear that faith in Christ, brought about by hearts put under the knife of gospel preaching, is the new circumcision. Baptism has more to do with the priestly washings and the laver in the temple, and meant for people who can actually perform priestly work in the kingdom (as in, not infants.)

What in the World Did You Just Read?

This post is just a big, personal brain dump. A winding road through rolling hills. It is based on what my current understanding is of the situation.  Pouring it out in blog form was triggered by recent conversations I’ve had, both in person and through blogs, and then reading a passage in a commentary that essentially claimed I was a false teacher (not me personally, just a “those who say that” generalization.) Calling each other false teachers is a favorite sport among Christians, but it can turn into a contact sport with real injuries.

As mentioned earlier, I think a lot of men are being sculpted from straw around this topic, like kids forming men out of snow in their front yards. It’s fun, and you have something to show for your work.  But it never lasts. This was an initial attempt to scare the scarecrows away.

So what does everyone think? I know people from varied traditions have read this blog. Please chime in.

Isaac, the Limp Rag

The promise was given to Abraham.  Through Jacob, it expanded to include the entire Israelite community. Then there is Isaac.

Abraham is a man of action. The man who attacked the army of four kings with only 318 men, and prevailed, also made a point to ensure his son had a suitable bride, one that was not a daughter of the native Canaanites. Of all you could say about Abraham, you could not call him passive. He had all his Egyptian plunder in a row.

Jacob also is an active agent to the point of wresting God himself, an event that branded the name of his descendants for all of eternity.

And then there is Isaac, the limp rag in the middle. When we get to his account, he rarely does anything on his own volition. He rarely even speaks. Rather, it is Rebekah who seems to be the primary mover of the promise in this portion of the story of the patriarchs.

When Laban wants her to stay ten more days, Rebekah decides to leave the next day with Abraham’s servant, ready to begin her own pilgrimage. When she is called to leave, she doesn’t delay. (Gen. 24:55-59)

When Isaac plans to bless Esau, Rebekah, knowing that God had told her “the older will serve the younger,” forms a plan to correct this action so the promise is passed through the correct son. Jacob has the birthright, and so he should receive the blessing of the first-born.

Unlike Abraham, Isaac doesn’t secure wives for his sons, and Esau marries Hittite women. It is Rebekah who prods Isaac into sending Jacob to the land of her father, to first ensure that Esau does not become another Cain, but also to ensure that Jacob does not marry a Canaanite woman. (Gen 27:46)

Isaac abdicates. Rebekah picks up the slack and thereby ensures that the covenant family will continue. Without Rebekah, Isaac would probably have never left his tent.

Legalism – Making Them Jump the Fence

“Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17)

We like to reverse this and say “Where the Lord is, there is a crushing millstone of Law to hang around your neck.” We tend to think that if the doors are left open, sin will just waltz on through.

The church is called to be holy, a light to the world, and the moral behavior of its members is one of the ways it can do this. There is a difference, however, between moral principles and legalism. One helps in fostering life and fellowship.  The latter tears down and separates. The latter lifts one up at the expense of others.  The latter crushes the spirit under a weight of guilt. “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Worst of all, legalism destroys unity with arbitrary rules of supposed holiness, separating the light into smaller and smaller candles, and content to enjoy the warm glow under the bushel.

Legalism takes good principles and attempts to stomp out sin by imposing additional regulations that are nowhere found in Scripture, and then pretends that fulfilling these regulations actually fulfills the full council of God. But often, they are just the external trappings, whitewashed tombs. They never reach the heart, and because of that, they have no real value to curbing the lusts of the flesh.

Christians should love the standard, and not be caught up in loving the external appearances of the standard.

Confusing the Externals

Here are some examples to show the difference:

1. Modesty in dress. The principle in Scripture is laid out in the following verses, mostly directed at women.

likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Tim. 2:9,10)(ESV)

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. (1 Pet. 3:3-4)(ESV)

And then there is the general thinking of not being conformed to this world, and not being a snare of lust for fellow brothers.

The person who loves the standard of Scripture will keep these things in her heart as she chooses a wardrobe, always dressing with discernment. This may mean different apparel for different occasions.  There probably won’t be hard and fast rules. If in doubt, they will ask older women of the congregation. (Titus 2:3-5, )The advice she receives will vary.

The legalist comes along and says:

  • Don’t wear pants at church.
  • Only wear shorts if they are below the knee.
  • No tank tops.

The list goes on.  And if you do these things, you will be modest in my eyes.

While these might be wise and prudent measures, they are no where found in Scripture. And what’s more, following all of these rules doesn’t even mean one is being modest. Pretending that that’s the case just distracts from the real point of the passages: to not be distracted from having internal beauty and to be clothed with good works

2. Forsaking the assembly.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24,25)(ESV)

The legalist steps in and says that if you miss any scheduled service of your local church, for any reason other than sickness or uncontrollable circumstances, you are violating this passage. On the flip side, if you do attend these services, you are just fine, and are healthy spiritually.

Even though there are no details given.  This is not referring to some special, definitive “assembly.”  Using it in this way also stretches the word “forsake” into realms that make no sense. If I miss dinner a few times per month, does that mean I am forsaking the practice of eating?

The verse is simply talking about getting together with other believers.  Legalizing around the principle (treating attendance at official church meeting times as a measure of spirituality) distracts from the principle. 100% attendance doesn’t really say anything about the heart.

Let’s take a typical church that has two Sunday services with Bible study, and then one meeting time midweek. That’s about four hours.  There are 168 hours in a week. Take out 56 hours to account for sleep, and all the assemblies make up only 3.6% of your time.

So if you are only assembling during the established church meeting times, what are you doing with the other 94% of your time? Maybe only assembling 3.6% of the time is “forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.”

The one who loves the standard will love meeting with other Christians, and yes, that probably includes the scheduled times of the local church. But it also includes so much more.

3. What goes into a man’s mouth.

There really is nothing new under the sun.  Despite much Scripture that says the contrary, people still decide to determine the level of someone’s faith and standing with God based on what they eat and drink.  The most obvious illustration are attitudes toward alcoholic beverages. It can also be seen when looking down on people who don’t partake of only “fair trade” goods or organic food, or don’t eat only “free-range” meat that hasn’t been sacrificed to the idols of American mass consumerism. These are the same quarrels.

Paul calls this worldly thinking, and the Scripture against it is numerous and clear.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col. 2:20-23)(ESV)

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim. 4:4,5)(ESV)

it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. (Matt. 15:11)(ESV)

And there is the entirety of Romans 14.  It also deals with abstaining for the love of a brother, and that is important, but an entirely different issue.  Choosing to voluntarily abstain out of love is a far cry from looking on another in condemnation because they don’t abstain from what you abstain from.

Again, you can make an argument that abstaining from something might be wise and prudent.  But, based on Scripture, you cannot make it a hard and fast rule, nor a basis of fellowship or dis-fellowship. Who are you to judge another man’s servant?

Besides, it’s always possible to out legalize a legalist.  There are always ways to make up rules and pretend to look more righteous than others.  That’s part of why its such a danger to unity.

Oh, you don’t use a single loaf of homemade, made from scratch, unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper?  Tsk, tsk. If your mother asked you to pick up bread for dinner, would you come back with saltines? Is God less important than your own appetite?

See how easy that was?

The Moral Playground

Enforcing moral principles means putting a child into an elaborate, fenced in playground, with swings, slides, monkey-bars and tunnels. The only rule is to stay inside the fence.

The legalist puts a child into the same playground, and then tells them they can either sit on the bench or play on the slide.  And if they play on the slide, they can only go down feet first. And worse, they look at the other children doing other things in the playground, and then claim that they aren’t really playing in the same playground. It nullifies the grace of God.

The first encourages wisdom and responsibility. The second, besides eliminating joy, leaves no room for freedom. There is no real discernment of the principle.  As soon as the legalist isn’t there, the child is probably going to run and jump the fence the first chance they get, trying to find a “better” playground.

A good rule of thumb: when looking at yourself and the planks in your own eye, have exacting, uncompromising standards.  When looking at the specks in other people’s eyes, grace should reign.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:4)(ESV)

And don’t be what Paul calls a false brother and spy on the freedom of others. (Gal. 2:4)

What other examples of legalism have you come across?  What is the true principle behind them? How can we learn to love the standard and see that love in others?

What’s that?  You don’t read at least seven chapters of the Bible every single day?  You must not really believe the words of Psalm 119.