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In our morning message, we considered Genesis 7, the ancient story of the Flood. On that day of reckoning, sinners saw God for what He is – God.  And then they breathed their last. All this fell out just as God predicted, with zero “margin of error.” Here’s a short clip:

To listen to the complete sermon, click here.

 

 

Jacopo_Bassano_workshop_-_Animals_boarding_the_Noah's_Ark_-_Louvre

“And  it  repented  the  Lord  that  he  had  made  man  on  the  earth.”

The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him. For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sakes he should, in a certain sense, transform himself. That repentance cannot take place in God, easily appears from this single considerations that nothing happens which is by him unexpected or unforeseen. The same reasoning, and remark, applies to what follows, that God was affected with grief. Certainly God is not sorrowful or sad; but remains forever like himself in his celestial and happy repose: yet, because it could not otherwise be known how great is God’s hatred and detestation of sin, therefore the Spirit accommodates himself to our capacity. Wherefore, there is no need for us to involve ourselves in thorny and difficult questions, when it is obvious to what end these words of repentance and grief are applied; namely, to teach us, that from the time when man was so greatly corrupted, God would not reckon him among his creatures; as if he would say, ‘This is not my workmanship; this is not that man who was formed in my image, and whom I had adorned with such excellent gifts: I do not deign now to acknowledge this degenerate and defiled creature as mine.’ Similar to this is what he says, in the second place, concerning grief; that God was so offended by the atrocious wickedness of men, as if they had wounded his heart with mortal grief: There is here, therefore, an unexpressed antithesis between that upright nature which had been created by God, and that corruption which sprung from sin. Meanwhile, unless we wish to provoke God, and to put him to grief, let us learn to abhor and to flee from sin. Moreover, this paternal goodness and tenderness ought, in no slight degree, to subdue in us the love of sin; since God, in order more effectually to pierce our hearts, clothes himself with our affections. This figure, which represents God as transferring to himself what is peculiar to human nature, is called anthropopatheia.

– John Calvin (1509-1564)

 

Gargoyle_enhanced“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

– “Screwtape” to “Wormwood,” in Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis

2941204143_4280c3f48c_oWho wouldn’t?  Who doesn’t?

Well, too many.  Strange thing, indeed!  And yet it makes some sense, when we consider happiness as God defines it.  Happiness is keeping God’s law.

And that’s where pleasure-seekers draw the line.  “Time out!  You mean happiness lies in law-keeping?  Commandments?  That’s too restrictive.”  And yet, it’s precisely within the orbit of a devout and conscientious walk with God that true happiness is found.  Counter-intuitive, but true.

Hear the ancient wisdom-words of Psalm 34:

What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good?  Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.  Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.  The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.   The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

The pleasure-seeker fights the fences.  He tramples them down in defiance.  And yet O how we need fences to be happy!  Oddly enough, in God’s world (is there another?), boundaries bless.  They protect, they channel, they guide, they consecrate.  But remove them, and pleasure-seeking runs headlong from good, green pastures into the wilds of insecurity, anxiety, directionlessness, and depression.  And that’s just the beginning.

Who wants to be happy?  Then think outside the box.  Way outside.

* * *

This Lord’s day (Sunday), August 2, we will be treating this text, as it is quoted by the Apostle Peter.  You are very welcome to join us.

Recently, a second video has come out in which a higher-up from Planned Parenthood negotiates compensation for aborted “fetal tissue” (intact vital organs of aborted babies!).  It is both nauseating and abominable; and not surprisingly, it’s making the headlines.  One can only hope that such shock therapy will finally wake up the sleeping if not comatose conscience of our land.  Yet, if it doesn’t, it will only demonstrate that the irreclaimable reprobation of Ms. Gatter is more representative of the typical American.  Oh God, for the sake of the precious little ones, let it not be!

“Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD” (Jer. 6:15).

The body has many natural response mechanisms.  When we are exposed to the stimulus of humor, we laugh. To pain, we cry. And to shame, to blushing. Blushing is a natural response to the sense of shame we feel when eyes are on us, and we don’t look good!

God designed this mechanism. And yet modern America has lost the ability to blush. Things that were once shameful, like indecent clothing, viewing pornography, premarital sex, and “shacking up,” are now ho-hum.  In fact, some of the things we should be blushing over we not only accept, but we validate and celebrate.  The magazine covers we pass at the store keep pushing the envelope, venturing into newer and bolder frontiers of confusion.  Those who shield their gaze are either prudes or “haters.”  (Someone needs to blush.)  We parade our nakedness, even our shameful misdeeds and confusion before the world, and we cover each other by our shared applause and affirmations.

If only our problem was a wardrobe malfunction, something superficial. Easy to fix. And if only it were a blushing malfunction – the result of some imbalanced chemicals in the brain.  Then we could take a pill and make it all go away.  No, our problem is a soul malfunction.  We are incurably wrong in the soul. Having crossed the line, tasted the forbidden fruit, we now try to cope with an angry God short of surrender. We run, sew fig cleaves, and try to hide our nakedness.  We pass the blame. We justify ourselves. But God sees through.

O that we would humble ourselves, and see our shame.  Our soul shame.  And having seen this, that we would blush, that we would cry, that we would come to the cross and find the only relief for shame and guilt in the blood of the Crucified.

From flickr.comYou desperately need Holy Scripture.  Yes, you need it much more than you think.

Now, you don’t need Holy Scripture to improve your self-image.  (It doesn’t attempt to do that anyway; it is quite the equal opportunity offender.)  You don’t need it to make friends and influence people.  Jesus was no motivational speaker and didn’t put much stock in popular thought.  You certainly don’t need it to entertain you.  You’ve got satellite T.V.  You’ve got social media. You’re well connected.  No, the Bible is quite dispensable when it comes to this short-sighted, consumerist litmus test for relevance.

Ah, but once we factor in what we need the most, that is, salvation from an offended God, then the importance of Holy Scripture is magnified.  So magnified that it dwarfs everything else.

You are a sinner.  So am I.  Not by our own self-flattering and comparative measurements, to be sure.  But according to the standards of God, sin is sin.  Full stop.  And “the wages of sin is death.”

We turn in vain to nature for help.  Nature can tell volumes.  “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handywork.”  “For the invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that [men and women] are without excuse.”  But that’s the kicker.  When we, a guilty, ungodly race, seek to get information on how to approach God, all we find is how good, how pure, how holy, and how inflexibly righteous God is.  And by contrast, how dirty and defiled we are.  “And if thou shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who shall stand?”  God is a “consuming fire” and we are dry stubble.  Nature can only echo the voice of our conscience, that we have trespassed the divine law.  And we are under God’s wrath.   “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

How, then, can we escape His unsparing Day of Judgment?  How can we pacify our consciences?  How can we once again walk with God in the cool of the day, as friends – as it once was and ought to have been?

Deus dixit.  God spoke!  And the word He spoke was of mercy and grace.  He has “spoken comfortably to His people,” proclaiming pardon, freedom, and liberation through His Son.

 “Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leaven men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.  Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church …” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.1)

Society is imploding.  And marriage is ground zero.  O God, spare us, and grant us repentance and reconciliation!

Recent days have shown how far some judges will go to impose their views on the majority of citizens.  Just yesterday, one solitary judge in Utah by fiat overturned that state’s constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.  This right on the heels of the same in New Mexico.  On a purely political level, this trend ought to be alarming.

And yet, this cannot be alarming merely because the will of the citizens of Utah or other such states has been steamrolled.  In our democratic America, it is ever and always “we the people.”  If a judge overrules the will of the people, then there is a defiant outcry.  But if a judge rubber-stamps the current of popular opinion, applause erupts.  Yet, what if the majority of the people are wrong?  (Cue gasps.)  Yes, I did just suggest the unthinkable.  But there it is.  And if they ever are wrong, a judge could and should overrule their wrong decisions.  And deal with the fallout unflinchingly.

What happened in Utah should outrage the people, within and without the state.  But not because a single judge crossed their will, enshrined by law.  What should shock the folks of Utah and the rest of the United States is that God’s law has been overturned.

That is evident for those who do not willfully close their eyes.  Nature speaks.  The male and female bodies were designed for each other.  Pick up that anatomy book again and review.  In detail.  Behold the signature craftsmanship of God!  The unnaturalness of man and man or woman and woman is obvious.  How?  Barrenness is not a painful exception in such unions; it is an inflexible law.  This barrier to conception and childbearing is a clear stamp of God’s total disapproval.

To this testimony of nature, God adds His revealed Word.  “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (Lev. 18:22).

Judges who overturn God’s law will have to reckon with God.  And citizens who – by their elected representatives – overturn God’s will will answer to Him as well.  We have great reason to fear, both people and officials, elected and unelected.  We have been transgressing God’s law for decades, flagrantly disregarding His commandments and sanctioning them after the fact by law or decree.  Yesterday was but another step in a long process.  Having given our stamp of approval to sex outside of marriage, to no-fault divorce, and even to the inhumanity of abortion, it is not terribly surprising that same-sex marriage eventually gets a pass.  Most heterosexuals have abandoned their moral high ground to critique anything they may not prefer.

We are effectively writing a new declaration of independence.  From God.  And the real alarm should be that we are sorely trying His patience, and that His patience will at some point come to an abrupt and jarring end.  How long will God withhold His hand of judgment?  How long will He indulge our prodigal orgy of lawlessness?  I genuinely fear that our day of reckoning is coming.  Whether by cyber-terrorism, or by an unstoppable epidemic, or by some other fearful national calamity, it is coming.  And that is only the beginning, when one reckons with the fact that temporal judgments are omens of those beyond death.  “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Psa. 9:17).

O, that we might come to our senses!  All of us – “we the people.”  And with broken hearts and tears of sorrow, that we might pledge our allegiance to God once again, and to His Christ.

We’re all still reeling from the news.  The absolute senselessness of it all falls like a dense, dark fog on your heart.  We can’t suppress the mental images of horror.  The unthinkable end of those precious little ones – just like our children.  Your mind just wants to hit the brakes.  Just stop thinking about it.  But try as you might, it lingers.  And haunts.

But then we snap to and begin the collective reappraisal.  We can’t let this kind of thing happen again.  Hence the renewed debate over gun control.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I fully agree that this is an issue that warrants rethink.  The principle that firearms should be regulated is a no-brainer.  But Newtown demands infinitely more than policy or enforcement reappraisal.  Newtown demands deep, meaningful, national introspection.

By introspection, I don’t mean seriously rethinking the 2nd Amendment.  Guns are a necessary evil in a world of bad guys.  As long as there are bad guys, we’ll need guns.  Of various sorts.  And as long as government is prone to fall into the hands of bad guys, private citizens will need them.  I wish it weren’t so.  But let’s face the music.  Until the Kingdom comes and the violent “beat their swords into ploughshares,” guns are here to stay.

But that’s not really my point.  My point is that we need introspection on the national soul in the most radical sense.  Gun control is a superficial solution – and arguably a big distraction – when the core, the heart, the very control-center of our national being is quite out of control. 

Even if we craft better gun legislation or simply enforce existing legislation better, will it change the fact that across every index, America is driving well in excess of the speed limit, music blaring, weaving back and forth over the double yellow lines?

Will it change the fact that we cannot control our marriages?  Or for that matter, our tempers?  Will it restrain our sexual overindulgence?  Or put a curfew on our decades-long bacchanalia?

Will it help us control our waistlines, the widest in the world?  Will it curb our spending?   It’s not just government going off the fiscal cliff.  Before we wag our fingers at our politicians, let’s just watch the grainy security videos from Black Friday.  Yes, that’s us, America.   And now we stampede on Thursdays, while the stuffing is still warm.

And perhaps most painful to ask, will any legislation help us control our own dear children?  They see that we cannot control ourselves, so why should they?

I wish it were all a matter of better policy, better enforcement, or both.  But it just isn’t.  Newtown was hardly an isolated event.  It is an obvious link in a chain.  And it points to something much, much deeper.  Something systemic.  Something spiritual.  Nor is it just about them.  Whoever they are.  This is about us – all of us.  Right here in our sleepy, little law-abiding towns.

What’s more, the tragedy after the tragedy is that it seems the only way to regain control is to surrender it.  To hand the keys over to a sober driver.  Or the license back to the D.O.T.   It’s an answer to be sure, but a profoundly demoralizing one.  And quite scary, when you’re tempted to gaze into the murky, crystal ball.

But is it the only option?  There is, after all, the Author of control, from whom we’ve fled.  We can always go back Home – into the arms of the Father through His only-begotten Son.  There we can have forgiveness, welcome, structure, and peace.  But it will mean coming to our senses.  It will mean a full-stop to our superficiality and blame-shifting – and a total acceptance of our reckless folly and rebellion.  It will mean confession of sin, personal and corporate.  It will mean repentance.  Even amending our constitution to reflect it all.

Maybe, just maybe,  Newtown will be a turning point.  Where America goes deeper than mere policy or enforcement and instead rediscovers her God.  Now that’s a painless train of thought, with images you don’t have to shake.  A day when “the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets.”  You can think about that.  And you can pray for it, knowing that God will surely hear.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.”

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