Saturday, February 28

John Jasper--He Talked About His Jesus!

Phyllis and I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. I remember as a child hearing about John Jasper the famous black preacher from Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church in downtown Richmond. He is most well known for preaching on Joshua's long day with his famous line, "De sun do move." He served his Lord for over sixty years! But it was his legacy as a lover of Jesus that most moves me, and I would say should move every true believer in Jesus Christ. Give us more of these men, Lord! The following biographical sketch can be found online.

John Jasper (1812 - 1901)

"I have finished my work. I am waiting at the river, looking across for further orders."-John Jasper's last words." 

On July 4, 1812, the 24th child of Philip and Tina Jasper came into this world. Philip, a slave and a lay minister, died a few months before John's birth.

Tina, a godly woman, prayed that God would make her son a preacher as his father had been. For many years it seemed those prayers would not be answered. John had no interest in spiritual things. He had fallen in love with a girl from a neighboring plantation and been given permission to marry her. But on the day of their wedding, a slave uprising caused their masters to separate them, and John never saw her again. In bitterness he descended into evil living.

John was rebellious and constantly in trouble with his owners. It was while he was at work in a tobacco warehouse in 1839 that Jasper, stricken with "God's arrow of conviction," prayed and asked God to save him. Thirty days after his baptism in 1840, he was licensed to preach by the Old African Baptist Church, and he didn't stop for more than sixty years!

Black men were not allowed to preach in regular churches in those days unless supervised by white ministers. But Jasper's pointed and powerful messages soon drew a growing crowd, black and white, to hear him preach.

The Third Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia asked Jasper to preach twice a month, and other churches noticed a decline in their attendance on those Sundays. During the closing days of the Civil War, Jasper was asked to preach to the Confederate soldiers in the hospitals around Richmond. When the war ended, Jasper continued to preach.

In 1867 he founded the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond. The church began with nine members. Fifteen years later there were more than 1,000 members, and at his death they numbered nearly 2,000.

Dr. William Hatcher, pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Richmond, was a close personal friend of Jasper. He spent many hours teaching the former slave about the things of God. When some of his members criticized him for going to hear the nearly illiterate former slave, Hatcher responded: "I do not go there to listen to Jasper's English. I go to hear him talk about his Jesus."

In March of 1901, John Jasper preached to his congregation for the last time on the subject, "Ye Must Be Born Again." He urged his people to prepare for death, which he knew was coming soon for him. At his funeral, Dr. Hatcher said, "Every motion of his was made to exalt the Lord of his life."


Friday, February 27

Meditation: Communion With Living Words!

Meditation is not an optional spiritual discipline; it is an absolute requirement for knowing God. It is the way we, according Eugene Peterson, are moved from "looking at the words of the text to entering the world of the text. As we take this text into ourselves, we find that the text is taking us into itself" (Eat This Book, p. 99). Peterson pointed out that it was Plato who "made the astute observation that writing was going to debilitate memory." He then quotes Ivan Illich who states that "Plato observed how his students' reliance on silent, passive texts [i.e., books] narrowed the stream of their remembrance, making it shallow and dull." 

Then Peterson asserts:

When words were primarily exchanged by means of voices and ears, language was living and kept alive in acts of speaking and listening. But the moment that words were written, memory was bound to atrophy--we would no longer have to remember what was said; we could look it up in a book" (p. 98).  

In other words, if we could satisfy ourselves that we knew where the words could be found (if we needed them), then we could forget them and come back to them later. Of course, we may never get back to them, so the words would have little if any effect upon us. 

Why is this so important for us? Peterson tells us:

For the world of the text is far larger and more real than our minds and experience. The biblical text is a witness to God revealing himself. This revelation is not simply a series of random oracles that illuminate momentary obscurities or guide us through perplexing circumstances. This text is God-revealing: God creating, God saving, God blessing. The text has a context and the context is huge, massive, comprehensive. St. Paul is staggered by it: O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom. 11:33). 

Thus, meditation prevents our knowledge of God from being reduced to ink on a page, and moves it into the holy realm of a love letter written on our hearts. We come to know him not pedantically, but rather by communing with him along an Emmaus-like path where Bible words burn Jesus' presence into our affections. And we're never the same again!

Yes, meditation is calculated to encourage this kind of intimacy. We MUST have it!

Thursday, February 26

Crucial Wisdom from Machen's Mother

The following comes from John Piper on his blog. I wanted to pass it along.
February 23, 2009 

J. Gresham Machen, one of the great proclaimers and defenders of the Christian faith in the early 20th century, went through a season of fearful doubt on his way to solid confidence. Remarkably, it was his mother who spoke one of the decisive words of rescue. He tells the story:

The question is not merely whether we can rest in our faith, but whether we can rest in the doubt that is the necessary alternative of faith. We pass sometimes through periods of very low spiritual vitality. The wonderful gospel which formerly seemed to be so glorious comes to seem almost like an idle tale. Hosts of objections arise in our minds; the whole unseen world recedes in the dim distance, and we think for the moment that we have relinquished the Christian hope....

My mother [spoke to me] in those dark hours when the lamp burned dim, when I thought that faith was gone and shipwreck had been made of my soul. “Christ,” she used to say, “keeps firmer hold on us than we keep on him.”

My mother’s word meant...that salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves at every moment in an ideally perfect attitude of confidence in Christ. No, we are saved because having once been united to Christ by faith, we are his forever. Calvinism is a very comforting doctrine indeed. Without its comfort, I think I should have perished long ago in the castle of Giant Despair. (J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 561)

Wednesday, February 25

Christ: Putting Pictures to Words!

Before God ever gave us words, he launched the dictionary of life in the visible world of trees and ants, stars and soil and water. Whenever we use a word, it comes with a physical counterpart in the tactile universe of material things. A stallion is not merely a word, but a strong, virile horse whose beauty and power have captured men’s imaginations for centuries.

In his endless wisdom, God has also established physical works of redemption whereby He may reveal himself to us. We are invited to:

1)    see the “Genesis flood” as cataclysm and judgment for sin's pernicious effects,
2)     experience the “Red Sea” as mighty deliverance from Egypt and unto God (in the Promised Land),
3)    feel thunderous Mt. Sinai (Ten Commandments or Decalogue, meaning “ten words”), fearful revealer of man's distance from God's holy standard, 
4)    gasp at Solomonic wisdom as precursor to Christ, who made unto us wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30)
5)    wince at Jonah’s “ship-to-shore” obedience, sign of Jesus' earth-bound death (Mt. 12:39). The Bible is certainly graphic and pictorial.

Christ: God in Pictures

So, when Jesus is termed the Word come in flesh (John 1:1-14) we eventually realize that ere Jesus came we had already understood the purpose of words, (i.e., “a means of communication whereby thoughts are transferred from one mind to another”). Jesus is exactly that! Thoughts from God’s mind are transferred to ours via the person of Jesus Christ. We know God through Jesus. He is much more than that, yes, but he is not less. So important was this to our faith that John once again reiterates Jesus’ incarnation in empirical terms:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life . . .

Hot Means HOT!

After a child repeatedly disobeys the parents’ “do not touch,” the subsequent discipline connects pain with their warning, and makes future correction easier--hopefully. When very young, our son, David kept trying to touch our kerosene heater until we turned it off, let it cool to a tolerable temperature and then let him touch it. The pain then became associated with the word “hot.” Thereafter, when urged to comply with Mom or Dad, he knew it was for his own good. But "hot" was always thereafter MORE than just a word!

Defining “Good” and “Bad” Kings

God wisely chose Saul, who was “head and shoulders” above all Israel. Yet, Saul was most certainly not to become the “poster boy” of kingship according to God. No, that position was to fall to David, a “man after God’s own heart.”

Now, here’s the point of this illustration, God chose Saul presumably because he fit with what man tends to find attractive in order to prove to man the folly of such reasoning. After Saul had been rejected as king, Samuel was sent to anoint one of the eight sons of Jesse to be the next king. Upon what basis would he choose him? What would he look for, what characteristics, gifts or tendencies? The presumption would’ve been to take the eldest.

The main point here is that God, through Saul’s failed reign built a memory that set the table for the serving up of the next king. After viewing and rejecting Eliab, the eldest son, God “took advantage” of their brief history and stated, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance [which is how they ended up with Saul], but the Lord looks on the heart[David]” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

Since Sunday School days, we had learned this lesson, one that does not appear in a manual of faith, but in actual, flesh and blood. To reinforce this lesson, God had to lay the groundwork for it in the failed reign of an otherwise exceptional candidate for the position to underscore that that alone was not a “deal-maker.” God sees differently than man. Merely to say that is not nearly so affecting as reading the horribly grave account of Saul and Jonathan. Forever etched on our hearts, we go forth not just with memorable stories but with living truths. Narratives draw the pictures that words build upon and drive home to the heart. 

Saturday, February 21

Women: Protectors of the Nation's Morals

NOTE: The following was written Friday evening.

I write this appropriately as a women's group here at Perry Baptist is watching a DVD of Mary Kassian speaking on the biblical role of women at last year's True Woman '08 Conference. While they are in the other room I wish to "steal" a paragraph which my wife was reading to me earlier this evening. It is from Female Piety by John Angell James (1785-1859). If you can manage the language, James underscores the preservationist role of good women in any society. Odd, isn't it, how some women will fight to gain what they already wield in spades, the power to affect the moral fiber of an entire nation!

James writes:
To a certain extent, woman is the conservator of her nation's welfare. Her virtue, if firm and uncorrupted, will stand sentinel over that of the empire. Law, justice, liberty, and the arts all contribute, of course, to the well-being of a nation; beneficial influence flows in from various springs, and innumerable contributors may be at work, each laboring in his vocation for his country's weal [well-being]. But let the general tone of female morals be low, and all will be rendered nugatory [trivial, invalid], while, on the other hand, the universal prevalence of womanly intelligence and virtue will swell the stream of civilization to its highest level, impregnate it with its richest qualities, and spread its fertility over the widest surface. A community is not likely to be overthrown where woman fulfills her mission, for by the power of her noble heart over the hearts of others she will raise it from its ruins and restore it again to prosperity and joy. [emphasis mine] Here, then, beyond the circle of wedded life as well as within it, is no doubt part of woman's mission, and an important one it is. Her field is social life, her object is social happiness, her reward is social gratitude and respect (p. 59).
We affirm with Solomon, "An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. . . . Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Proverbs 31:10, 30).

Wednesday, February 18

Caveat Lector--Let the Reader Beware!

"Reading the Bible, if we do not do it right, can get us into a lot of trouble." Thus begins Eugene Peterson when introducing the how of Bible reading. In one of the four volumes to date in his spirituality series--Eat This Book--Peterson alerts us to one of the woes of poor reading. 

Caveat lector, let the reader beware. Peterson explains:
Just having print on the page and knowing how to distinguish nouns from verbs is not enough. I might own a morocco leather Bible, having paid fifty dollars for it, but I don't own the word of God to do with what I want; God is sovereign. The word of God is not my possession. The words printed on the pages of my Bible give witness to the living and active revelation of the God of creation and salvation, the God of love who became the Word made flesh in Jesus, and I had better not forget it. If in my Bible reading I lose touch with this livingness, if I fail to listen to this living Jesus, submit to this sovereignty, and respond to this love, I become arrogant in my knowing and impersonal in my behavior. An enormous amount of damage is done in the name of Christian living by bad Bible reading. Caveat lector, let the reader beware (pp. 82-83).
The question Jesus posed to the religion scholar in Luke 10 was not, "What did you read?" But "How do you read?" It was this very question which led Jesus to define "neighbor" in a way which left the scholar no wiggle room. Further, it led Jesus to reveal the legalist's most devastating flaw, his failure to connect the truth with participation in that truth. It is easy to know what the Bible teaches, quite another to actually live it. Caveat lector, let the reader beware!

Reading the Bible Is Not Enough!

Christians with any maturity behind them and especially those of us who serve in full time ministry, occasionally experience issues which on the surface seem harmless enough, but nonetheless, exude a certain disturbing "odor." We might remark-- "It just doesn't smell right." 

One of those issues is the reading of the Bible as an act of Christian devotion. It is the right thing to do. We should be busy about it (Psalm 1). We've often used it's habitual absence as a mark of spiritual decline. Seems I hear an old Sunday School song: "Read your Bible, pray every day and you'll grow, grow, grow." Hard to argue with that. Is it true? Yes! Well . . . sort of. In true college/seminary banter, we might need to retort, "Yes and No." Yes, in that Bible intake is absolutely necessary to the growth of the true believer. No, in that intake is not all that's required. Don Whitney seems to dispel such a misconception simply by a question he poses in his "Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health." In terms of Bible reading, he more than suggests the direction we need to take--"Are you governed increasingly by God's Word?" One can readily catch that more is inferred in this inquiry than merely the passing of the eyes across the pages of Scripture. Does it govern me, i.e., change me; do I obey it? 

Further, is this only a distant memory or can I honestly answer that this biblical governance has not grown dormant but is actually increasing

Now, that's probing, honest and proactive for the sincere pilgrim. It is this kind of progress that prompted Peter to pen: "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8). Our first hurdle as a new Christian is to learn to read the Bible. Granted. But somewhere along the pathway of grace we must become skilled at more than that! We must pursue grace in such a way that we graduate from "what" we read to "how" we read it. To become effective and fruitful as Peter outlines requires the possession of godly qualities, yes, but those in increasing measure--increased humility, increased submission, increased desire to obey.

I do not think it is too much of a grasp to claim that the superficial reading of Scripture has been a major contributor in the slow, continuous decrease in Christian maturity over the years. Indeed, mere reading though vital, is simply not enough! Take heed HOW you read!

Next, a follow up on this--with a twist--from Eugene Peterson

Monday, February 16

Tiny Tim, Scrooge & Proverbs 15:16

Last night at our Elders meeting, one of our brothers, Jim DeCoursey, drew a passing analogy that caught my attention. NOTE: We Elders, in order to "give ourselves to prayer and the Word of God" (Acts 6) are slowly working our way through Proverbs. Last night we reviewed 15:8-17. There's no particular order; we simply go as far as time permits. Our goal is to "milk" the Word for all it's nutrients, initially applying it to ourselves, then to the body at large (since we are spiritual leaders) and then more specifically to counseling. The Proverbs provide much wise guidance, so over the long haul we will hopefully gain a greater heart and be enabled to offer sane, godly advice and direction.-- 

Now, back to last night. We were discussing verse 16, "Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it." Jim pointed out the similarity between this and two central characters in Dicken's Christmas Carol-- Tiny Tim and Scrooge. Indeed, if one were to reflect on that timeless story, he could see in his mind's eye the satisfaction and contentment which radiated from the frail, diminutive Tim. It mattered little if food were scarce or skies gray, Tiny Tim exuded grace--a virtue he might not have been able to define but who's life embodied nonetheless. In stark contrast, one may recollect as well the cranky, miserly, heart-shrunken businessman who merely existed from day to day, skeptical lines etched into his hollowed out face (telltale ruts of a hollowed-out life). This picture plays in our minds while before us Proverbs 15:16 superimposes itself. And we see application pouring out in our day. If it were needed in Victorian England, how much more in this increasingly banal, materialistic culture to which we have grown so accustomed? We hardly realize how much like Scrooge we have become despite the fact that we attend pseudo Tiny Tim churches! The words are right, but the heart may often remain "hollowed-out" just the same. 

Oh, that we would fight by grace to enjoy the benefits of living simple lives. Diminutive in the eyes of the world--perhaps. But gloriously content, resting in the fear of the LORD. How timely is this word amidst personal struggles and world economies verging on collapse. Shall we not fancy the crutch to the silver spoon if only we too may pronounce that perennial yuletide benediction--"God bless us, every one." Indeed, better to have "little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it." 

Friday, February 13

25 Things About My Wife!

I am doing something a little bit different. I wrote my blog on my wife's site--sight unseen! She doesn't know it yet (10:50 a.m.). Please click on her site to read what I wrote about HER in Facebook fashion. Phyllis' blog -- Confessions Of A Pastor's Wife.

I love you!

Wednesday, February 11

Barna Group Profoundly Mistaken on the New Birth!

Thanks to our Lord Jesus and to John Piper we have another sound, corrective on what constitutes being born-again. In his latest book, Finally Alive, Piper introduces the category of the new birth by juxtaposing the Barna Group and the New Testament presuppositions (pp. 13-15). After citing Barna researcher's definition of born again, Piper points out it's categorical weakness:
"In this research the term born again refers to people who say things. They say, "I have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. It's important to me." They say, "I believe that I will go to heaven when I die. I have confessed my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior." Then the Barna Group takes them at their word, ascribes to them the infinitely important reality of the new birth, and then slanders that precious biblical reality by saying that regenerate hearts have no more victory over sin than unregenerate hearts. [The Barna Group reported for instance that "only nine percent of evangelicals tithe." And, "of 12,000 teenagers who took the pledge to wait for marriage, 80% had sex outside marriage in the next seven years."]
It's no wonder, after citing Barna's research which leads us to conclude that believers are no different from the world, that Piper declares unashamedly, 
I want to say loud and clear that when the Barna Group uses the term born again to describe American church-goers whose lives are indistinguishable from the world, and who sin as much as the world, and sacrifice for others as little as the world, and embrace injustice as readily as the world, and covet things as greedily as the world, and enjoy God-ignoring entertainment as enthusiastically as the world--when the term born again is used to describe these professing Christians, the Barna Group is making a profound mistake [emphasis mine]. It is using the biblical term born again in a way that would make it unrecognizable by Jesus and the biblical writers.
But the New Testament says otherwise:
I'm not saying their research is wrong. It appears to be appallingly right. I am not saying that the church is not as worldly as they say it is. I am saying that the writers of the New Testament think in exactly the opposite direction about being born gain.
Then Piper draws a pivotal and devastatingly accurate contrast:
Instead of moving from a profession of faith, to the label born again, to the worldliness of these so-called born again people, to the conclusion that the new birth does not radically change people, the New Testament moves in the opposite direction.

It moves from the absolute certainty that the new birth radically changes people, to the observation that many professing Christians are indeed (as the Barna Group says) not radically changed, to the conclusion that they are not born again. The New Testament unlike the Barna Group, does not defile the new birth with the worldliness of unregenerate, professing Christians.
And there it is--not merely man's opinion; it is all through the New Testament! We must hear this. Please secure a copy and read it. . . . Or wait for further posts. This resounds with my heart!

Tuesday, February 10

Boston's Amazing Tribute to His Wife!

The following tribute comes from Thomas Boston in his Memoirs. I credit John Marshall for bringing this so poignantly to my attention from his lecture on Boston (see previous blog post). Before reading this, let me point out two facts which should aid in your reading. 1) Catherine nearly died each time she went into labor, which was 10 times! 2) She died the same year as he records this, so this wonderfully loving word was penned 10 years after she had often been tied to her bed due to an extreme type of dementia, or perhaps even insanity! Knowing these facts cannot but help us to respect this man all the more for writing about his beloved with such glowing praise in spite of her degraded condition!

Thus was I by all-wise providence yoked with my wife, with whom I have now [1730], by the mercy of God, lived thirty years complete; a woman of great worth, whom I therefore passionately loved, and inwardly honoured; a stately, beautiful, and comely personage, truly pious, and fearing the Lord; of an evenly temper, patient in our common tribulations, and under her personal distresses; a woman of bright natural parts, an uncommon stock of prudence; of a quick and lively apprehension, in things she applied herself to; great presence of mind in surprising incidents; sagacious and acute in discerning the qualities of persons, and therefore not easily imposed upon; modest and grave in her deportment, but naturally cheerful; wise and affable in conversation, having a good faculty at speaking, and expressing herself with assurance; endowed with a singular dexterity in dictating of letters; being a pattern of frugality, and wise management of household affairs, therefore entirely committed to her; well fitted for, and careful of, the virtuous education of her children; remarkably useful to the country-side, both in the Merse [area around Simprin, their first charge] and in the Forest [area around Ettrick, where they served for 25 years], through her skill in physic and surgery, which in many instances, a peculiar blessing appeared to be commanded upon from heaven; and, finally, a crown to me in my public station and appearances. During the time we have lived together hitherto, we have passed though a sea of trouble, as yet not seeing the shore but afar off. I have sometimes been likely to be removed from her; she having had little continued health, except the first six weeks, her death hath sometimes stared us in the face, and hundreds of arrows have pierced my heart on that score; and sometimes I have gone with a trembling heart to the pulpit, laying my account with being called out of it, to see her expire. And now for the third part of the time we have lived together, namely, ten years complete, she has been under a particular racking distress; and for several of these years, fixed to her bed; in the which furnace, the grace of God in her hath been brightened, her parts continued to a wonder, and her beauty, which formerly was wont, upon her recoveries, to leave no vestige of the illness she had been under, doth as yet now and then show some vestiges of itself.

Boston himself died just two years later. Oh, that we husbands might imitate such a tender an affectionate heart as he, and our wives hear such praise fall from our lips.  

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 7

The Best Lecture Ever! Marshall on Boston

Honestly, I've never had such an interest in any cassette (now a CD) as I have had in the lecture given by John E. Marshall on the life and ministry of Thomas Boston. I have probably listened to it 2 dozen times since 1999. Last year, my cassette tape broke, so I bought two more, gave one to my son-in-law's father, and lost the other one! Yep. Then they disappeared off the computer. What was I to do? I really wanted another copy. Thanks to my research-queen-of-a-wife, I not only found a CD, but also discovered a wonderful resource for "over 15,000 messages from more than 40 organizations." It's called

The picture here is obviously of John Marshall. It is found on the front cover of The Banner of Truth biography published in 2005. He is preaching in the open air in Trafalgar Square, London.  

Consideration 1:  It is difficult to separate us from our work sometimes. I bought the message for Thomas Boston, and came to love both him and his lecturer in the process. Now, I have Marshall's biography and am anticipating getting to know this brother. He went home to be with his Lord 29 August 2003. 

Does this not speak to us as well? As ambassadors of Christ, we no doubt affirm our Lord as precious. But are we not also intimately associated with him? People learn of Christ first through us. What would they know of Jesus by the way we represent him? It behooves us to live so as to reflect well upon our Subject in every message. 

Consideration 2: What about Thomas Boston? Let me simply say that I (along with Marshall) cannot see how the life of Boston would not serve as a tremendous encouragement to anyone in the ministry. His godly tenacity and sensitive conscience paved the way for a very self-correcting life-style, the kind that reveals a true but honest servant in the battle of grace. He fought demons within and without, just like we do. Read Memoirs of Thomas Boston and you will quite literally find prayerful pleading and dependency upon God on every page! As wonderful a life as he lived, the issues he faced, far from putting him out of touch with the common minister actually make reading him indispensable.   

I close with this quotation from his biographer, Andrew Thomson:
The assertion is not likely to be challenged that, if Scotland had been searched during the earlier part of the eighteenth century, there was not a minister of Christ within its bounds who, alike in his personal character and in the discharge of his pastoral functions, approached nearer to the apostolic model than did this man of God. It is a fact that, even before he died, men and children had come to pronounce his name with reverence. It had become a synonym for holy living. 
 Oh, Lord, raise up more godly men like Thomas Boston today!

Thursday, February 5

On Toilets and Forgiveness?!

Toilets fascinate me. I know, odd subject! But go with me here! They are in every house (for the most part), not terribly expensive as household furniture goes, very well used, but oh so taken for granted. I mean, no one invites you over to show off their toilet, right? And it's usually not an "acceptable" subject in polite company. (Thankfully, my mother hasn't discovered the blogosphere!) 

May I suggest that, despite our cultural aversion to it, we commend the toilet's use as a perpetual reminder of God's forgiveness? Sin, too, is dirty and unacceptable in polite company. We often do it, but don't invite people over to see it. Rather, we cloak it, or perhaps take it for granted. But, like the physical toilet, Jesus has taken the ugly, the filth,  and the refuse of our lives and rid us of it. We may resistantly "jump on" the topic of toilets, but how quickly do we wince at sin?  Which, I ask, is more despicable, the natural bodily functions with which the Creator enables us to put off what is useless to our health, or sin, which is completely and utterly unnatural and despised on every level by God and man? How much greater, then, to be free of sin than of the other.

Forgiveness is freedom. Hey, all I know is that there is a certain finality about toilets, which reminds me of how completely God cleans everything up. It's gone! You may have a memory of sin, but by grace, it's flushed, down the drain. Does it offend us to talk about God's grace in the context of bathroom furniture? I hope not. Perhaps we prefer the more sublime casting of our sins into the deepest sea of Micah 7:19. But as I don't live next to the ocean, I'll opt for the ever-present toilet to keep grace before my heart. And remember too, what Christ did on the cross was most shameful, unpleasant, and certainly unacceptable. I think we miss a great opportunity to celebrate the complete cleansing we've received when we overlook the toilet. Really--pardon me--I don't think we should blush when we flush

OK, for the Christian there is no difference between the secular and the sacred. This post truly tests the validity of such a claim! Still, I hope this focus does not get lost on us. For its familiarity provides us with both a consistent hope and a constant reminder of Christ's forgiveness of things far, far worse.  

Tuesday, February 3

Pilgrimage: Addition by Subtraction!

Joseph's name truly represents the Christian pilgrimage in microcosm. How often have we read the story of Joseph without really plumbing the redemptive beauty of his name? Rachel's recovered broken heart paves the way for the identity of her first biological son. Distraught over God's apparent favoritism toward her older sister and wifely competitor, Leah, Rachel cries out to God for a son of her own. And only after Leah and her handmaid had been graced by God with eight sons, we read that God remembered Rachel, listened to her pleas and opened her womb (Gen. 30:22). Exhilarated, Rachel names the boy, Joseph, which has a double meaning: "may he add," and, it sounds like the Hebrew for "taken away." At first, one might wonder that such opposite meanings could describe one name. It's kind of like saying, "addition" means "subtraction!" What? A paradox at best. And therein lies it's beauty. Indeed, God did take away Rachel's reproach since she herself now had a son. But further, she prophetically pronounces that by this God will add to her another son. This God did in blessing Rachel with Jacob's twelfth son, Benjamin (Gen. 35). 

A. W. Pink draws a prophetic parallel between the meanings of all 12 sons and the history of Israel. From their "affliction" in Egypt (Reuben) down to Rachel's last son, Benjamin who's double name found fulfillment in Solomon, who was both "so bright, and so dark," each name carried a further meaning. (Gleanings in Genesis, pp. 262ff)

But it is Joseph's name that intrigues me. 

First, his birth represented the removal of past shame, a sort of separation or forgetting by God. Everyone else was having sons, but not Rachel! Is this not the lot of every true believer? For we all come to the cross of Christ shameful, separated from God, yes, even enemies. The new birth exudes exaggerated exultation in stark contrast to the bloody wrestling against sin that precedes it. A-h-h, . . . finally!  Release from sin's grip and burden and control! God removes it.

Second, Joseph's birth name actually entails a future aspect, meaning "may he add," which in Rachel's view meant God would give her yet another son. But for the believer, the removal of past shame and sin's horror prepares the way for the adding of unending grace borne out in his new life and continued growth under the watchful and loving eye of God. It's not just that the removal leads to the addition, but it colors it, painting it brightly so that all might exult in such grace as well. There's great celebration over one lost sheep, one lost coin, or one lost son. God gets glory in the subtraction, yes, but multiple glory in his endless addition! Salvation is not just about God's wondrously conquering sin, but further it is in the eternally bright future we enjoy in the walk of faith. 

A third consideration involves the relative importance of these two meanings. Joseph means, "may he add," with the secondary application of "taken away." This seems to  infer that what God is currently doing (and will do) takes precedence over what he has done. It is not that what God has saved us from is trivial, rather through his "taking away" our Lord has "set the table" for us to relish present salvation as well as the future feast of his glory! This makes me just a little bit leery of those testimonies that place more emphasis on what God saved them from than what he saved them to!

Joseph. That's quite a name, quite a legacy, and for us, quite the inheritance!