Little Saints

A little over month ago, I shared some good posts I found about Raising Worshipers. Or, as some people like to call it, parenting in the pew. Last summer, I shared a guest post where I wrote over at Humility and Doxology about Singing Psalms with Little Saints. And as I have been seeking to parent my own children faithfully on Sunday mornings week in and week out, I continue to ponder many of the themes which overlap and intertwine between those two topics. The idea of raising worshipers connects with the term “little saints,” which I apply to Christian children. My kids don’t have a catechism question which says exactly this, but I want them growing up knowing the answer to this question:

  • TO WHOM DO YOU BELONG?

My kids belong to Christ. They bear the image of their Father in heaven. They bear the mark of baptism. They are fed on the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper every week. We are raising them with the understanding that they are Christians just as much as they are Cummings. I have confidence in the fear of the Lord, and He is the refuge for my children (Proverbs 14:26). This is the underlying philosophy which informs every aspect of my parenting and homeschooling… including our weekly worship service every Sunday morning.

  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN?
  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT WORSHIP?
  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE LORD’S DAY?

Your answers to those questions are where you need to start when it comes to the topic of Christian parenting. And I believe that what we believe about these things comes out our fingertips… no matter what we say our answers are.

My five children range in age from almost-3 to 14. I have only done this parenting thing a few times, and for less than fifteen years – but during my stint so far as a mother, I have encountered approximately 728 Sunday mornings with at least one child in my charge. (It actually feels like a lot more than that to me, but I double checked my math, so we’ll go with it.) Not infrequently, I have had people come up to me and praise my children and my parenting skills for the way my kids “sit through” worship. People say things like, “your kids are so well behaved!” or “my kids could never do that” or “are they always this poised and quiet?” I pretty much always chuckle out loud (or perhaps totally gut-bust in laughter, depending on the morning), trying to reassure the admirer that nope, my kids are definitely not always poised and quiet (but rather quite the opposite on an average morning), that their kids could be trained to do this just as much as mine could, and that they are only so well behaved during Sunday morning worship because we have spent their entire lifetimes pursuing and prioritizing their practice as children of the King.

I remember when my oldest was just a wee thing, and he would sleep through pretty much the entire Sunday morning service every week. Sometimes I could be constrained to share my little snuggly boy (with cheeks like dumplings) with my mother, but usually only when I was the pianist for that week… so my mom loved those Sundays best. Once I had more children in the pew, it became a little more of a juggling game, especially because my husband and I often serve during services in one way or another. Passing babies back and forth, or relying on help from grandparents, became a kind of dance. But it was always worth it. (Always will be.)

I have never put my children in the nursery during worship. Not once.
I *have* put a child in a nursery during a Sunday school hour or a Bible study. I have no qualms about giving my child the time and space to engage in that kind of setting. But it goes back to my underlying philosophy about my child: he belongs to the Lord in whose image he was created, and therefore he belongs in the worship service of that Lord. The worship my baby or toddler or adolescent offers to the Lord is no less valuable than mine or my parents’ or my grandma’s. By the grace of God, we all belong to Him and we are all called to worship Him in the beauty of holiness (1 Chronicles 16:28-29). I would no more put my two year old in the nursery than I would put my ninety-two year old grandma in the nursery. Even though each of them can be distracting and need assistance sometimes. Neither one can hold the hymnal on their own or harmonize perfectly in song or sit quite still for a forty minute sermon. Neither one of them whispers convincingly but is always louder than they think they are, and there are occasions where either one of them will declare they have to use the bathroom in the middle of the service.

Grandma belongs to the Lord. She is called to worship Him.
My children belong to the Lord. They are called to worship Him.
I am tasked with motherhood by the Lord, and I am called to let them come unto Him in worship and for blessing (Mark 10:13-16).

Do you know when churches started having nurseries? It was not all that long ago, from what I can tell with preliminary searches on the internet. I have read about the history of Sunday School, as a lot of us probably have when studying the industrial revolution, but that was not intended to take the place of the worship service. It was meant to be a time of teaching and blessing children – it was not focused on worship of the Lord. Nurseries and other childcare meant to keep parents kid-free during worship services are an enigma to me. Call me narrowminded, but there it is. If you want a break from your children, especially the toddlers, go for it: but not to the extent that you are banishing those little saints from worshipping their King. I would commend to you that you reserve “a break” from your kids for just about any other time – during a weekly Bible study or occasional coffee date or so you can enjoy time with your husband or go shopping without kids in tow. But don’t bar these little saints from the worship of their Lord, and from their weekly opportunity to watch you and learn from you as you worship your Lord.

In Scripture, were children exempt from honoring the Sabbath or Passover? No. These things were as much for the children as for the adults. The Bible never describes children being kept separate from the adults – God works in families, through families, and Scripture shows us that children are not only important players in His story (Isaac, Moses, Samuel, John, Timothy) but were also considered part of the church by Paul (otherwise why would he address them directly in Ephesians 6?).

I don’t know when parents decided they didn’t need to bring their children to the worship service of the King. I don’t know why church leaders decided that it was okay to banish children from corporate worship and segregate families by age. Have you ever considered what it communicates to the child when they are exiled from even just a portion (say, the sermon, perhaps) of the worship service? Have you considered what it communicates to those around you when you send your child out of the worship service?

What we do is indicative of what we believe. What do you believe about your kids, about Christ, about the Lord’s Day, and about worship? The way you live and act and parent and worship on Sunday is more indicative of what you believe than what your words might say you believe. Our theology is lived out in our actual lives.

What kind of practical good comes from having children in the worship service? It teaches them how to worship, it teaches them that they are part of the family of God, it teaches them that their praise and prayers are valuable to the King. There is a battle against the family in society, and Satan is aiming straight at our children – and we can not give in to these attacks by distancing children from participating in the most important activity of the week.

We have to remember that the worship service is not about us. It is not about our emotional experience, or about us hearing every minute of the sermon, it is not about what we want or our own selfish needs. It is most definitely not about having a break from kids so you can listen to a sermon (you’ve heard of earbuds and recorded sermons, right?). If you aren’t able to absorb the sermon during the worship service, you have plenty of opportunity during the rest of the week to listen to the recording.

Children learn to tithe by dropping coins in the offering box alongside their parents. Children learn to sing by singing at the sides of their parents. Children learn to pray by praying with their parents. Children learn to sit and focus during a sermon by the faithful example of their parents. Children learn to stand and sit and kneel and lift their hands and bow their heads – by watching and imitating and enacting alongside their parents.

Can it be distracting to have kids in the worship service? Sure… but adults are sometimes super distracting, too. (Exhibit A: cough drop wrappers, blowing noses, and cell phones going off – oh my.) And have you never found that parents sometimes exacerbate the distracting elements of their children? (Exhibit B: parents giving their keychain to a child, or handing them snacks in crinkly packaging, or entertaining them with toys equipped with batteries.) Children do not have the monopoly on distraction.

It’s very well and good to say that I believe children ought to be in worship services with their parents because of my theology and philosophy… and it’s fine to tell you that from the outside looking in, people will tell you that my kids do great during worship every week… but my kids are far from perfect (as is my parenting), and I did not naturally know how to train my children for worship – it has taken over seven hundred Sundays to get to where we are now, and we still have room to grow and learn and iterate.

On the cusp of my youngest child turning three years old, I can share a few practical tips and experiences from my five times going through these phases and stages… stay tuned, because those practical tips will be shared in my next post.

Frailty

It is odd to be in a place in life where I feel frail of body, frail of heart, frail of mind.

It is good timing though. As I approach a few different speaking engagements this spring, I am spending a lot of time meditating on Psalms. I wish I could completely digest this huge stack of books I have on all-things-Psalms. What I have noticed is that, if Scripture at large is the milk and meat that I need to grow and thrive in my walk with Christ, it is the book of Psalms that is my water.

It is what refreshes me.
It is what washes me.
It is what satiates me.
It is what overflows me.
It is what spills out of me.

I know that Jesus Himself is the Living Water. I’m not denying that. 🙂 But I’m simply noticing ever more and more how much I glean from the psalms, grow by them, will never tire of them, find them applicable in every situation.

And it is such a blessed gift that during a season where I feel explicitly frail that it is basically a necessity that I immerse myself in Psalms and the words of others who have been immersed in Psalms. This is good work. And it is my prayer that through the immersion, God would gird me up, make me strong, and grant me faithful grit to persevere.

PSALM 138
I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.
I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.
All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Lord, when they hear the words of thy mouth.
Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord: for great is the glory of the Lord.
Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.
The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.

Practical Attributes

Paul teaches and exhorts us in detail about Christian qualities—everything from diligence to sacrifice to patience to piety. Let us seek to grow in these virtues by practice, and through prayer. (Romans 12:11-13 “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”) How can we practice these attributes in a co op setting?

The epistles, or letters, of Apostle Paul have a place of prominence in Scripture—in fact, they take up most of the New Testament. These letters that he writes are mostly to individual churches, where he is encouraging the people in congregations (which were made up of the people in a community—because churches weren’t really formed around specific theologies but around geographical proximity) to love one another, to pursue godly virtue, to turn from sin, and to seek holy living according to the will of God. He expounded on the good news of Christ through practical application. In his letter to the church in Rome, he listed out a lot of different virtues that the people ought to prioritize and pursue, as well as things which they ought to run from with haste. Let’s read a few:

Present your body as a living sacrifice.
Discern what is the will of God.
Think with sober judgment.
Use the gifts God has given you.
Love genuinely.
Abhor evil.
Hold fast to the good things.
Love in a brotherly way.
Do not be slothful.
Serve the Lord.
Show honor.
Rejoice.
Have hope.
Be patient.
Endure.
Pray.
Share with those in need.
Show hospitality.
Have empathy.
Rejoice with those who rejoice.
Weep with those who weep.
Seek harmony.
Pursue peace.
Do not be haughty.
Be humble.
Don’t avenge yourselves.
Feed your enemy.
Overcome evil with good.

And by the way, that is a list just from one chapter of one letter. (Romans 12)

The thing is, this isn’t a list that Paul gives us in order to put a burden of performance on our shoulders. This is actually a description of freedom. This is a whole lot of “get to’s” right here. Because we belong to Jesus and a community of fellow believers through faith, we get to: _____________. Fill in the blank with all the above things.

So if Paul writes extensively about virtues, and we know that these Scriptures were not just meant for the early churches to whom he specifically wrote but also were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for our sake here and now… how are some ways that we can live out these virtues right here and right now?

Well, anywhere where there are people gathered, it is a group of sinners. And whenever a group of sinners is gathered, there will be sin tossed around from time to time. So even today—in the car, on the playground, in your classrooms, around the dinner table—you will be faced with opportunities to GET TO be humble, to overcome evil with good, to not avenge yourself, to seek harmony rather than haughtiness.

As a co op student today, you will have multiple chances to GET TO not be slothful, to be patient, to discern well and think wisely, to show honor, to have empathy.

And guess what mamas, as teachers at co op today, we will have those very same opportunities. So our prayer this morning as we go forth into a day of working and living and loving and studying alongside one another, is that God would give us eyes to see these opportunities for virtue because He is good, and because He loves us. We get to obey Him and follow Him because of His grace. Not because of a heavy hand of domination. But because He is a good shepherd who gently leads those with young, and who uses a rod and staff as our comfort.

Paul wants us to learn this from his epistles: that we ought to live out our faith internally and externally acknowledging that we are sinners saved by grace, and that Jesus is our Lord. By the working of the Holy Spirit granted to us, we can follow the example of Paul in pursuing these practical attributes and encourage one another in these applications of love and good works.

Setting a Guard

Ephesians 4:29

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

What does the Bible have to say about our words? Wholesome speech. Honorable speech. Sound speech. Controlling our tongues.

Quite a lot actually. If you read through Proverbs regularly like my family does, you’ll find that it is a frequent focus in the wisdom of Solomon. Here in Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul has just been encouraging the people in the church in Ephesus to have unity in their pursuit of Christ, integrity in theology, faithfulness to their callings and giftings, and an exhortation on what it means to live in the new life of a Christian—putting away darkened understanding and turning from the futility of mind, putting off the old self with corruption and deceitful desires, turning from “every kind of impurity.” Paul writes, “PUT OFF your old self… and be renewed in the spirit of your minds… put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” And here is the famous clincher: what is the THEREFORE there FOR?? Paul writes, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, along with all malice.”

So what is “corrupting” talk? Any ideas? Probably anything that is NOT “building up” and “giving grace.” Other translations say “rotten” or “unwholesome.”

Matthew 15:11 tells us that it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him but what comes out of his mouth.

But here’s the thing: the battle for purity of the mouth and tongue (by which of course I mean, your words) is fought in the heart. In Luke 6:45, Jesus declared that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” My dad used to say, “what is down in the well comes up in the bucket.”

Pastor John Piper describes four main types of corrupting or rotten talk: taking the name of the Lord in vain, trivializing terrible realities, referencing sexuality or the body in vulgar ways, being vicious and mean-spirited. Then Piper describes four implications of this kind of speech: it does not nourish, it will harm/wound/make sick, rotten words are rotten fruit and rotten fruit comes from rotten trees. Piper says, “the issue for Paul is not really language at all; the issue is love. The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid gross language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of grace. You see he shifts from the external fruit to the internal root. He shifts from what we say to why we say it. That’s the issue.”

Scripture is full of reminders that what we say matters. But Scripture is also clear that the reason for that is because our words, our speech, our attitudes show much about the state of our hearts.

Proverbs 11:9, 12—with his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.

Proverbs 15:1, 2, 4—a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 18:4—the words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

Proverbs 20:15—the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.

But let me close with this—it is by Christ and the Holy Spirit that we can turn from darkness, that we can turn from corrupt speech. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” because GOD is a fountain of life and the righteous live on God. And the way God means to change the mouth is by becoming that abundance. He means to be a fountain of life for us and in us so that out of that abundance our mouths can be a fountain of life for others. We’ve seen the call of God to put away, put off, get rid of, turn away from… all the negatives. But what does Scripture tell us about pure words and righteous speech?
The mouth of the righteous is a well of life. He who restrains his lips is wise. The lips of the righteous feed many. The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom. A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth. The tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever. He who guards his mouth preserves his life. Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

And in conclusion, Psalm 141:3 and 19:14 are a beautiful prayer to ask for God to equip us and sanctify us and purify us as we ponder our words:
“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Light Incarnate

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:9-10, 14

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Jesus said, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” John 12:36

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so thatthey may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

We are talking about light. Latin lux, lumen.
And we are talking about incarnation. Latin incarnatio. Embodiment. Taking on flesh.
The mysterious taking on the material. Light becoming touchable. The Word who was with God—and who was God—from before the beginning of time. He was the One who created all things. In Him was life.

This Word—this eternally existent Creator—was the light of men, shining in the darkness, the light of the world to be followed, to be believed. This Word—life, light—gives true light to everyone, and yet even though His light shone in the darkness and couldn’t be overcome by it, eyes were blinded and people did not know Him. They did not recognize Light wrapped in flesh. He counseled His disciples to believe in Him, in the light, in order to become sons of light. He preached to a multitude saying that they who believed were not just sons of light, but were in fact the light of the world (which is what Jesus said of Himself as well), meant to shine before others so that their good works would be seen and glory given to the Father in heaven.

St. Athanasius wrote in On The Incarnation, “For we were the purpose of his embodiment, and for our salvation he so loved human beings as to come to be and appear in a human body.” “The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension—above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.” “There were thus two things which the Savior did for us by becoming Man. He banished death from us and made us anew; and, invisible and imperceptible as in Himself He is, He became visible through His works and revealed Himself as the Word of the Father, the Ruler and King of the whole creation.” “The Saviour of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body.”

This is a beautiful and mysterious way to describe the material One who was Spirit incarnate. God who took on flesh. Material and immaterial knit together in inexplicable but perfect harmony and balance. Douglas Wilson wrote in God Rest Ye Merry, “What is the great mystery of godliness? What is the foundation of our salvation? God was manifest in the flesh. We sometimes do not appreciate the magnitude of the problem here. How could the eternal Word of the eternal Father take on limits? How can infinitude and finitude marry? The doctrine of the Incarnation proclaims frankly and without embarrassment the most stupendous miracle that can be imagined. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity. But we are dealing with mysteries and miracles, not contradictions… The body that was broken on the cross was the same body that was formed in the womb of the virgin. And that body was taken on by the eternal Word in order that it might be broken. The blood that began to circulate in the veins of Jesus before He was even born was the same blood that was to be shed for you many years later. If the body that was suckled by Mary was a different one from the one that died on the cross, we are all still in our sins… The virgin birth is an important “handmaiden miracle,” pointing to the central miracle itself, which is the Incarnation. The thing that should stagger us is the “God with us” part, and not the virgin birth. The virgin birth points to this greater miracle. And because God is with us, thus we are saved… We believe in the Incarnation, in the Word made flesh. This is our glory: this is our salvation.”

So this brings it all the way around: the Word became incarnate in order to fulfill the prophecies and laws, to save His people from our sins. He created us in His image, we marred that image with sin (beginning with our father Adam), He took on our created flesh and then spiritually bore our sin when His body died, and then not just the Word—the Spirit—was raised from the dead but so was His body. The incarnation was not suppressed, suspended or ceased by the death and resurrection of the Word of God made flesh in Jesus. His body was touched after His resurrection, He ate, He was recognized. And when He ascended into heaven, in Luke 24 it talks about His hands being lifted up in blessing. And in Acts 1 we read about how He was taken up while His disciples were watching Him—He was still incarnate, else He would not have been seen—and also that “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” In the same way. Incarnate. Manifest in flesh. This is no inconsequential detail. This is a core tenet of the Gospel. Good news. God became man. Incarnate Deity. Not for thirty-three years only. But for all time. He became like us so that we could become more & more like Him.

He is the Light so that we can see by Him, follow Him, and let the world know who is in charge. For without the Word, nothing was made. And without the Light, we only stumble blindly in the darkness.

Advent Hope

Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
     Born to set Thy people free,
From our fears and sins release us,
     Let us find our rest in Thee:
Israel’s strength and consolation,
     Hope of all the earth Thou art,
Dear Desire of every nation,
     Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
     Born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us for ever,
     Now Thy gracious kingdom bring:
By Thy own eternal Spirit
     Rule in all our hearts alone,
By Thy all-sufficient merit
     Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Longing, expecting, hoping, asking. These are overarching themes during the season of Advent. (And as I look for words to share about the hope before and behind us, I land on some thoughts from Peter Leithart, a friend of my father… many of the following are his.)

Advent hymns, unsurprisingly, are full of longing, and the language of the prophets. Advent hymns are about Israel’s desperations and hope, and specifically hope that the Christ would come in order to keep God’s promise to restore His people, and through them to restore the nations.

Advent hymns look forward not just to heaven but the redemption of Israel and of the nations, the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.

Our hope is in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:19; Ephesians 1:12). Christ in us is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Christ’s resurrection is the target of Abrahamic faith, he who hoped against hope for resurrection, for new life to come from his dead body (Romans 4:18). Hoping in God’s promise, he didn’t consider his own impotence looked for the impossible.

Jesus is the one who reveals the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13). He is the incarnation of the God of hope, the God whom Jeremiah addresses as the “hope of Israel” (Jeremiah 14:8; 17:13; 50:7). Only Jesus ensures whatever future we look forward to.

This Christ-centered hope gets misaligned if we separate hope for Christ’s coming from hope for His body, for ourselves. It’s true that the coming kingdom is Christ’s. But Christ is head of a body, and so the coming kingdom is also ours. The Christian hope is that the saints in Christ will reach their ultimate maturity as human beings, the fullness of our Adamic calling.

Advent isn’t supposed to soothe us. It doesn’t teach us to be stoic in the face of the irreparable damage of the world. It doesn’t teach us to be piously hopeless. It teaches us to have a hope that is irreversibly entwined with faith. Advent celebrates the Creator’s arrival to repair the damage of sin, judging and making new. Advent comforts because it promises final restoration, justice, and peace. Advent encourages us to persevere in trials and injustice because it demonstrates that God has pledged to make all things new. Advent unveils a God so determined to fulfill His purpose that He did not spare His own Son but freely delivered Him up for us all.

Isaiah 8:17 says, “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” In the very next chapter, Isaiah 9, we read that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” THIS is hope. This is the promise. The Savior came! And He is ruling at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again. We long for Him and we expect Him. Therefore, even as the Israelites looked forward with hope, so do we. Jesus, the God who became incarnate, IS our hope.

Advent, first ’21

First weekend of Advent, 2021.

Two family birthdays and Thanksgiving Day AND a family tradition of tree hunting & homemade donuts… it was all packed into a handful of days this year. It makes for a good kind of chaos and girding up of the loins for all the celebration. Of course, it was bookended with illness in my home, which just added to both the crazy and the exhaustion… but God’s grace was poured on like the best gravy. This life is a gift, and celebrating the start of a new Church Year is absolutely something to treasure. So we pursue this. We cultivate it. We dig in. And it is very good.

Saturday, 11.27
Family Advent Feast

Menu:
Started with Lindt chocolate truffles and a toast with merlot to King Jesus when we lit the Hope candle
Red Wine Tri Tip Steaks (used this for inspiration, but tweaked it like I always do…)
Mushroom risotto (my daughter loves to make this… but we don’t use a recipe… we just go by method, look, and taste)
Roasted veg (olive oil, s&p, garlic powder, Italian herbs; brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, beets, and red onion)
Garlic pull-apart bread (used this for inspiration, then made it monkey-bread-style using a butter-olive-oil-s&p-crushed-garlic-Italian-herbs mixture for dipping each piece of dough)
Salted Caramel Cheesecake (used this recipe for the most part, but used Nilla wafers for the crust. And added a fat pinch of sea salt to each layer of this, because DUH. Extra pink salt in the caramel as well.)

Readings:
Every Moment Holy, liturgy for the start of the Christmas season
Isaiah 9:2-7
Poem, Advent Calendar by Rowan Williams

Carols:
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Savior of the Nations, Come
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Kids’ Gift:
Stratego, 1986 version

Sunday, 11.28
Sunday Soup Supper

Menu:
Creamy tomato soup (in my instant pot)
Grilled cheese sandwiches (36 of them, sliced into halves)
Green salad with balsamic vinaigrette
Sliced honeycrisp apples
Double chocolate brownies with toffee & sprinkles on top

Rested with:
Fellowship with friends
Honoring my husband’s birthday
Sharing a meal
Disposable dishes
Playing Fishbowl with all ages
Handel’s Messiah on CD
Singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel in harmony

The Great Architect

After contemplating God as the ultimate Artist last week, I was intrigued with the idea of God as the ultimate Architect this week. Someone who is very methodical, mathematical, organized, precise. Someone who knows about building and fortifying and anchoring.

What is an architect?? A brief definition is that an architect is the person who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of a building. Last week, we pondered God as an artist in the context of Genesis chapter 1—so let’s briefly think about that chapter again, envisioning God as an architect.

God divided light from darkness, waters from firmament, waters from other waters, and gave names to each thing, like an architect might divide rooms with lines on a blueprint or framing during the building process, and different rooms are assigned different names for their different purposes. Dividing “kitchen” from “bathroom” from “bedroom” are helpful distinctions. He also gathered some things together into one place, like someone might organize their building supplies, putting like items together. Bricks here, planks there, pipes in another place. And then He added depth and layers. Have you seen how a blueprint does that? Makes a simple 2-D sketch suddenly have a 3-D aspect? God adds trees and flowers and vegetation… and they carry seeds within them so they can continually reproduce and fill the earth. God planned where to put lights, and organized them to bless the space they illuminated. Just like an architect places canned lighting and chandeliers and sconces around their design to illuminate and accentuate particular places in their work.

Without going ad nauseum through the early chapters of Genesis, I think you can see how God shows characteristics of an architect. Dividing and lining up and saying how far to go, adding character and light and depth, naming places and describing what their uses will be so that their purpose can be not only obvious but also fulfilled. God was intent upon creating a good work, and indeed He called it very good upon His completion.

Interestingly, when I searched online for something about “God as a great architect,” the top hits were actually Hindi, Mason, and Mormon—I really wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. The idea of the Creator of the universe, of all things both massive and miniscule, using aesthetic and mathematic, logically and artistically bringing order out of chaos, building foundations and erecting heights—just think about the redwoods along the coast of California and the layers of rock down the sheer cliffs of the Grand Canyon—what could be more foundationally Christian than recognizing our Creator as an architect?

So are there places to see in Scripture where God is referred to in this way? Of course there are!
Hebrews 11:10 calls Him the builder and maker of the city which has foundations.
Psalm 127 also describes God as the builder, without whom we labor in vain.
Hebrews 11:3 talks about the universe having been created by God, which makes me think about the aspects of architecture and building and constructing: the knowledge and wisdom that would be behind it.
In Job 38, we can read all about God’s testimony to Job, describing His creation and authority over it.
We read about God laying foundations in Psalm 102:25 and Isaiah 48:13 and Hebrews 1:10.
In John 14, we see Jesus talking about His Father’s house with many mansions, and He goes to prepare a place for His people.

So he lays foundations, he builds, He fortifies, He prepares places. Therefore, while nowhere can I find God specifically called an architect, when we remember the definition of an architect being that of a person who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of a building—that is absolutely something that God has done, and does. He is the greatest Architect.

Calling God the great architect of the universe is actually a conception discussed throughout centuries by theologians and apologists. Science, especially geometry and astronomy, were linked to the divine for medieval scholars, because of the geometric and harmonic principles found there. They believed that to seek knowledge on those things was a way to seek and worship God. Thomas Aquinas said that “God, Who is the first principle of all things, may be compared to things created as the architect is to things designed.”  In Calvin’s Institutes, John Calvin repeatedly calls God “the Architect of the Universe,” particularly when commentating on Psalm 19—“the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” (vv1-6)

Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” It is His genius that not only displays the artistic side of creation but also the engineering, mathematical, tangible side. He didn’t just throw planets and comets and galaxies across the blank canvas when He created solar systems. He put order and logic into the plan. His works are measured, calculated, precise, exact.

Creation Magazine said that our sun is a star in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is a spiral galaxy (there are three types: elliptical, irregular, and spiral). Astronomers estimate the Milky Way is made of over 100 billion stars! And our solar system is ideally placed in one of the arms. If we were too close to the center, we would be swallowed by a massive black hole. If we were somewhere else on the arm of the galaxy, we could be in danger of colliding with other stars. And our stable sun, our special star, is exactly specifically created to bless: it is the right color (white), because if it were red, it would be much cooler and its light could not give plants the energy they need. If it were blue, it would be hotter and emit dangerous radiation. God also has our planet orbit precisely far enough so the oceans don’t boil yet close enough to the sun so they don’t freeze.

We can witness so much of God’s majesty by looking at the things He has created. The blueprints He designed, which He has used millions upon millions of times over, are marvelous. Every snail shell, every toenail, every oak leaf, every sunflower seed, every mountain crag, every tree trunk, every honeycomb, every embryo.

Job 38 is one of the most beautiful Scriptural expressions of God as Creator, as Architect. Here are verses 4-13:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors,
When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
When I made the clouds its garment,
And thick darkness its swaddling band;
When I fixed My limit for it,
And set bars and doors;
When I said,
‘This far you may come, but no farther,
And here your proud waves must stop!’
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?”

God laid the foundations, determined the measurements, stretched lines and fastened foundations, laid the cornerstone. He shut the sea in with doors, fixing a limit for it, using bars and doors to precisely keep the waves and tides in their place. He commands the sun so that dawn knows where to be and when. This should make us tremble with awe and wonder and praise.

Romans 1:20 tells us that nobody has an excuse not to know God, to see His handiwork, to recognize His power and authority and workmanship and design. We can look at the stars or the insects or the mountains or the tides or the path of the sun, and clearly perceive the hand of the Lord at work.

My encouragement for you today is to look around you and see the Hand of God in the order and mathematics and lines and strength and measurements and glory of creation around you. And then, as a bearer of His image, replicate to the best of your ability and imitate your Father in heaven when you figure math problems and sketch castles and plant seeds and write essays. Divide things, name things, give structure to things. Bring order out of chaos and build upon Him as your strong foundation. He is Your fortress, the mightiest structure of all.

Little Artists, Imaging

Theme: God is the Artist. We are little artists, imaging Him, reflecting Him, looking at our Father and wanting to do what He does. What are we called to do as we imitate the Artist, and how do we love His art?

Verse: Genesis 1:31 “And God saw everything that He had made,
and behold, it was very good.”

Catechism: New City Q4-5
Q: How and why did God create us?
A: God created us male and female in His own image to know Him, love Him, live with Him, and glorify Him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to His glory.
Q: What else did God create?
A: God created all things by His powerful Word, and all His creation was very good; everything flourished under His loving rule.

Where does Scripture talk about God being the Creator?
From Genesis 1:1 clear up through Revelation 10:6 Scripture is absolutely packed full with reminders that God is the Creator, the Artist, the One through whom all things exist and have their being. Just a few snippets to glance through are John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Nehemiah 9:6, Psalm 33:6, Jeremiah 10:12, Hebrews 11:3, Isaiah 45:18, Jeremiah 32:17, Isaiah 40:28, Proverbs 16:4, Revelation 4:11… but look for yourself and you’ll find that there are many more.

I don’t think it is unusual for God to be acknowledged as Creator, at least in Christian circles – but I have heard people hiccup at the nuance of God being an artist. They would argue He is more of a scientist or an engineer or a composer or an author than an artist. Yet, I think we are severely limiting the glory and scope of God if we try to put Him in a single box anyway. (That should go without saying, but there: I said it anyway.) One isolated facet of our incomprehensible, unfathomable Creator is that He is the King of art, Master of artistry, ultimate Painter and Sculptor and Framer and Architect. There should be absolutely zero argument from His people that He produces good and true and beautiful work, and we ought to take exceptional delight in observing His work and seeking to imitate it.

Not infrequently, when driving home after my daughter has ballet lessons, there is a stunning sunset out her window. She once commented that it looked like a painting from a great artist. I told her she wasn’t wrong. And yet, the nuance really is reversed: it is the great human artists who are the imitators. They only paint representations of what God has already painted, created, sculpted, and gifted to us.

When thinking through the creation account in the beginning chapters of Genesis, if you think of it as God taking the chaos and mayhem of everything being void and without shape, it does not conjure up an image of beauty or goodness. But then He takes it into His hands and uses His words as paints and brushes, to separate and delineate. He put in a horizon line and vanishing points when He put firmament and waters into their own specific places. He added depth, dimension, shadow, and vibrancy when He placed lights in the sky to rule day and night. He added color and texture and movement when He placed plants and creatures all around. And He painted Himself into the portrait when He placed mankind in the garden.

In Ephesians 2:10, we are called “His workmanship.” I have always envisioned God as a carpenter in that way. Wearing a toolbelt or something. Ha! But it is so much more rich and fat and beautiful and powerful than that. As we have been studying the works of artists like Leonardo daVinci in recent weeks, and I absolutely marvel over the things that have been produced by the work of mens’ hands, I find that I am somehow underwhelmed by the work produced by the work of God’s words.

I want to grow in wonder and awe of His artistry. The sculpted detail of tree bark. The blended colors washing the sky that are ever changing in sunrise, sunset, rainbow, and aurora borealis. The straightest of all horizon lines when I stand at the edge of the seashore and look out past the waves. The self portraits, countless in multitude, which take their turns walking the dust of the earth for their apportioned days – they were molded from dust, walking on dust, they will return to dust…

Yet one of the most fascinating aspects of His creation and artistry to me is that it is both finite and infinite, temporal and eternal. What returns to dust from my body when it decays in the depths of soil will someday be raised and glorified. I don’t understand the artistry techniques He uses, but I love the Artist and trust His skill. As I marvel at the beautiful and complex works of art in His created order, and then also find the creations of mankind fascinating, may I be drawn to look up to Him in praise and gratitude and awe. May I glean inspiration for my own creativity because of His lavish grace as my Father.

Pursuit of Wisdom

The Value of Wisdom—Proverbs 2:1-13

My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.
When wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you,
To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things,
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness…

Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding—Proverbs. What do these things mean, what is their progression, and where do they come from? How do we pursue them?

In the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve were perfect, not yet tainted by sin, were they wise? Did they have wisdom? I can’t pretend to answer that for you, but I can tell you that they were tantalized by the idea of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Even when walking in the garden with God, the font of all wisdom and the most beautiful embodied Wisdom of all, could they identify wisdom? After hearing the deceptive words from the wicked serpent, Eve saw the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not only beautiful but would make one wise. What did Eve understand of wisdom? I think it’s probably clear that she did not know enough about it.

I bet you that she understood a good deal about folly shortly thereafter though.

I think Eve shows us what Paul David Tripp writes about in New Morning Mercies when he says, “Sin reduces all of us to fools… we think we can step over God’s boundaries without consequences. We think we deserve what we do not deserve and are able to do what we cannot do. Shockingly, there are more times than most of us recognize or would be willing to admit when we think we are smarter than God.”

This brings us back to Eve. Rather than seeing the deceit of the serpent, she now wonders (in burgeoning folly) if God was deceiving her. Wisdom is not natural to sinners. The pursuit of wisdom is one of humanity’s most profoundly important quests. But it is hard for us to gain wisdom, to measure wisdom, to properly see and acknowledge wisdom because we see through eyes which filter and interpret through our own foolish hearts.

So where does wisdom come from? You can’t buy it. You can’t even get it by hard work and experience. Not actually, not officially, not true wisdom. And that is because, in order to be wise, we first need to be rescued by the Savior. In the counterintuitive, paradoxical way of the Gospel, we must become needy, humble, seeking, and acknowledge that we are completely depraved and foolish on our own… it is only through the gift of faith and the enabling work of the Holy Spirit that we even can gain true godly wisdom.

Colossians 2:3 says of Jesus, “in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” All the treasures! It is the free grace of God that bridges us with wisdom and causes wisdom to live in us. Proverbs 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Psalm 111 says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.

Eve disobeyed His commandments. And ever since she and her husband, our first parents, grasped for knowledge and wisdom outside of the boundaries and commands of God, humanity has been brought forth in sin and folly. It is by the grace of God alone that He gives us directions in Scripture on how to once again pursue Him, pursue wisdom, pursue understanding.

He tells us that fearing Him is where we begin. And understanding the fear of Him is the end game. THAT is where we find the knowledge of God.