The Good Life

The Good Life

The Good Life

I sat next to a 16-year-old boy wearing a baggy T-Shirt that said “BLESSED” in gaudy lettering. The image on the shirt gave the sense: two hands pressed together in prayer, between them a long-stemmed rose and a stack of hundred-dollar bills.

Pleasure and prosperity—the “blessed” life. The good life. Is this all we need from God? Is it all we ask of God? Pleasure and prosperity—and power, perhaps—are the only goods the world has to offer. Sixteen-year-old, you’re still young—do you remember anything of your Maker? Lottery tickets and girlfriends won’t make up for the vertical rift.

 
Bootleg Blessing

What is the good life? That’s the question. Most answer it with pre-fabricated assumptions that fit their souls like a glove (or like a T-shirt). Our fallen hearts crave blessing without the Benefactor. The “world” is happy to supply the demand with bootleg blessings (and even so, most of us won’t hit it big in terms of the three P’s. But in America we have plenty of free T-shirts to go around).

In the world’s saner enclaves, pleasure and prosperity take the form of tightknit communities (incubators for healthier pleasures) and meaningful work (“prosperity” is relative). But even such wholesome “blessings” as these, limited as they are to the realm of sin and sinners, are two-dimensional. Like the graphic on the Tee.

In our saner moments we sense it’s threadbare. True blessing needs its origin outside the broken world. True blessing must minister to my soul’s needs, not my body’s appetites. This shirt covers a future corpse. But eternity cries out in the 16-year old’s heart to be acknowledged.

 
The Good Life 101

God knows about eternity. He alone is qualified to speak to it, and he does in Scripture. But his goal is not just to instruct our minds. He aims (amazing grace!) to give it to us. To give people eternal life. To give sinners the good life.

Before there were sinners—before the world was broken—God blessed us and spoke to us (Genesis 1:28). Even in a perfect world true blessing comes on God’s terms.

Much more then, after the fall, God must give the good life—and he also must describe it so we know it when we see it. It can be easy to miss. Before the new creation comes in glory, true blessing comes like treasure in jars of clay. Not all that’s gold glitters.

So it’s fitting that we look to the Psalms—that mixture of praise and lamentation, that collection from the kingly choirmaster shepherding us toward the Hallelujahs of 150—to learn to recognize the good life. In the bad world, the good life always looks like God changing us, not necessarily our circumstances. That is why the Psalms, particularly Book I (Psalms 1-41), do not just talk about “blessing” but describe the blessed person. Let’s take a look at how Book I describes this person in four key Psalms: 1, 2, 32, and 41.

 
Psalm 1: The Blessed Person Finds Life in God’s Revelation.

God’s grace is mediated through his redemptive word. The blessed person is the one who has been healed to hear his Maker’s voice again—and not only to hear, but to listen.

 
Psalm 2: The Blessed Person Takes Refuge in God’s Son.

The word and the Word are inseparable. God’s covenant speech issues from and commands our allegiance to our covenant Lord, God’s Son. The blessed life is not moralistic adherence to the word—it is the life wholly surrendered to the mercy and majesty of the Savior-King.

 
Psalm 32: The Blessed Person Seeks and Receives God’s Forgiveness.

Whoever lives by the truth, whoever comes to the Son, must grapple with the guilt they trail behind them—and the corruption within them. Psalm 1 could be confused for self-righteousness. Psalm 2 could be misinterpreted as nationalism. Psalm 32 puts the pieces together (as Paul does more fully in Romans 4). The righteous person of Psalm 1 is blessed with a life of righteousness, not because of it. The nations in Psalm 2 are invited to repent and join the Jewish Messiah. Righteousness is a gift that God gives the repentant offender, not a badge worn by the self-justifying. Blessing is blessing because it is unearned. (It’s no accident the word for “blessed” could also be rendered “happy.” He who has been forgiven much loves much.)

 
Psalm 41: The Blessed Person Manifests Mercy and Integrity.

God’s blessing not only counts righteous but makes holy. Those who remember the poor, who walk in integrity—who love God and love their neighbors—they truly are called “blessed in the land.” Ironically, the world often mistakes people of mercy and integrity as weak or naïve (meek is Christ’s word for them). But they are in fact those to whom the kingdom is given. They will inherit the land. Pleasure, prosperity and power will come to those who are pure in heart.

But first: They see God.

 
THE Blessed Person

The blessed person sees God as the blessed one (Ps 41:13), the supreme good, the “sumum bonum.” One day, face to face; for now, in the Christ of Scripture. The blessed person will see God because he has seen Christ.

The blessed person has seen Christ to be both the rightful recipient of infinite blessing and the gracious content of our blessing. Christ is The Blessed Person. And Christ is our blessing. In him we have the Word (Psalm 1). In him we have the King our refuge (Psalm 2). In him we have forgiveness (Psalm 32). In him we become holy (Psalm 41).

 
Future Blessing

This “blessedness” is not for this life only. Far from it! Resurrection life will put the lie to all this-worldly imposters to the good life (like roses and cash). But for now, true blessing transcends concerns about “standard of living.” Life in the Spirit might look like you renouncing all earthly possessions. At the very least the good life is one free from the love of money. Yet life in the Spirit ends not in poverty but in paradise.

And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. (Rev 22:7)

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Rev 22:4)

The book of Revelation brings the blessing of Genesis 1:28 full circle, describing the heavenly city-garden where God’s people will see his face. And it speaks in terms of the good life: “Blessed.”

Roses and stacks of cash will simply be part of the pavement in that place.

 

–Jordan Roberts

Image credit: aliexpress.com

Shoutout

Shoutout

Shoutout

Two Sundays ago, the message at BHOF was directed specifically toward young people:

“Remember your creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

The preacher in Ecclesiastes doesn’t call God “creator” anywhere else in the book.

One reason, I argued, that the preacher uses the term creator here is to send us back to Genesis 1:26-31 with this reminder: when we cultivate capacities we have uniquely as image-bearers of God, we reflect the God who said “Let us make man in our own image,” and he gets glory.

It’s this point I want to pick up on in this little post. What does Genesis 1 itself emphasize about God? Because what is emphasized about God in Genesis 1 is likely to be part of what’s being emphasized about us when it says we’re like him, made in his image—made to reflect him.

 
The Maker and His Reflection

So what things stand out most about God in this passage, showing us ways in which we are (to be) like him?

Here’s one: He’s a maker. He makes useful and beautiful things. He organizes his world in a way that makes life flourish. He plants and tends to a beautiful place in Eden. He makes humanity’s home. He is, if you will, a homemaker.

Well, maybe you already see my point. Young people, old people, in-between-people, I want to turn your attention to those who every day reflect God among us in an often underappreciated or unnoticed way: our homemakers.

These are the women who may not have the leisure to cultivate interests and capacities and delights that many of the rest of us do, because they are committed to working not at home, necessarily, but on the home.

Our broader culture doesn’t value this kind of work. A woman’s significance and identity is often presented as what she enjoys or accomplishes for herself and outside the home. But if Ecclesiastes and Genesis and Proverbs 31 (and the rest of the Bible) are right, homemaking is a noble and glorious calling.

 
Making It Home

So I want to send this shoutout to those among us who get God glory by embracing the difficult calling of homemaking: those who make useful and beautiful things like meals and grocery lists and kids’ routines. Who organize their family’s small world in a way that makes life flourish. Who tend to the weeds of laundry and dirty dishes, fending off chaos and maintaining order. Who make houses or apartments into warm, welcoming homes.

Don’t think I have a particular kind of home in mind. Maybe your house is messy. Maybe it’s bare. Maybe you need to fight against idolizing it or against being ashamed of it.

Maybe the edges of your routine are frayed or maybe it’s spiraling out of control.

Certainly you need Jesus’ help, and its obvious to everyone who knows you well. Welcome to the club.

But what I’m trying to say is more basic, more true-no-matter-what: if you, in a desire to honor God and bless your family, are serving as a homemaker, you are cultivating the capacity to reflect God as a maker. You may have had to give up on a dozen other aspirations and abilities in order to do it. And what I’m saying is, it’s not a waste. You reflect God among us in a way no one else does. You image the homemaking God of Genesis 1 in a unique and valuable way.

Thank you.

Glory be to God.

3 Things I Hate About COVID Church (or Why Every Sunday Is Like Christmas)

3 Things I Hate About COVID Church (or Why Every Sunday Is Like Christmas)

3 Things I Hate About COVID Church (or Why Every Sunday Is Like Christmas)

1. We have to sit in household clusters separated by at least 6 feet.

This fulfills our state’s COVID-safety requirements. But it also highlights one reason we shouldn’t normally sit so far from each other at church: We are family members, not audience members. If we’re simply audience members, then it makes sense to maintain a self-protective distance from others who happen to want to sing the same songs or listen to the same sermon. But we gather on Sundays as brothers and sisters—a blessedly uncomfortable reality! Since God’s grace has made me part of Christ’s household, I must intentionally move closer to my siblings in Christ, even if it means threatening their comfort and relinquishing mine.

Since God in his grace is forming Christ in his children, he plans to grow his family up together into living life as Jesus lived it—marked by commitment and compassion. In other words, sticking with and being for God’s family. Sundays afford us the opportunity to draw near to each other. And in that way God makes every Sunday like Christmas.

After all, Christmas is the anti-social-distancing holiday. The Christian celebration of Christmas centers on the  news that the Son drew near—and made himself vulnerable to all our diseases. He took on our infections so that we could be healed (Matt 8:17).

2. We have to wear masks and cover our faces.

For now, we’ve been wearing masks while we sing. We also wear them before and after each service. Masks are a tool designed to minimize risk to our individual bodies. But as with all tools, they have unintended consequences. These unintended consequences may have more of an impact on our overall health as a spiritual body than we realize…

Masks make it harder to understand each other. They make it harder to read emotions. They make it harder to show sympathy. They make it harder to know each other. In short, they make it harder to speak the truth in love…making the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph 4:15–16).

Faces are important!

The importance of faces is not a bug in the system of human relationships. God designed faces as a dynamic metaphor for his self-revelation. It’s no accident that when God pours out favor and love on his people it is described as turning his face toward them and letting his face shine upon them. And it’s no accident that a face-covering of sorts remains for those who haven’t been unmasked by the love of Christ and brought into the knowing-and-being-known freedom of life in him (2 Cor 3:14).

We are being renewed in Christ to see respect, acceptance, and love in each other’s faces. Sundays afford us the opportunity to do that as a family. And so God makes every Sunday like Christmas.

After all, Christmas is the anti-masking holiday. For 33 blessed years, the God of the universe revealed his heart in human voice, body language—and facial expressions. The mystery of the ages was finally unveiled in the Word made Flesh. When Christians turn our faces toward each other, we are emblems of God’s incarnate affection and attention. One day we will see his face. For now, we see him reflected in each other’s (2 Cor 3:18).

3. We have members “Zooming in” who used to gather with us.

Members who are particularly vulnerable or who aren’t comfortable being in a group setting yet are watching our live services via Zoom. It’s not ideal, to say the least, though we’re grateful for the option. The danger is that we might end up staying home because it’s easier, not because we’re afraid to get sick.

Yes, you can privately take in the words of the sermon on the internet. It’s good to want to hear the sermon! But it’s not good to think that’s basically all there is to church on Sundays anyway, whether in person or online. That’d be sort of (only sort of) like thinking a Zoom call with the quarterback to learn the plays is the same thing as showing up at the game. The main thing—the miraculous thing—that God’s doing at church on Sundays includes the sermon but it also includes the context: Every Sunday the God of grace dynamically speaks and works in and through the gathered people of God by various means that cannot be separated.

Obviously God can work in and sustain you, beloved Christian, apart from church. He is God Almighty! But that doesn’t mean we should choose to seek him or prefer to serve him in isolation from the church his saving might has created. The dynamic ministry of life in the body of Christ—punctuated by the weekly gathering—is the ordinary yet amazing way he has ordained to glorify himself and manifest his kingdom on earth.

My prayer is that we can stop the Zooming soon. Sundays afford us the opportunity to be in the physical presence of fellow citizens in a microcosm of God’s new creation kingdom, as Christ addresses his people through the Word. And so God makes every Sunday like Christmas.

After all, Christmas is the anti-streaming holiday. In a sense, God had been “streaming” his saving word to his people for a couple centuries (through miraculous, angelic and prophetic media of varying clarity. There were some super HiDef appearances, for sure!). But  Christmas centers on the incredible news that the King made himself present in the flesh to establish once and for all his ongoing, unrestricted reign among his people. Though we are physically distanced from Christ now, he is Spiritually present in a real and special way when his gathered people—the temple-dwellingplace of the living God, the body of Christ—are physically gathered and engaged in corporate ministry and worship.
~

So—obviously we at BHOF haven’t taken an extreme stance. We still social distance and wear the masks and use the gift of Zoom, because we want to protect each other’s bodies from COVID.

But only if we are more concerned with protecting each other from temptation, from drifting, from unbelief, from isolation, from compromise, from praise-less-ness, will our body function healthily, to the glory of God.

Corporate worship is essential to healthy Christian living. We are not designed nor saved to thrive spiritually apart from the embodied gathering of God’s people. Technological communication is not a good substitute for physical presence. Which is why God sends his people—body and soul—into each other’s lives.
~

Christmas is about the incarnation. About God drawing near to us, about God knowing and making himself known to us, about God giving us himself in full embodied presence. Of course, the fullest gift was not just his birth but has come through his death and resurrection—the central focus of our Sunday gatherings! The best place to be reminded what Christmas means and made possible is to go to church every Sunday.

–Jordan Roberts

Returning to the Source

Returning to the Source

You’re one twitch of the finger and a screen-blip away from conjuring up scores of “results” on how Christians should think about everything from Coronavirus to George Floyd’s death and the protests following in its wake. I have found it increasingly difficult to absorb and synthesize all these resources. For the first two months of the pandemic, I sent out recommended “web resources” to our church every Wednesday. But now I’ve pretty much stopped. Not because there aren’t good resources out there, but in part because I realized I’d personally been neglecting a better resource right here.

I’m talking about the Bible.

When the pandemic hit and the protests began, I found myself instinctively looking to other Christians whom I didn’t know for insight into how Scripture applies to “the current situation.” I was partly motivated by a desire to figure out what “the current situation” even was, and the internet seemed like a reasonable place to look for help. After all, the body of Christ and the gifts of the Spirit are not coextensive with the Bronx Household of Faith. We are not self-sufficient as a church, and it is a blessing to benefit from the wisdom of the church in other places.

Still, after a while, I came to realize that I was neglecting the one “resource” (though it is much more than a resource) which matters most: the infallible Word of God. I was relying on other Christians and pastors to know their Bible and think through how it applies to “the situation” in general, rather than depending on the Bible itself to clarify my perspective. I was failing to press into something I would guess many of us struggle to enjoy: becoming so immersed in Scripture that rich and increasingly vivid, nuanced categories are ready at hand for interpreting “the current situation,” whatever it may be.

You could say that I have been failing to treasure the sufficiency of Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture, as theologian John Frame explains the doctrine, refers to how “Scripture contains all the divine words necessary for us to please God in any area of life.”

The other “resource” I think I struggled, and still struggle, to grasp as fully as I can is the perspectives of other Christians in my church. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading a blog from Minnesota about the pandemic, or with listening to a podcast from Georgia about justice. But on the whole, it ought to be strange—or at least, it’s historically abnormal—to spend more time listening to the amateur reflections of believers I’ve never met than discussing and praying through these things with my own brothers and sisters.

You could say that I have been failing to treasure the importance of fellowship.

If you want to put a “media ecology” spin on it, you might say that I have allowed what is technologically possible and easy to replace what is necessary and beneficial. Just because I can spend more time trolling Facebook for info and opinions than I do reflecting at length with a thoughtful sibling in Christ, doesn’t mean I should. Of course, the problem is exacerbated when the only things my sibling in Christ and I have to say—we got from Facebook!

Hence we’re brought back to the need for Scripture. Not as a sourcebook for Twitter-quotes, but as a deep dive we take together into the history of God’s dealings with men and women, civilizations and devils. Not as a book of quick answers, but as the revelation of God’s character and plan unveiled over the ages. The tyranny of the urgent might make slow, systematic study of Scripture (which really is a study of God) seem impractical.

But really, it’s the one thing necessary. And it’s enough.

The Bible and the blogosphere are not mutually exclusive; I’m not trying to say I’ve abandoned the web or mastered the Bible. But I have been challenged to reflect on whether I am actively believing in the sufficiency of Scripture. And I’m excited about the possibility of spending much more time listening to the one source I know for certain I can trust.

One of the best ways for any Christian to listen to that source is to sit regularly under gospel-proclaiming, Scripture-expositing preaching. The Scriptures are sufficient—but the church is essential, and preaching is the crucial, God-ordained means for all believers (including the illiterate) to be taught, rebuked, corrected, and trained in righteousness, built up as a body, and strengthened in our faith and walk by that sufficient Scripture.

But I am also referring, more specifically, to reading and studying the Bible. In our busy age, some of us might need to drastically cut back on looking to other resources for guidance so we can absorb wisdom from the source. David Wells writes:

“We need to carve out space for ourselves in which we can daily attend to God’s Word, to study it, mark it, learn it, and inwardly digest its truth. This truth must shape our whole understanding of life as we recognize from whom this truth comes and why God has thus given it to us. This must take precedence. It must take precedence even at the cost of phones, e-mails, the internet, texts, TV, Facebook, music, and all the other ways that our technology wires us into a major competitor for our time and attention. Innocent though these things may be, they stand in the way of our knowing God if they steal from us the time that we need for that pursuit. And we do need time.…Let us make no mistake about this. If we do not do this aright, if we are not daily seeking God’s face, if we are not pondering the truth he has given us in his Word, if we are not daily being nourished in our souls by it, and if we are not daily repenting of our sin where we need to, our faith will wither and our walk with God will disappear.” (God in the Whirlwind, 185–86)

In the middle of a pandemic, in the midst of protests and all the questions these things raise: are you settling for second-rate summaries, or sitting at the feet of the Master? Are you just searching for resources, or are you going to the Source?

 ~Jordan Roberts