A Commentary on Psalm 139

Here’s some commentary I recently drafted on the 139th Psalm. I’m sharing this, both to help me process through it, and in the hopes that it might be beneficial to someone down the line.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
There is Someone watching you–Someone you have never seen, but who has observed everything you’ve ever done.

David has been brought through trial and given the throne. God has searched him in all his trouble. “God, you have seen my highs and lows.” Doctrine: Divine Omniscience. God knows all. The idea is that God knows me as a miner knows the earth (Barnes). He has bored, he has dug deep, and he has uncovered what is within. “O Lord, you have mined me.” 

You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
He searches me out, when I am on the move; when I am still. God doesn’t get bored from observing me. He is well aware of all my activities.

Sitting down, rising up. All daily activity. My thoughts are known from far off–long before they arrive. Long after I forget them. My daily activity matters to God–not just the “spiritual” stuff. There is no division between the spiritual and the secular here. Jesus likewise knew what was in a man (John 2:24-25). God sifts my life and layes it out before HImself. 

Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
He knows what I’ll speak before I do. This must make me pause. 
God is aware of every word. What we say matters to God. How many careless words do we utter? God knows them fully. God will never misunderstand you, either.

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
He is close to me. He envelops me. He is immanent. Doctrine: Immanence of God. God is also everywhere. Doctrine: Omnipresence. God surrounds us as closely and intentionally as an army besieging a city. God’s attributes are not abstract to David. God is all-knowing of me. God is all-present with me. My life matters to God.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.
I can’t comprehend how You do this, Lord. How can you know what I will do? 
David pauses. God’s knowledge makes him sit back in awe and comment on it. 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
Here is the budding, incipient theology of the Holy Spirit. It will be fully realized in the New Testament. This is a comfort to the follower of Jesus. It is also a warning to those who want to live autonomously. God is with you, whether you believe it or not. We are as near to God as the soul is to the body (as one commentator has said). Spurgeon: “This makes it dreadful work to sin; for we offend the Almighty to His face, and commit acts of treason at the very food of His throne….” We cannot escape His view. “His mind is within our mind; himself within ourselves.” Imagine the patience of God, as we boldly declare our autonomy within His very presence!

 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
The wings of the morning–to the east. The furthest reaches of the sea–to the western end of the Mediterranean. If I were to discover come uncharted planet. There are 1,500 hundred planets within 50 lightyears of earth. If I were to leave here, go out and explore an uncharted world–I would discover that God was already there, waiting for me. I cannot escape Your presence. Were I to travel to the depths of the ocean or to the furthest reaches of space. Even there you would hold me, guide me, would be with me. We value our autonomy. So the idea that God is everywhere–there is no escape from Him–is, at first, scary. But King David says this is comforting to him. This means that God is there to guide Him. Doctrine: Human Dependence on God. We are not autonomous; we need a Guide, and God has not left us without one. My life matters to God. Doctrine: Sovereignty of God. 

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
David is afraid. The darkness will bruise him (Hebrew word here for “cover” can mean bruise, injure). He’s afraid of the dark. We have bodies, and we see through our eyes. We need light. Not so God. 

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.
God sees all and knows all. Doctrine: Divine Omniscience (God is all-knowing). I literally cannot hide from Him. God is a sure guide, because He can see in darkest night. Jesus is called the Light (John 1) for a good reason. In His light we have light. God sees clearly what is unclear to us. He is trustworthy. When He says to proceed, we can trust that. Because He can see what’s in front of us. Our lives matter to God enough for Him to guide us.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
Made=set apart. The unborn child is not identical to the mother. He or she is a separate person. DNA is unique. Soul is unique. Person is unique. Life is unique. That life matters to God. No other creature is described in such terms. Doctrine: Human life is the greatest of God’s creations. Jesus became a human being. He validated every stage of human development. And all who come to Jesus in faith will receive new life. They will be “regenerated” and given life as it was meant to be lived, in restored relationship with their Creator. 

15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
He must be able to see me–He was there with me in the womb. Doctrine: Personhood of the Unborn.  Your work, that is, crafting each human being, is astonishing. Even my insides–you made them. My “inward parts” include my soul, the seat of my emotions and will. That’s your handiwork. And you formed it along with my body. Doctrine: the unborn person has a soul, even while the body is developing. The soul is there while the body is being formed. That person in the womb is the same person as the person writing this psalm. You did not come from a fetus. You used to be a fetus. That was you. If you, as a fetus, had been killed, you would have died. That was you. And even then, you mattered to God. From conception onward.  What beautiful imagery: “the depths of the earth.” It is mysterious, dark, hidden. But revealed to God, who is there, working, creating new life in the secret place. 

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
He wrote about me. He composed my story. Every day has been planned. What amazing intimacy. What care! What love! What tenderness the Creator shows me. Commentators discuss how, in the Hebrew, the “fetus” is described in almost scientific terms here. Lest we view the unformed person as a “potential” life, David tells us that his or her entire story is already written. That life matters to God. My life has always mattered to God–since before conception!

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
David takes another praise break here. He just has to stop and glorify God for these miraculous truths. Think of a father, how frequently he thinks of his children. Thoughts on how to feed them, how to provide for them, to get them to sleep through the night. As they grow–thoughts of how to discipline them. To provide a quality education for them. To keep them safe. God’s thoughts are like that. Again, this is not an abstract concept. God’s thoughts are innumerable, but they are innumerable about me. My life matters to God.  

18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.
How could I possibly count all the blessings God has given me? I could study theology to learn more. God’s presence lasts longer than my studies about Him. My theologizing is temporary. Eventually I have to stop and get some rest. David seems to get lost in thought here. When I wake up in the morning, there is God! The Lord greets me every morning. He has kept me alive all night. Doctrine: the Dependence of Man upon God. One day, I will wake up and see Him face-to-face.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.[b]
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.
There seems to be a sharp break here. But it flows from the previous verses. David’s devotion to God makes him love God; therefore he hates evil. I love my wife; I hate the thought of anyone hurting her. Wickedness, thirst for blood, deceitful religion, hatred of God, rebellion against Him–these are affronts to God and to His image in the people He has made. After seeing the loving care God invests in man, we see the doctrines of Human Dignity and the Goodness of God. These evildoers, whom David hates and distances himself from, reject both human dignity and God’s goodness. Hence David’s sharp reaction to them.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts![c]
David invites God to do what He has already been doing. But this is faith. It’s not just belief that God knows me. It is asking God to know me. It is commitment. David would go to the Father; Jesus says in John 14:6 that no one comes to the Father except through Him. So this must be messianic faith. It is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the God-Man, who knows His people intimately, and who, having searched them and having known their hearts, takes their sinful thoughts and hearts upon Himself, paying the penalty on their behalf and bestowing on them His own heart of righteousness. 

24 And  see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting![d]
Even his outburst of jealous love, David here submits to God for review. He offers his willing consent for the Divine Gardner to prune from him anything that is not pleasing to Him. He invokes the Good Shepherd to lead him to everlasting life. Because God is his Caretaker, David entrusts Him with everything. This is faith. Our desire is the same. And our Shepherd is truly everlasting–from before the creation of the world, to long after the story of this world is ended. We must seek everlasting life from Him; this is what He freely offers all who come to Him in faith. Because all lives are important to Him. This motivates me to glorify and love God–and to go pursue the flourishing and safety of the life of my neighbor, including (especially!) my unborn neighbor.  

 

Notes: a key theme here is that God is always present with His people. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus (the ultimate Son of David) was preparing to depart from earth and take His place on the heavenly throne, He told His disciples, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). As good Jews, they would have already known the precious promise of the Old Covenant, presented here in Psalm 139, that God is always with His people. So when Jesus said, “I am with you always,”  He was taking the promise that God the Holy Spirit had spoken through David, and applying it to Himself. It was as if Jesus was saying, “You already know that God will always be with you. Behold, I am that God.”

Ten days later, at Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, who indwelt Jesus’ disciples and literally fulfilled the beautiful truths of Psalm 139. By His Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with His people, whom He purchased by His blood. He convicts them and leads them.

Along with David, Christ-followers may now cry to Jesus, “See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” and absolutely believe, beyond the shadow of the doubt, that He will do exactly that. 

When we follow the way of the Lord to whom our lives matter so much, we imitate Him. When we imitate Him, we defend the lives and God-given dignity of those around us. Autonomy is unacceptable, but so is apathy, when lives that God is forming are being destroyed.

*****

ESV Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 139:14 Or for I am fearfully set apart
  2. Psalm 139:20 Hebrew lacks your name
  3. Psalm 139:23 Or cares
  4. Psalm 139:24 Or in the ancient way (compare Jeremiah 6:16)

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

My Recent MeetUp Teaching Plan On The Subject, “Meaning: What Makes Life Worth Living?”

For those who might be interested, here’s the teaching plan I wrote up, to facilitate a recent “Ask A Pastor” MeetUp (if you use this or any part of it, please properly attribute it–and let me know!)

Ask a Pastor MeetUp #3: Meaning Talk

“Absolutely futility. Everything is futile.” –King Solomon

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –Jesus

  • Ice Breaker: (state your name, then) name something you have no interest in.
  • What makes life worth living?

People I asked said:

  • “Family. God and family” (Tony, age 50, baby on the way).
  • “Family and my girlfriend” (Zladko, Starbucks patron).
  • “People I love, pursuing my passions, and standing up for worthy causes (Max, aspiring actor).”
  • “Worship. This life is temporary. But working to be perfect is easier said than done” (Omar, barista, Muslim).
  • “Family” (Andrea, fiancée).
  • “Experiences and how they shape me” (Josh, barista, depression-overcomer).
  • “The pursuit of happiness” (Nathan, musician, manufacturer, friend).

THE OPTIONS

  1. Love (Sex/Romance/Family/Friends)
    • Why it’s good
      • Man & woman created for relationship, marriage, sex (Genesis 2:18)
      • Family is God’s plan for godly children (Mal. 2:15)
      • Friendship is a gift from God (Prov. 17:17)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Makes life meaningless apart from romance
      • Puts too much pressure on other, imperfect humans (Jerry Maguire effect)
      • Leads to fear of loss and control, manipulaion
  1. Wealth (Money, possessions, retirement)
    • Why its good
      • We are created with needs for food, shelter, etc. (fruit in garden of Eden, clothes after the Fall)
      • Gives ability to share (Hebrews 13:16)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Practically it doesn’t work—false promise of security
      • Love of money is a root of evil
      • Makes meaning contingent on possessions—inaccessible for the poor. Who’s going to say that poor people have less meaningful lives!
  1. Success (Legacy; Personal sense of fulfillment; American Dream; Approval from others)
    • Why it’s good
      • We’re created for work, mission, quest.
      • “Do all to the glory of God”—we should seek to do our best at all times.
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Become a slave to work, when it is ultimate.
      • Work is not meant to be an end in itself.
      • Self-promotion, leads to fear, frustration, manipulation—self-focused striving.
  1. Power (Political power, promotion, personal influence)
    • Why it’s good
      • Government instituted by God (Romans 13) to protect innocent and punish evil.
      • Positive influence is a gift from God (“discipleship”—teaching others to live for God)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Some may never have access to it.
      • When sought for its own sake, it leads to corruption, etc.
      • In its worst forms, inevitably leads to tyranny.
  1. Religion
    • Why it’s good
      • We’re created for worship and obedience (Ecclesiastes 12)
      • Has a positive effect on the individual and society (12 houses of worship in Philadelphia added $50M to their area).
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Impossible to know if you’ve done enough
      • Leads to pride, self-focus, because based on performance
      • Leads to oppression, fear, control, coercion.


These options come down to rejecting our Creator and taking the reins ourselves. A (temporary) life lived that way, in this world, inevitably leads to a (forever) death in the next world
(Revelation 21:8; Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 13:50; Mark 9:43….).

THE BIBLE’S ANSWER:

A restored and right relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ, gives meaning to all of life.

  • Glorify God: 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Know God: John 10:10
  • Obey God: Ecclesiastes 12
  • Bring others to God (Matthew 28:18-20)

Knowing Jesus ties everything else together:

  • Love:
    1. “We love because He first loved us.”
    2. Love based on Jesus’ sacrificial death for His people
  • Wealth:
    1. Treasure in heaven that can’t be lost, destroyed, or stolen
    2. Greatest treasure is knowing God
    3. Needs met in community (Church)
    1. “Glory, honor and immortality.”
    2. Running the race, fighting the good fight. Winning the prize.
  • Power
    1. Think clearly about human government (don’t put all your eggs in that basket!)
    2. Trust in God’s designed outcome, whoever is president.
    3. Freed from personal striving for more and more influence/fame.
  • Religion
    1. Flows from gratitude and future hope, rather than oppressive and uncertain obligation.
    2. Based on personal relationship rather than impersonal law.
    3. Actually effective, and it pleases God—“The righteous shall live by faith.”

How to be reconciled to God:

  • John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  • Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • In short, “repent” and believe” in Jesus.
    • Acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (and you’re not!) and Savior (again, not you).
    • Believe that God raised Him from the dead (in other words… the Gospel is true).
    • “Lose your life” for His sake, and you will find real life. Matthew 16:25.

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” –Jim Eliot.

*****

For further reading:

 

I’m on #CFTP Episode 14

I jumped onto the NCT Porch again this week. The NCT Divines and I had a solid, lengthy discussion on the “Conversations From the Porch” podcast about how to share the Gospel.

Key questions we talked about included, is it okay to use the Law of Moses to show people their sin? Also, we talked about open air preaching–which for Yours Truly means having loud conversations about Jesus in Starbucks–but for Bros. Paul, Chris & Joseph means something totally different.

You can listen to the full conversation here.

Join the conversation in the “Conversations From the Porch” Facebook group.

 

Why I’ve Been Doing MeetUps

Last night, nine conversation partners gathered at Barnes & Noble Cafe to discuss the question of what gives life meaning–what makes life worth living?

It was the third session of a MeetUp group I’ve been hosting, called “Ask A Pastor.” If you are a church leader looking for new ideas, I recommend starting a MeetUp.

MeetUp?

If you don’t know, MeetUp is a website/app that allows people from all over to gather around similar interests. There are MeetUps out there for nearly every interest imaginable.

As someone who enjoys bringing people together and combining teaching with genuine conversation, I have co-led discussion groups in the past. But I got the idea of using MeetUp as a platform for spiritual conversations from Tom Schmidt, a church planter and pastor in Naperville, Illinois. Tom has been an incredible resource for me–and he was even gracious enough to let me straight-up steal the name of his group. (Here’s his,  and here’s mine; see what I mean?)

Last night’s MeetUp was a really engaging conversation, and we spent our time talking on everything from where we look for significance, to textual criticism of the Bible and even Church history. It’s encouraging to see that folks are thinking about these things, and it’s even more encouraging to know that, through these “Ask A Pastor” MeetUps we are creating an environment where people of all religious stripes and philosophical bents can come together and discuss these issues.

Some weeks, the discussion has gotten heated, and certainly not everyone agrees with one another, but our conversation partners have always left as friends. And as I might have expected, some of the best discussion actually happens after the official MeetUps end.

Benefits of MeetUps

Along with the rich conversations, here are some of the other benefits that have come from the group:

  • The chance to make new friends.
  • Connecting believers with unbelievers in friendly conversation.
  • Offering Christians and non-Christians exposure to one another’s worldviews.
  • Presenting space for seekers to get their questions answered.
  • Gaining Christians valuable experience in having spiritual conversations with people who believe differently than them.
  • Providing a safe “front porch” for individuals who are interested in spiritual things, but are not yet ready to attend church.
  • For me as a follower of Christ, it’s been great to have the opportunity to talk about Jesus with people who don’t yet know Him.
  • Encouraging church members (at Park we call them partners) to bring their friends with them for spiritual conversation.
  • Bringing exposure to the local church in the neighborhood (we host our MeetUp around the corner from where our church gathers for worship services).
  • Giving people a chance to share everything they really believe about a subject without fear of judgment.

ask a pastor table.jpegThe Format

At our group, no spiritual or biblical background is required or assumed. Everyone’s viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.

Again, using Tom Schmidt’s format, our meetings look like this:

  • 5-10 minutes of introductions and ice breakers.
  • 15-20 minutes of teaching–I present a biblical view of the night’s question or topic (I spend the bulk of my time involved in the MeetUp with the teaching portion). During the teaching, I’ve handed out cards for participants to write down questions, comments, or observations.
  •  60-80 minutes of open discussion. Sometimes I provide prompts, but other times it just flows.
  • 3-4 minutes of wrap-up. I’ll recap the discussion and put my pastoral “bow” on the discussion. At this point, folks are free to take off, but some will typically stay and hang out. The official times run from 7PM – 8:30PM, but conversation has continued long into the night.

The Conclusion of the Matter

Whether you are a pastor, consider yourself an evangelist, or just enjoy getting diverse people together for enriching discussion, I highly recommend starting a MeetUp. There’s a fee, but it’s been worth it for us.

If you decide to go this route too, would you do me a favor? Let me know. Shoot me an email (jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org) and tell me how it’s going. I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have about what’s worked (and not worked) for us.

Final call to My Skeptical Friends 

Before I go, let me say: while “Ask A Pastor” is facilitated by an unabashed Christian (i.e. Yours Truly), our group is open to people of all faiths and no faith, and we work hard to keep the group non-judgmental and respectful to everyone. However, I have yet to find an atheist/secular humanist MeetUp group in my area that is open to having followers of Jesus participate. I totally understand the desire to share ideas with like-minded people, but there is a real benefit in opening your group to people who believe differently than you do. If you or someone you know hosts such a group, preferably in Chicago, would you let me know? I would love to attend and participate!

Live on the Northwest Side of Chicago? To RSVP for the next “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions)” MeetUp, click here

 

Join Me On The Porch

Last week I joined the “Divines” of the “Conversations From The Porch Podcast,” to discuss my New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones. You can check out that goodness here.

See you on the Porch.

Sermon Notes on Psalm 130:7-8

Yesterday, July 17, I had the privilege of team-teaching a sermon with Pastor Brenton on Psalm 130. The message was a follow-up to Park’s 7AM lakeshore baptism service, and it was interspersed with personal stories from our attendees who had just been baptized.

I taught from the last two verses of the Psalm, 7 and 8. The big idea was, “Place all your trust in Jesus.” Here are my notes (they read like this: left column top-to-bottom, then right column top-to-bottom). This message was part of Park’s “Honest to God” series, working through the Psalms this summer.

Psalm 130.7-8 Sermon Notes

 

Sermon – Ephesians 6:10-20: “The Armor of God”

Click here to download and listen to my first sermon at Park Edgebrook, preached on June 5, 2016. The link is to the whole service; I start preaching at 22:47.

Third Places

Ever since one particular research assignment in seventh grade, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the “third place.”

The third place is the middle, neutral, social space between your home and your place of occupation (school for students, the beat for police officers, various play groups and kid-friendly zones for full-time mothers). In Rome, the third place was the piazza, the public square or marketplace. In ancient Israel, it seems to have been the area by the city gates.  In Greece, it was the agora. At one time in Chicago, it was Bughouse Square (that one’s worth a quick google).

This is where ideas are exchanged safely and offered for communal evaluation. Radio host Janet Parshall gets at the idea when she talks about engaging in “the marketplace of ideas.”

Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg has written extensively on the subject of these “informal public gathering spaces,” so I won’t go any further into depth into their definition.  What I’m interested in is where I can find and enjoy these wonderful gathering places near me.

[One quick caveat: for me, the most natural third place is my church. It’s social, it’s a place where ideas are exchanged, and it fosters the kind of meaningful interaction that (as Oldenburg has said) is critical to democracy. However, strictly speaking, the church is not a place. That being said, if you’re on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago, you need to visit my church. Let me know and I’ll save you a pew.]

So this is why, if you follow my Instagram feed you’ll find it filled to the brim with (typically black and white) portraits of coffee shops, public houses, and other various modern-day neutral gathering spaces. I’m on the hunt for third places.

Zach and Slater had the Max; Jerry and George had Monk’s; Seth and Ryan had the Crab Shack (Yep, that’s an “O.C” reference. You’re welcome.). As for me, I’m still in search of the perfect third place. But here’s a few that I’ve enjoyed over the last few years:

  • Chelios’ Pub & Grill, Aurora (the original home of the Forum (née Bible Guys) weekly discussion group)
  • Two Brothers Roundhouse, Aurora (especially the cafe–good golly that place is fantastic)
  • The Student Center at Grace Pointe Church, Plainfield (I’m a little biased, in that I helped create this space and used to work at the church. But it’s proven to be a really good place to gather, and not just for youths. Grace Pointe really uses the space well in various ways.)
  • Galvin’s Public House, Jefferson Park, Chicago (cozy Irish pub, where I’ll be hosting upcoming “Bible for Skeptics” MeetUps)
  • Trading Post Tobacco & Cigars (I just discovered this place in Downtown (Uptown for purists) Edgebrook. Truly a third place. Bill the owner and a few regulars got me into a spirited conversation within a minute of me walking in.)
  • La Vita Cigars, St. Charles (frequented by Joe Thorn, Jimmy Fowler and the Redeemer Fellowship guys–so you know it’s a solid place)
  • The Skokie Public Library, Skokie (this place is always packed, and with good reason. And they engage the community super well. I’m participating in a panel discussion on human origins there on September 19th. It’s worth it just to go hang out at this library!)
  • Barnes & Noble Cafe, Skokie (home of Ask A Pastor)
  • North Avenue Beach, Lincoln Park, Chicago (jam-packed with volleyballers during the summer months)
  • And finally, just about every Starbucks I’ve ever been to. Some call Starbucks an “evil chain,” but there’s a reason they are popping up in the heart of so many neighborhoods. They understand what it means to be the third place, and they’re dead set on becoming exactly that.

Based on my own brainstorming and a few conversations I’ve had, some other suggestions for third places are:

  • Barbershops/beauty parlors
  • Little league and soccer teams/games
  • Facebook and social media (No. I refuse to count anything that consists ultimately of staring at a screen instead of interacting with in-person humans.)
  • VFWs and social organizations and fraternities (think Rotary, Moose lodges, etc.)
  • Corner stores
  • Public parks

How about you? Do you have a go-to third place–somewhere where you can expect unplanned, no-agenda encounters with friends? Where you can share authentic experiences with people who would ordinarily not necessarily be your friends but you have been brought together in, or perhaps by a common space? Where you can be yourself but also be confident you will go home a better person for your interactions you’ve had there? Let me know.

*****

Get in touch: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

A Few More Thoughts on Spiritual Warfare

Yesterday I preached at Park EB from Ephesians 6:10-20. The subject was “The Armor of God,” and together we homed in on what the Apostle Paul calls the “Breastplate of Righteousness.”

Some takeaways: 

In this passage, Paul reminds followers of Jesus, that God has given us His own armor to fight our spiritual battle–remember, our enemy is not “flesh and blood” but spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. I know, this sounds like a very foreign concept, if you didn’t grow up in the church, or you are new to Christian teaching. So I addressed the seeming strangeness of spiritual warfare in the first few minutes of my talk.

Here’s the takeaway from this passage: you and I are in the middle of a spiritual battle, against invisible forces that are vastly stronger than us, and completely malevolent. Our only hope is to take up the weapons and equip ourselves with the armor God has provided for us. In particular, we talked about how “practical righteousness” protects our hearts and minds against Satan’s attacks, temptations and accusations.

The crucial piece to remember is two-fold:

  1. Any spiritual defense must, must, must originate in your relationship to God, and that can only be found through Jesus Christ. It’s Jesus who won the victory against evil, when He conquered sin and death by dying and rising from the dead. And it’s Jesus who empowers His followers to wage spiritual warfare, who continues to win our battles for us, as we put on His spiritual armor and follow Him into battle. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I would urge you to take the claims of Jesus, recorded in the Bible seriously, and put your faith in Him (and I would be happy to discuss this with you more if you want. Hit me up).
  2. We strengthen our “breastplates” and eliminate gaps in our armor, when we commit every day to living in obedience to the commands of Jesus. And these commands are not burdensome (Jesus is not a tyrant but a loving King) but actually liberating.

Further reading/viewing: 

Want to discuss this or anything else related to the Bible, God, Jesus or the spiritual life? Shoot me an email at my new address: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org

Catechism Qs 6-7

What did God make?  

God made me and everything.

How did God make everything?

Out of nothing, by His word.  

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (NIrV)

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.

John 1:1-3 (ESV)

Q5 teaches a truth about reality, that sets Christianity apart from other religions. In its essence, it is answering the question, “Is all one?” The Bible’s answer to the question is no. All is not one. Rather, reality is clearly and distinctly divided into two separate categories: Creator and creation. The Creator is not part of creation, but He is instead its explanation. Why is this so important? Because as a human species, we have so often gotten this wrong. In fact, Peter Jones has pointed out that every other concept of reality, besides the biblical one, is really just another way of saying, “all is one.” Ever since the Garden of Eden, we humans have been attempting to blur the line between God and man, between creation and Creator. It is in our natures to do this–which is evident when we survey world religions and the various worldviews that exist out there. We humans are constantly trying to (a) make ourselves equal to God, or (b) make God equal to His creation. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to survey all the worldviews that do this right now, but we will look quickly at one example: Philosophical Materialism.

Philosophical Materialism is a worldview that says that matter and energy is all that exists. There is no soul (the mind is a product of physical processes); there is no God. The material universe is all there is. The cosmos is its own creator. In other words, all is one. Think about this: if there is no God, and matter is all there is, and we are matter–and we are the “highest evolved” form of matter in the universe, then we get to define our own reality for ourselves. After all, there is no one and nothing higher than homo sapiens to define reality for us. We are the ultimate authority in the cosmos. We are, for all intents and purposes, gods.

Of course, when you follow this line of thinking out to its inevitable conclusions, this means that those who are stronger have more authority to define reality than those who are weaker (after all, who’s to say they don’t?), and it opens the door to all kinds of oppression of the powerless by the powerful. Isn’t it ironic, that a worldview which strives to free humanity ultimately ends up enslaving it? That is what happens when we substitute our own ideas for the truth about reality, expressed in Scripture. We are not going to come up with a better system than the loving God has put in place. After all, He is Creator, and we are merely creation. 

The Bible contradicts Materialism (and its twin siblings Naturalism and Scientism) in its very first sentence: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Right from the start, Scripture teaches that all is not one. The cosmos is not all there is, and it did not and could not create itself. There is a distinction between the contingent creation, which might not have existed, and the necessary Creator, who could not not exist.

Someone could be a practical materialist, even if he or she did not consciously subscribe to Philosophical Materialism. How? By living as though material things were all that mattered. There is a reason why greedy and vain people are called “materialistic.” It is important to check our hearts, because the “stuff” of this world can easily become more important to us than the Lord who made all the stuff, and graciously provides it to us to enjoy, steward, and share with others. One day Jesus will return, and it will not matter then how much “material” we have accumulated.

So, the “bad news” for us is this: we are not the highest authority in the universe. God made us, and He made everything. He has the rights of the Builder, and He gets to do what He wants. To our natural, sinful selves, this really seems like bad news. We want to be creator–in charge, autonomous.

But when the Lord opens a sinner’s eyes, and when He causes us to see Jesus as He truly is–as the rightful king of creation–our relative cosmic powerlessness becomes the best news in the world. It is the very thing that brings us into the relationship we were designed to enjoy. When we confess that we are utterly helpless to right our wrongs and reconcile us to Him, and when we trust in His Son alone to save us, He makes us children of the Creator God, who made us and everything.

Further reading: 

Only Two Religions, a book and teaching series by Peter Jones. Find it at Ligonier Ministries.