Between Two Graves: Calvin on the Waters Above and Below

Just as the vastness of the sea dwarfs us and makes us mindful of death, so too, according to Calvin, should the falling of rain, for God’s providential ordering of its limits is no different from his ordering the limits of the seas. 

One of the quirkier parts of the early books of Genesis for modern readers is the way in which it speaks of “waters above” and “waters below.” We first get this on the second day, when God creates the sky:
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.Genesis 1:6-8
The idea seems to recur in Gen. 2:5-7:
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Then, when the flood arrives in Gen. 7:11-12, we find waters above and below once more:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.
The idea seems inherently odd to us, given our modern understanding of the water cycle. We see all water on earth as being in constant motion, evaporating upwards before forming into clouds and coming down again as precipitation. We no longer picture a static “storehouse” (cf. Job 38:22) of water above us, distinctly separated from the water in the seas, lakes, and rivers down here. Because of our understanding of gravity, we see the primary “resting place” of water as down here on the ground, since it will always go with gravitational pull in its solid or liquid forms.
This further contrasts with a prevailing medieval/ancient Christian view of creation, which regarded God as directly holding the limits of water in place, a la Job 38:8-11. This view rested on a few medieval/ancient physical and cosmological assumptions: they viewed the cosmos as being structured as a series of concentric, Russian Doll-like spheres, and these spheres included the four elements (Earth, Water, Air, and Fire). Earth sat at the bottom, clearly being the heaviest element. But if water is lighter than earth, why then is the earth not entirely covered with water, which should naturally rise above it? The broad Christian answer was the miraculous providence of God, who held the waters back to allow for human life. I’ve described this as an ancient/medieval view, but it remained in place in the early modern era, and was that of Reformers like John Calvin.[1]
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Heaven Bound: 2 Important Things to Remember to Develop an Eternal Mind-Set

Many of us are blessed to enjoy some of this world’s most beautiful places, and for some of us, seeing God’s power and divine nature through creation is commonplace. Yet, we ought to guard ourselves from believing for even a moment that the most beautiful things we have seen can touch the beauty and majesty of our God.

The other day a song came on the radio that has stuck with me in a not-so-great way. The premise of the song dealt with the singer wondering how heaven could be any better than being with this new woman he had met. Then, not long after I heard this, I heard someone refer to the places we experience in the outdoors as “heaven.”
These comparisons feel innocent enough. Most of us have probably experienced the emotional high of finding a new “love” or the breathtaking vistas that nature can provide. But there is a deeper problem. If we truly believe these earthly things are as satisfying as heaven, then we may be falling victim to a cheapening of how sweet and good heaven actually is.
I want to point out two things to which we cling as Christians concerning heaven.
Heaven is where God’s throne is.
First, Scripture speaks of “heaven” as the place where God’s throne is, and thus, where God is. We know that God is omnipresent, so what makes the presence of God in heaven so special? Romans 1 gives some insight:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom. 1:18)

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Why We Rejoice Over the Supreme Court’s Dobbs Decision

In the providence of God, the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was handed down five days after I began an exposition of Romans 13:1-7. My first sermon on that passage (which came during an ongoing study of the whole letter) involved an overview of it, outlining the argument that Paul makes and the way that he makes it. I also explained the nature of authority and the jurisdictional realms in which God has delegated His authority in His world, namely the home, the church, and the state.
My sermon after that decision focused on verse 1, which states the thesis for the whole paragraph: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Because God has instituted civil governments, everyone is obligated to be submissive to them. The idea of government and governmental authorities comes from God. This is a fundamental truth that all Christians must remember as we work out our public, and especially our political, theology. We are submissive to governmental authorities because we are subject to Jesus Christ, who possesses “all authority” (Matthew 28:18).
We must remember this as we think about the Supreme Court’s recent decision (in Dobbs) to overturn the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. Because God has even the heart of kings in His hands (Proverbs 21:1) we know that, ultimately, that decision is His work. Since it is a work that offers some legal protection to unborn children, everyone who loves mercy and justice should unashamedly rejoice. By its ruling the current justices determined that Roe v. Wade was an unjust decision—a mistake made by an earlier iteration of the court.
No one can legitimately doubt the accuracy of this ruling. In 1973 the right to abortion was invented out of thin air and attributed to the fourteenth amendment. But any honest reader will study in vain to find the right to kill unborn babies in that amendment. Certainly, those who adopted the amendment in 1868 had no thought of it being used to justify abortion.
The idea of government and governmental authorities comes from God. This is a fundamental truth that all Christians must remember as we work out our public, and especially our political, theology.
So, praise God that on June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed an unrighteous decision by overturning Roe v. Wade. It was the right decision before both the law of God—“You shall not murder”—and before the Constitution of the United States—“No State shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The United States federal government is comprised of a chief executive (the President) and representatives (Congressmen & women and Senators) who are all elected by the citizens. These elected officials are obligated to carry out their responsibilities according to the rules that are established in a written constitution.
The third branch of our federal government is the judiciary with the Supreme Court being the highest court in our land. It has the responsibility of settling questions and controversies arising under the laws of our nation. Its job is to interpret the United States Constitution and render judgments on the constitutionality of all lesser laws or actions that become the occasion of dispute.
Chiseled into the Supreme Court building in Washington DC, just above the main entrance, are the words,
That motto expresses the primary responsibility of the Supreme Court—to ensure that the citizens of the United States are granted equal justice under the laws of our land, the highest of which is the constitution itself.
By reversing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has properly carried out its duty to at least begin the process of restoring equal protection under the law for the most vulnerable among us—unborn babies. So, lovers of justice rejoice and should thank God for His kind provision of this decision.
We who know the Lord should especially rejoice over God’s kindness in causing those justices to make the ruling that they did. Their decision brings our nation back into a closer alignment to the governing authorities that God has appointed over us in the civil arena.
What I mean is this. The God of whom Job 12:23 says, “He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away,” the God who establishes empires and casts them down, this God—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—in His providence established the United States of America in such a fashion that our highest governing authority is not a person or an office, but a document. And that document—the Constitution of the United States—was recognized and submitted to by the Supreme Court when they overturned Roe v. Wade and began to recognize that unborn babies deserve equal justice under law just like every other image-bearer of God.
By reversing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has properly carried out its duty to at least begin the process of restoring equal protection under the law for the most vulnerable among us—unborn babies.
So, we praise God for ordaining government and for providentially establishing the government of the United States as a constitutional republic. We further praise Him that the highest court in the judicial branch of our government properly exercised their authority in making a righteous ruling by overturning the wicked ruling of Roe v. Wade.
While this does not mean that unborn babies will now be afforded equal protection under the law, it is a step in the right direction. Let’s continue to call on our civil authorities at every level and in every branch of government to exercise their God-given authority in ways that He has prescribed. And let us continue to be subject to them out of our greater submission to the King of all Kings and Lord of all lords, Jesus Christ.

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Conceited Motherhood: Three Temptations Moms Face

A pyrophobic firefighter. A book-averse librarian. A doctor who is grossed out by germs. We shake our heads at the thought of these living, breathing oxymorons. If such workers exist (and they just well might), we would think them comical at best and hypocritical at worst.

Conceited mothers are no different.

By its very nature, motherhood is humbling work. From the moment of her child’s conception, a woman willingly opens her womb for the ministry of hospitality. She welcomes new life by giving her body as a sacrifice, laying down her comfort and pre-baby body on the maternal altar of love.

After intense pains bring forth her child, a mother’s labor has only just begun. Moment by moment, day by day, over many years, she assumes the role of a servant leader, laying herself down for the good of her kids.

Yes, motherhood is humbling work. And that makes conceited motherhood a sad contradiction.

War Against Conceit

We moms know this, and yet we still wage war against selfishness. Most mornings, I have to verbally remind myself before my two little kids come downstairs, “They are not here to help you. You are here to help them.” For those of us who love Christ and long to be more like him, our struggle with sin remains — but thank God there is a struggle! Our fight against it offers good evidence that we are truly alive in Christ. He has changed our hearts and given us the desire to be humble as he is humble:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3–8)

“To be a humble mom is to look increasingly like Jesus as we look increasingly to Jesus.”

Jesus Christ is the most humble human who has ever lived. So, to be a humble mom — a mom who fights against “selfish ambition or conceit,” and therefore a mom in the truest, God-given sense of the word — is to look increasingly like Jesus as we look increasingly to Jesus. Only as we realize that he lives to serve his people (us!) will we fight the temptation toward selfishness and long for a heart that looks like his.

Because knowing and loving him is more satisfying than anything we could gain by sin.

Three Temptations We Face

Let’s identify now three ways that selfish ambition and conceit tempt mothers like you and me, following Paul’s flow of thought in the passage above. Then we will counter each of these temptations with a lingering look at Jesus, the holy and humble Son of God, who alone can deliver us from self and clothe us in his humility.

Temptation 1: Count Yourself More Significant Than Your Kids

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

You know the thought: This work — whether diaper changing, mess cleaning, snack making, or repeating myself a hundred times — is below me. I am too good for this. We may not say these words, but many of us think or feel them. Motherhood involves repetitive, simple, lowly work toward little ones, and so it’s easy to think we are too important for it.

Eve’s original temptation from the garden is ours: we want to be like God. And yet, in our pride, we don’t realize how low our God has stooped to serve sinners like us.

We may think we have good reasons for struggling to serve, but if anyone actually does, it would be the Son of God. And yet, nothing kept him from stooping to help us:

Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6–7)

This is astounding. The Son of God left his high position in heaven and made his home in the dust of earth. He left his unseen form as God of the universe and confined himself to a human body and soul. He left the glory he had known for all eternity to walk among sinful and murderous people.

“In our motherly pride, we may want to be like God — but the truth is, our God has become like us.”

In our motherly pride, we may want to be like God — but the truth is, our God has become like us. He wrapped himself in human flesh to deliver us from our sinful flesh, from the selfishness and conceit that would keep us from being faithful mothers who willingly lower ourselves to serve our kids, counting it our joy and privilege to do so. Only as we gaze upon the incarnate humility of Jesus will our definition of significance be altered, for his stooping posture of service is the perfect picture of greatness (Matthew 23:11). With all our hearts, we confess our pride and ask him to empty us of our former selves, filling us instead with Spirit-given joy in taking the posture of a servant (John 13:14).

Temptation 2: Look Only to Your Own Interests

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

Every mom knows how often plans change. And this is humbling. As we realize that we are not God, that our future is not in our control, and that only he knows what’s next, we are confronted with how tightly we hold to our own interests. We’re made aware of our vice grip on our circumstances. We think, This wasn’t my plan. We need to spend precious naptime minutes disciplining our child instead of resting; we must cancel our long-awaited vacation because everyone has the flu; our dream of motherhood is thwarted by a life-altering diagnosis in one of our children.

The question for us is, How will we respond to God when plans change? In pride, or in humility?

During his earthly ministry, Jesus’s posture was to joyfully humble himself to the will of his Father. Even as he sought rest, solitude, and prayer after a busy season of ministering, he found himself confronted by needy crowds (sound familiar?). And what was his response? He was not annoyed or angry, but “he had compassion on them,” for he knew that these people were sent to him straight from his Father (Matthew 14:13–21).

He looked not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others, and ultimately to the interests of his Father.

The ultimate display of his obedience to the Father was the cross: “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). The sinless one took on our sin, bearing the full weight of God’s wrath in our place. What matchless obedience! And this, so we also would joyfully humble ourselves before God and obey his will, looking to his interests and the interests of others above our own.

This is freedom, momma. To be released from the tyranny and fallenness of self into the perfect ways and infinitely wise agenda of God as we serve our kids — this is the truest life, and true, humble motherhood.

Temptation 3: Forget Who You Are in Christ

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)

What mind does Paul call us to have? A humble one. A Christlike one. But lest we get discouraged by our remaining selfishness, by how far we still feel from Jesus’s humility, Paul reminds us of a vital reality: our union with Christ. “Which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Mom, you no longer belong to yourself. If you have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, then you have been united to him in saving faith. This means that you have an unshakable security in Christ that no bad day of motherhood can undo. It means you are not left to your own resources as you fight selfishness, but have his Spirit of humility dwelling within you. It means that sin is no longer your master; Jesus is.

So when you are tempted to forget who you are in Christ — when the pull toward lofty pride or your own interests feels too strong; when you would rather scoff at your kid’s mess than clean it up (again); when you “just want to be done,” but the needs keep rolling in — remember that the living Savior lives in you. The exalted one, seated at the Father’s right hand, has made his home within you by his Spirit. You are Christ’s, he is yours, and he joyfully gives himself, without restraint, to you.

You are united to the God of all creation, who emptied himself to serve you to the point of death, and all the way through it to resurrection life. And if this perfectly humble God is on your side, momma, what conceit or selfishness can stand against you?

Are Silvanus and Timothy Apostles? 1 Thessalonians 2:5–8, Part 3

A La Carte (June 28)

My church is once again offering an internship program for those who have completed seminary training or are near completion with the intention to pursue full-time pastoral ministry. Details are at the link.

(Yesterday on the blog: The Beauty of Duty)
Finding Family
“God’s family is a precious thing, bound by wine and bread instead of blood and resemblance. Its members don’t dress alike, share a uniform culture or a common language. But whether it be in a building or a living room, whether through candles and liturgy or guitars and blue jeans, whenever believers gather, we belong to each other. And wherever two or more of us come together, Jesus is there.”
What to Do with Regret
We all go through life carrying some regrets. Barbara offers some counsel on what to do with them.
What happens to God’s people after they die? (Video)
This is a question we have all wondered, isn’t it?
Speeding in Opposite Directions: ‘Lightyear’ and ‘Maverick’
I appreciate Brett McCracken’s two-for-one review of new films. “Where the original Toy Story was a wide-eyed marvel of artistry and enchanting storytelling, Lightyear is overstuffed and uninspired. And where Toy Story celebrated childhood as childhood, even leading adult viewers to feel like kids again, Lightyear does the opposite—pushing childhood into adulthood in inappropriate ways.”
Is Sermon Application Even Necessary?
Is sermon application necessary or optional? This article suggest it’s a necessary part of preaching.
“Let the Little Children Come To Me”
Kevin DeYoung says that the real monstrosity of Roe was not legal but moral.
Flashback: When God Seems Deaf To Our Cries
When Joseph was in the pit he must have cried out for God to deliver him then and there, to return him to his father that very day. But if God had answered that prayer, he would have preserved Joseph’s life only for it to end in starvation.

Making disciples is an act that calls for embodied presence. It requires sharing our lives. It demands we dive into the deep end – even if we’re not convinced we know how to swim. —Drew Hill

“The Man on the Middle Cross Said I Can Come”

While most people would agree that our world is broken, they may not agree about how to fix it. In the following clip, Alistair looks to the unique experience of the thief on the cross as a reminder that the only solution to brokenness is found in the execution of an innocent man: Jesus, the Son of God.
Without the preaching of the cross, without preaching the cross to ourselves all day and every day, we will very, very quickly revert to faith plus works as the ground of our salvation; so that, to go to the old Fort Lauderdale question—“If you were to die tonight and you were getting entry into heaven, what would you say?”—if you answer that, and if I answer it, in the first person, we’ve immediately gone wrong. “Because I…” “Because I believed. Because I have faith. Because I am this. Because I am continuing.” Loved ones, the only proper answer’s in the third person: “Because He…” “Because He…””
Think about the thief on the cross. What an immense… I can’t wait to find that fellow one day to ask him, “How did that shake out for you? Because you were cussing the guy out with your friend. You’d never been in a Bible study. You’d never got baptized. You didn’t know a thing about church membership. And yet—and yet, you made it! You made it! How did you make it?”
That’s what the angel must have said—you know, like, “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“Well, ’cause I don’t know.”
“Well, you know… Excuse me. Let me get my supervisor.”
They go get the supervisor angel: “So, we’ve just a few questions for you. First of all, are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith?”
The guy says, “I’ve never heard of it in my life.”
“And what about… Let’s just go to the doctrine of Scripture immediately.”
This guy’s just staring.
And eventually, in frustration, he says, “On what basis are you here?”
And he said, “The man on the middle cross said I can come.”
Now, that is the only answer. That is the only answer. And if I don’t preach the Gospel to myself all day and every day, then I will find myself beginning to trust myself, trust my experience, which is part of my fallenness as a man. If I take my eyes off the cross, I can then give only lip service to its efficacy while at the same time living as if my salvation depends upon me. And as soon as you go there, it will lead you either to abject despair or a horrible kind of arrogance. And it is only the cross of Christ that deals both with the dreadful depths of despair and the pretentious arrogance of the pride of man that says, “You know, I can figure this out, and I’m doing wonderfully well.” No.

Because the sinless Savior died,My sinful soul is counted free;For God the just is satisfiedTo look on Him and pardon me.

That’s why Luther says most of your Christian life is outside of you, in this sense: that we know that we’re not saved by good works, we’re not saved as a result of our professions, but we’re saved as a result of what Christ has achieved.

On Worship

Written by H.B. Charles, Jr. |
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
No one should ever catch us doing something new when they attend our worship services. It should be the same thing every week, every month, every year. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!

How to Worship God
In the first word of the Ten Commandments, God commanded His people to worship Him exclusively: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). The second word is linked to the first:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex. 20:4–6)
There is some disagreement about how the Ten Commandments should be numbered. Roman Catholics and Lutherans read the first and second commandments as one commandment. To keep ten commandments, they call the preamble (Ex. 20:2) a commandment or divide the tenth commandment (Ex. 20:17) into two parts.
Exodus 20:3 and 4–6 record two different commands. They are two different sides of the same coin. The first commandment is about the proper object of worship. The second commandment is about the proper mode of worship. The first commandment addresses orthodoxy (right belief). The second commandment addresses orthopraxy (right practice). The first commandment tells us whom to worship. The second commandment tells us how to worship. God says, “Worship Me alone.” Then God says, “Worship Me this way.” How we worship matters to God.
The second commandment does not prohibit God’s people from being artistic. The Lord will instruct Moses to have artisans construct the ark of the covenant with artistic elements. The Spirit of God would inspire and empower men to creatively build the tabernacle. This is not a categorical prohibition against carved images. The Lord’s concern here is liturgical, not artistic. We must not make carved images for worship.
The second commandment warns us how misguided sincerity can be. When the children of Israel danced around the golden calf, the Lord did not respond, “Look how sincere they are!” The Lord became so angry that only the passionate intercession of Moses saved their lives. God demands proper worship.
Worship God on His Terms
It is remarkable that the first commandment was necessary. After delivering the children of Israel from Egypt, God still needed to instruct His people not to worship false idols. The second commandment is a natural progression from the first. God disabuses His people of the assumption that it does not matter how we worship, as long as we worship the right God. Redeemed people can still offer unacceptable worship if it is not on God’s terms.
God cannot be controlled. That is what happens with carved images. A symbol makes visible what is invisible and tangible what is intangible. In so doing, the reality behind the symbol is tamed, controlled, and neutered. Why do you think there is so much controversy over the American flag? It is a symbol that points to a reality. How one treats the symbol is a statement of what one thinks about the reality it represents.
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