Signs and Seals

Selecting a wedding band was once a straightforward affair.   The only real decisions regarded size and engraving.   A gold band was a gold band.   Larger or smaller, bought at a pawn shop or jeweler, it was adiaphora – a matter of indifference.    And as a pastor, the language used in the wedding service at the giving of the rings was also straightforward.

The ring is a visible symbol of the spiritual covenant that you are making today before God.  The ring will serve for you, and for your children, and for all who see it as a reminder of the purity and the permanence of your marriage covenant.  

Like the gold in the ring which symbolizes purity and beauty, your love for one another is to be pure — unmixed and uncompromised by any other priorities, second only to your love for Christ.   And like ring whose shape, the circle, has neither beginning nor end, you are covenanting today, before God, to enter into a marriage that is permanent and unbreakable.

The gold in your ring may get scratched from time to time, but its beauty and luster will endure.  In the same way there will be trials in your relationship as you learn what it means to live as one-flesh, but your ring will be a constant testimony to you that God has brought you together for keeps. 

But now, during pre-marital counseling, I know to ask “what type of ring will you have?”  While the significance of the ring has nothing to do with what it represents, the liturgy must accommodate the wide diversity of materials now used in wedding bands.   Gold is no longer a given.  Millennials opt for titanium, silicone, and even tattoos.    Nothing says ‘permanence’ like a tattooed wedding band.

While I don’t jibe with everything the in her blog, I appreciate what Laura Ulveling writes in a post promoting GrooveLife alternative rings.

Your ring is simply a universally recognized symbol to show the world and each other that you have committed your life to someone. Whether the wedding ring you chose is cheap or extravagant, gold or platinum, diamond or silicone, its design has no impact on its value.

Even if you decide to exchange traditional wedding rings at the altar, you can still order a set of Groove rings for your adventurous days so you don’t lose your diamonds while you’re climbing waterfalls or deep-sea diving on your honeymoon!

A ring’s design has no impact on its value.  Signs illustrate.  Seals authenticate.  A wedding ring is a sign and seal of the covenant of marriage.   The ring does not make you married and the absence of one does not remove that covenant.   But the ring does point you, and everyone else, to the unbreakable fact that you belong to someone.  The ring can’t make you a spouse, but it can make you a liar.  You have made and received promises.  And those promises define everything about your life.  

One of the pervasive analogies of faith in the Bible is that of husband and wife.  Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord says to his people, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”   This is the wedding vow of the ancient world.   God is the husband to his people.  The New Testament picks up this analogy.  The church is the bride of Christ.   God makes a covenant of grace with his people.  A promise is made and sealed with his own blood in the person of Jesus.   And this promise changes everything.  

But there are days when life crashes in.  When experience seems to contradict or nullify God’s promises.   Can we trust his promises?  Can we trust him?  Is God a faithful spouse?   And when I am not faithful, will he still love me and keep his vows?   Psalm 103 declares that the Lord knows our “frame, that we are but dust.”  Yet, even in our spiritual fragility, he has compassion on us and shows steadfast, unwavering, unbreakable love.    To shore up our flagging faith and soothe our doubts, he gives us signs and seals – reminders of what he has promised and assurances that he is as good as his word.

In the Old Testament God gave repeated sacrifices and sacred spaces to teach the people to expect a once-for-all savior who would secure all God’s gracious promises.   Now, God has given us clearer signs and seals – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But their purpose is the same, to point us to his promises and assure us of his faithfulness.

Moses experience at the burning bush was intense.   God spoke and called Moses to deliver his people.   Moses had waited a lifetime for this opportunity.   But in is waning years, was it too late?  Moses’ response is unexpected.   The man who forty years ago rose quickly and decisively to right every wrong and to seek justice for every injustice, now wavers.   Four times Moses makes excuses and offers objection after objection.   Finally, he simply asks God to find someone else.    But God’s call is a command not an offer – a promise, not a proposition.  

A promise given to Abraham and renewed generation after generation to Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Amram, and now to Moses.  A promise guaranteed by God’s Word and Character and signed and sealed by circumcision.  Moses answers God’s call but we see hesitancy and unfaithfulness.   In one of the Bible’s most enigmatic passages the Lord meets Moses’ family on their way to Egypt with a mortal threat.  Why?  Because they had despised the signs and seals of God’s promise.   Moses is on his way to claim the temporal promises of the covenant of grace, but neglected to place its sign and seal upon his family.

How important are covenant signs?   Are they means of grace to be diligently used or nostalgic rituals to be casually employed?   The story of Zipporah and the ‘bridegroom of blood’ is no literary detour from the exodus, but gets to the heart of our faith.   Join us as we examine Exodus 4:18-26 and consider the importance of covenant ‘signs and seals.’

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Wait for It

Click bait! Our feeds are flooded with click bait — shameless attempts to lure us to a sketchy website with the promise of frivolity.  Often baited with interminably uninteresting videos captioned with ‘Wait for it.’  Well, I never make it to ‘it.’  My patience expires at the minute mark. I refuse to endure two minutes of a duck floating on a pond in hopes that an ‘it’ will appear bringing joy and satisfaction.  Wait for it?   I think not.

No one likes to wait.  Waiting for a test result, a customer service agent, or the next season of your latest streaming binge is agonizing. Waiting has always been hard, but the modern world has attempted to train it out of us. Everything must be immediate. Fast food, same day delivery, on-demand entertainment. Waiting is not on the schedule.  Our devices offer us a retreat during our waiting from the virtue of patience or the value of conversation with an actual person.

Modern life waits for no man and no modern man waits for life. The vacuum demands filling. The idle moment screams, ‘don’t just stand there, do something.’ But God often says, ‘don’t just do something, stand there.’  That is solid advice.  ‘Wait!’ is often God’s plan for us.  Twenty-five times the Psalms counsel us to ‘wait upon the Lord.’   And eleven times Isaiah catalogues the benefit of waiting upon the Lord.    And the rest of the Bible takes up the theme.   From Genesis to Revelation, waiting is on the docket.

But what does waiting look like?  And what do we do while we wait?   David Giarrizzo, in his article, Nine Ways We Wait Upon the Lord observes,

When we think of waiting, we often think of passivity. Waiting is practically synonymous with doing nothing.  When the Bible speaks of waiting, it’s an entirely different thing than what we do after we take a number at the motor vehicle department. Biblical waiting is not a passive activity, but is demonstrated by active dependence upon and obedience to God. Thus, waiting upon God is a spiritual discipline that we should seek to practice in our lives.

David Giarrizzo

Learning the spiritual discipline of waiting is critical.   But failing to do so is catastrophic.  In Samuel 13, Saul’s stunning failure to wait for Samuel to offer sacrifices before a battle costs Saul his kingdom.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” 

1 Samuel 13:13-14

Refusal to wait upon the Lord brings grief.   Saul learned this.  And Moses had to learn this too.   Moses’ birth was remarkable.  God saved him to be Israel’s deliverer.  But at the outset, he fails to wait on God’s calling and instruction.  And in one foolish act, forty years of hopes for Israel’s deliverance go up in smoke.   In Exodus 2 we read.

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.  

Exodus 2:11-15

Moses ran ahead of God’s timing and planning.   He had not learned to wait upon the Lord and it cost him.  And it cost the people of Israel forty more years of suffering and death.   Yet God was not done with Moses.   The gracious truth of Moses’ life is that our failures are not a failure of God’s plan or His plan for us.   Join us as we examine Exodus 2:11-22 and consider the spiritual discipline of waiting on the Lord.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

02/27/2022 | “Undercover” | Exodus 2:1-10

God sometimes goes undercover. But he is never absent. His providence in sparing baby Moses points to a later deliverer whose birth, death and rising again deliver from sin’s slavery and death. Listen to “Undercover” as Exodus 2 unfolds God’s providence and challenges us to live by faith that has ‘confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

02/20/2022 | “Under Pressure” | Exodus 1:15-22

Pressure reveals who you are. Under intense pressure Shiphrah and Puah lived out their faith. Their quiet, principled resistance thwarted the cruelty of the tyrant. While Pharaohs passed into obscurity, these women’s names are remembered. What does it look like to live faithfully under pressure? Join us as we examine Exodus 1 and see what it looks like to walk by faith under pressure.

Going Undercover

“Go outside and play!”  That was an important part of my parent’s parenting strategy.  It was not a cop-out – but legitimate instruction.  When they needed privacy for parental conference, or we were too much underfoot for my mother, or when we moped around decrying, “I’m bored,” the Rx was “go outside and play.”  The only ‘screens’ in those days covered our doors and windows.  So outside was the place of adventure, imagination and industry.

And go outside we did.  Building forts in the woods, riding our bikes for miles and miles, gathering the neighborhood gang for baseball, acrobatics on the Boyd’s trampoline, and our favorite game – Spycraft.   Don’t look for it at Game Stop.   Spycraft was a game of our own invention.   It was a simple game.   A hapless neighbor working outside, washing their car, or completing some home improvement project became our target.   We began at the point in our cul-de-sac farthest from our quarry.  And we would work ourselves as close as possible without being observed by anyone.   And in a neighborhood in which watching the neighbors was the unwritten covenant, this was no small challenge. 

Hedges, trees, cars, other yard décor in our neighbors’ yards were carefully navigated.   Features which had their own unique dangers.   The game could go for hours.   It took time, careful movement, stealthy concealment and an indefatigable desire to draw close to our object.   We were surprisingly effective, or so we thought.

Have you ever thought that others are working carefully, tirelessly, intentionally to draw nearer to you? Though their actions are undetectable as we go about our own lives unaware, they are watching, listening, loving us from a distance?   This has been the theme of many great love stories and is a beautiful part of The Great Love Story, the Bible.   While our God is a God who reveals himself through His Word, by His Spirit and most fully in His Son, much of his love and care for us goes undetected.  

Jesus noted in John 5, “my Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”   The psalmist notes in Psalm 121 that, “He who watches over you will neither slumber, nor sleep.”  And this reminds us that even as we sleep, the Lord is awake, preparing grace for us in the coming hours and days.  This is the sweet doctrine of Providence.    Our Westminster Shorter Catechism expresses it succinctly and well.

Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Nothing is out of his control.  No circumstance, no crisis, no sorrow, no past, present or future action.   He is the God who governs all his creatures and their actions – to graciously redeem, restore, and bless his beloved people.  Through providence he works “in all things… for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)   Do you believe this?  Can you rest in the truth that even when you don’t see him drawing near, seeing, hearing, and knowing you and your life, that He is always at work, even to this very day?  

Amram and Jochebed, Moses’ parents, believed in the providence of God.   They lived in trying times, oppressed by slavery and death.  Marriage and family seem ill advised. Yet they trusted in God’s providence rather than fate, or circumstance.   Though their grasp of God was in spiritual infancy, God granted them sufficient faith that his promises could not fail.  Even when God seems unseen he is seen in his providence.  The poet William Cowper would later express the ethos of their faith in his hymn, God Moves In A Mysterious Way.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
he plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never-failing skill
he treasures up his bright designs,
and works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break
in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence
he hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding ev’ry hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.

William Cowper

Exodus 2 unfolds the remarkable providences of God that fulfill his promises to Jacob’s offspring.   Yet he is still undercover.   Sometimes God goes undercover in our lives.  But he is never absent.  The providences that bring about the birth of a deliverer for Hebrew slaves anticipates a greater deliverer whose birth, death and rising again deliver us from sin’s slavery and death.  Join us this week as we examine Exodus 2:1-10 and consider the undercover God and the challenges we face to live by a faith that has ‘confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Under Pressure

Few things test a friendship like a self-move.  A self-move exposes the flotsam and jetsam of your life and quickly sifts friends from mere acquaintances.  I have self-moved.  And I have shared in the fellowship of sufferings of friends who unwisely chose the way of pain.  I am no stranger to the perils and pitfalls of moving day.    Friendships are tested.  Marriages are tested.   Logistics are tested – and harshly judged.   And most importantly, packing skills are tested.  

Packing a truck makes clear who has mastered Tetris and who has not.   And if that truck is a pickup, you face the daunting prospect of rigging the tarps.   Your scant repertoire of three or four boy scout knots is no match for the gale force of the Interstate.   Unless you are an engineer with experience testing concept designs in a wind tunnel or perhaps a farmer, you probably have no idea what is required to secure a load with tarps.  

The relentless 75 mph wind produces far more pressure than we imagine as we sit behind protected glass cruising the highways and byways.  Odds are you will arrive at your destination with rigging in tatters, flapping in the breeze like Himalayan prayer flags.   Intense pressure makes quick work of any false claims to competence.  And what is true of our tarps is even more true of our convictions.

Who you are under pressure is who you are.   Stress reveals fault lines.   Weakness buckles.  And the strength bears the load.  Pressure reveals who we really are, what is really inside.   Pressure blasts away facades, social conventions, and political correctness.   In the crisis, who you are, what you are, is clearly revealed.   We all think we will stand up under pressure.  We are sure we will hold fast our convictions.   But will we?

Proverbs 24:10 warns, “if you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” And Proverbs 20:6 observes, “many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?”   The Apostle Paul also warns us, “therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12)    Do we fear God more than man?   Will we resist pressure to compromise our faith?  Will we meet persecution like those in Revelation who  “conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives unto death?” (Rev 12:11)

How will we handle pressure when it comes?   Who we are under pressure is who we really are.   We see this first in Exodus, not in the lives of Moses or Joshua, but in the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah.  We read simply that they feared God more than Pharaoh.   They put themselves,  the midwives who worked for them, and their families at extraordinary risk because of their convictions.   We often focus our scrutiny of these women on their truthfulness, but their courage is prodigious.

The midwives were not national leaders.  Nor did they not seek leadership roles in their community.  But their quiet, principled resistance thwarted the cruelty of the tyrant.  The very policy that Pharaoh thought would exterminate the Israelites was overturned by God to raise up and equip the deliverer through whom he would set his people free.

The midwives’ names are remembered, while pharaohs passed into obscurity.  And these godly and faithful women assume far greater historic importance than those all-powerful tyrants who ruled Egypt.  Their faithfulness had a great part to play in the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan.   And so does ours.   Under great pressure, they lived by faith.   What about you?  Join us this week as we examine Exodus 1:15-22 and consider what it looks like to live by faith under pressure.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

02/06/2022 | “Promises Kept” | Exodus 1:1-7

Children’s stories are never just for children. Though simple, they are not simplistic. The same is true for the Old Testament. Tempted to read it as moral example or historical background, we often miss its meaning. For example, Exodus is not just a heroic story of Moses, a narrative of liberation, or a bridge from patriarchy to monarchy. But it reveals much more. Join us as we begin this story of promises kept. And a story of grace for our own lives as well.