Of Consolation and Desolation, part 2

In my last blog, the focus was on the idea of consolation as proposed by St. Ignatius de Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. The definition he offers for desolation was as follows:

I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. [1]

To clarify consolation and desolation, there are degrees to which each concept applies. For instance, the darkness of soul need not be total darkness. And though there are times we may feel that low, the ultimate would be unbearable. Think of depression. One who is clinically depressed is most likely unable to bring themselves out of their depression by doing things that bring them out. They live in a darkness that prevents them from doing anything and those who live in the darkest depression have no hope at all. The only action those in such a dark place contemplate is suicide.

But there is also a lighter form of depression, one which everyone goes through at one point or another. A loved one dies, a promotion goes to someone else, a grade given on a paper is an “F”. Sometimes we want to wallow in that depression for a while. In the end, though, we are able through various coping methods to lift ourselves back up to normal. But what is “normal?”

I believe that we all live in some state of desolation most of the time. Yet that is not to say desolation need be a bad thing. Ignatius has more to say about desolation than he does consolation. Importantly, he gives three reasons one is in desolation:

The first is, because of our being tepid, lazy or negligent in our spiritual exercises; and so through our faults, spiritual consolation withdraws from us.

The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we let ourselves out in His service and praise without such great pay of consolation and great graces.

The third, to give us true acquaintance and knowledge, that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to get or keep great devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and that we may not build a nest in a thing not ours, raising our intellect into some pride or vainglory, attributing to us devotion or the other things of the spiritual consolation. [2]

The three may be summed up as Transgression, Testing, and Training. By Transgression, I mean that there is a desolation that is our fault. Desolation is the condition that consolation disappears. If you have ever cried out, “Where are you God,” then you have experienced desolation.

Testing is from God’s hand. He may not and often does not create that which tests us, but he does use things that are happening around us. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV) Another way of looking at it is that God works all things. In either case, the emphasis is that testing from God is not designed to find out how holy we have become. He already knows that. However, we do not know where our faith is. Through trials, we discover how we have grown in our sanctification. We also discover how far we have to go. In fact, Ignatius looks at consolation as a kind of payment for our service to the King in further establishing his Kingdom on earth.  Desolation shows us how we work for Christ without reward which is the purest kind of service.

Then there is Training. What we must learn is maybe the most difficult thing to learn in both head and heart. We must discover that nothing, neither desolation not consolation, our devotion, and our gratitude comes from our inner self but all comes from the gracious hand of God our Father. If we suppose there is any personal source for anything good, it is not really good because it is destroyed by pride.

We have a lot to learn. Ignatius gives his students the gift of wisdom when he outlines a number of “rules” to help us navigate through our times of desolation. Some of them include never change commitments or vows made in times of consolation. This is one of the greatest temptations of desolation. In our race, we come to a hurdle that is too high to jump, a mountain too high to climb. Stick to it no matter how hard or how long it is to do it. So, we should not take any counsel from desolation, because apart from the grace of God, desolation darkens even our ability to think clearly.

Instead of changing our commitments to God, Ignatius tells us to change ourselves. This advice has been used in one form or another by pastors, self-help gurus, and personal coaches. “We can’t change the things around us so we should adapt and we will be happier,” they say. The flaw in this thinking is not in the principle but in the details of the change. The change he suggests is to work toward change “by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and by giving ourselves more scope in some suitable way of doing penance.” [3]

Ignatius doesn’t get everything right. But he does give help to any of us who get trapped in the pop-culture of worship. A few years ago, when I had gone back to school, I attempted to “Protestantize” the Exercises and take what is good from them. My project was to test my work by training some small groups in local churches. The project was not a great success because I could not introduce the concepts of reflection on our sin and on the work Christ did on the cross to pay for our sin. “We are past the cross” was all they could say. My answer is that Christ is past the cross, but we are not completely past it. Yes, we are passing it, but if we were completely past, there would never be any desolation. This is why Paul reminds us:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4, ESV)

But even after this knowledge,

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:14–19, ESV)

Give thanks to God.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25, ESV)

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Of Consolation and Desolation

The terms consolation and desolation are used by Ignatius de Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. I’ll let Ignatius define the terms, though they are briefly presented and not in their fullness.

I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all…Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord. [1]

I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule [regarding consolation], such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. [2]

Remembering that the Exercises were written between 1522 and 1524, the words “consolation” and “desolation” are translations of Latin terms which were translations of Spanish words for Ignatius wrote in Spanish, we can gather that Ignatius did not use them in the manner in which we use them today. Our dictionaries sum it up in the one word “comfort.” Desolation is grief, sadness, and ruin. As I write, I will be using Ignatius’ definitions.

Now it seems to me that the modern-day Church has become enamored with consolation. We want things that are going to feel good, to help us put last week behind us and “fill us up” for the week to come. However, this process can be done through many different means. For instance, attending a concert or play, watching a movie, or going to a sporting event. There are other ways of trying to get the “feeling” of consolation such as drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. None of these things have anything to do with the Church, worship, or God.

I am empathetic to this weekly attempt to get a spiritual high. I have participated in some churches in my life seeking the same thing. But the high one gets from worship, if one gets anything at all, is very short-lived. It dissipates like smoke in the air. I am also empathetic with pastors who feel the pressure from his or her congregation to be as charming, charismatic, and entertaining as those they hear on the radio or see on television.

However, feeling good is not at all what worship is about. In fact, if worship is properly addressed to God, we might well feel humble, ashamed, and thankful for our salvation. Look again at the definition, “every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.” Consolations call us to heavenly things, to salvation, and it is peacefully quiet. Try to accomplish the latter in our contemporary theater-like churches and highly paced music and worship.

Ignatius gives us instruction for times of consolation:

Let him who is consoled see to humbling himself and lowering himself as much as he can, thinking how little he is able for in the time of desolation without such grace or consolation. [3]

Why? Because in this life, consolation is fleeting. We even have the power to psychologically create feelings of consolation that are not consolation at all. They are emotional tricks.

Jesus took Peter, John, and James up a mountain to the top (Matthew 17). When they reached the top, they saw Jesus transfigured. The Greek word is where we get the word metamorphosis. Jesus was changed, and the change was so the three disciples could see him in his glorified state. Now that’s consolation! Peter was so excited that he wanted to stay there. He never wanted to leave the consolation of Jesus glorified. The voice of God interrupted Peter in his excitement. They were not to stay there in their mountain-top high. They had to go back down the mountain and work. And that is where desolation does its work.

I will continue this in my next post.

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Evil Versus Providence

This morning I read an article that everyone should read. You can find it here.

The article reminds us that God’s providence is greater than the evil we endure. Moreover, God uses the evil we encounter to move us to the place, and shape us into the people he wants us to be. It’s fine to speak about Sanctification. The reality, though, is that we have become comfortable in our faith. We are couch potato Christians who wait around for some miraculous effort on the part of the Holy Spirit to do God’s will in us.

The road to sanctification is narrow, steep, and rocky. On it, our Father places obstacles. However, he does not intend for us to stumble over them but to adapt and overcome, to quote the USMC.

Psalm 121(ESV)

A SONG OF ASCENTS.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

How can we deny God’s providence? It is always in action. Yes, there are many who deny the thought of a providential God who even exists. Yet that is the beauty of God’s providence. It’s not about them; it’s about us.

When I was a seminary graduate seeking ordination in the Church, Psalm 121 was assigned to me to use as the foundation for a sermon to be presented and evaluated. I wish I knew then what I know now. But that is God’s providence. All these years later, I have the experiences through which God by his Spirit has led me, taught me, and shaped me. It has not been easy. However, I can say now that I would not have changed a day of pain into a day of comfort, because they brought me to many days of joy.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:4–5, ESV)

Older is wiser only if you are in the hands of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is no other source of wisdom. The greatest Christian men and women in my life, those I admire as examples of humility and holiness, are the saints who have suffered the most either in quantity or degree or both. I say this not to suggest that we should seek suffering. I say this as an observation of those who have suffered.

What is injustice compared to the providence of God? What is disease compared to the providence of God? What is death compared to the providence of God? Nothing. I pray that every Christian preacher catches the truth of God’s providence and not shy away from preaching uncomfortable sermons. I pray that every congregation gathers to worship not simply to be uplifted, built up, or made to feel good. Instead, the gathering for worship means entering into the presence of a Holy God by a people who are on the path toward holiness.

God is love. God is grace. God is mercy. These things, and others, cannot deny that God is also holy, righteous, and just. He is not these things in the way that we might define them. All of the attributes of God are prior to us. The creation was determined according to God’s plans and providence. Why should we think that the creation could define the creator?

We take comfort in the truth of God, who he is, what he does, and what he has said.

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, That I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11, KJV 1900)

And we find comfort in the knowledge that everything we encounter today will, by God’s work, prepare us for tomorrow.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11–12, ESV)

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To Tell the Truth

An article on the Epoch Times today was a bit startling. It began:

FacebookTwitter, and YouTube removed videos of a press conference on July 27 held by a group of doctors, citing violation of their policies. Members of the group, called “America’s Frontline Doctors,” had spoken in support of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine in treating and preventing COVID-19, and alleged that there is widespread misinformation about the drug. [1]

I am aware that these “public” formats may remove anything they want. Maybe they should stop calling themselves public. Nevertheless, they do have policies to remove offending information, ad I use the term “offending” very loosely. What bothered me about this article, though, was the reason given for the removal of the post:

A Facebook spokesperson said that it removed the video “for sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19,” and told CNN that it instead will show “messages in News Feed to people who have reacted to, commented on or shared harmful COVID-19-related misinformation that we have removed, connecting them to myths debunked by the [World Health Organization].”

My question is, who are they (the Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube executives to determine what is medically correct or not? What information do they have beyond the early closing of trials by the WHO? There are many studies that contradict the WHO. One example is from the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan.

“Our analysis shows that using hydroxychloroquine helped saves lives,” neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Kalkanis, senior vice president and chief academic officer of the health system, said in a statement. “As doctors and scientists, we look to the data for insight. And the data here is clear that there was benefit to using the drug as a treatment for sick, hospitalized patients.” [2]

Is the doctor lying? Is there malice in either organization? I would think not. I believe that the WHO is sincerely concerned and trying to help in this medical crisis. They gave up early on testing because they were not seeing sufficient data suggesting people with COVID-19 were being helped. However, in my limited knowledge and experience, I thought the scientific method was to present a theory and test it against empirical evidence. If the evidence does not support the theory, does that mean the theory should be abandoned?

“We attribute our findings that differ from other studies to early treatment, and part of a combination of interventions that were done in supportive care of patients, including careful cardiac monitoring,” Zervos said. “Our dosing also differed from other studies not showing a benefit of the drug. And other studies are either not peer reviewed, have limited numbers of patients, different patient populations or other differences from our patients.” [3]

If the theory is not sustained by the evidence, what part of the theory is wrong? some of it? All of it? Science is a tool for learning. It is not the ultimate determination of an idea. Where did the saying “Go back to the blackboard” come from? From errors made that need to be tweaked to discover the truth. If the WHO is willing to give up on the idea of hydroxychloroquine, the Henry Ford Health Center is not. There are many who are not giving up either. If this was the way institutions looked for the cure of cancer, we could have stopped trying. However, those doctors and researchers have not given up and because of that, they have made progress, significant progress.

I am certainly not trying to disparage the WHO. However, the actions taken by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are foolish. Censorship is not conducive to a free society. It is a free society that has paid the employees of these “public” forums. But they are not public. They allow some people to use the vilest language and publish the most hateful messages while censoring others dedicated to helping. My sadness is that the law does not even hold the “platform” responsible for that which is published on it. Their censorship is purely political. Legally they cannot be touched. Morally they are contributors to the condition of our current mess.

COVID-19 is a problem. However, the rioting is more of a problem. If you don’t think that the current attempts to erase history create their own form of hell, you haven’t read George Orwell’s 1984.

The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.” (Psalm 89:11, ESV)

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” (Psalm 33:8, ESV)

The nonsense going on today rejects the idea of YHWH, the creator of all things. It rejects the truth of Jesus the Christ for whom all things were made and by whom all things are sustained. It rejects the reality of the Holy Spirit who has given life to all people, and who can take it away at any time. I am not a doomsday prophet, but the world as we know it is coming to a change that is going to be difficult and painful. If America falls, it will only be because those of us who know how to reason, those of us who have diligently read, studied, and hidden the whole counsel of God in our hearts, and those of us who have the responsibility of bringing the Kingdom of the Most High God to the earth have remained silent. We have failed to tell the truth to this world, to our government, to our leaders and their followers, to every human being we are capable of reaching.

I wonder if we in the Church have hidden our light under a bushel. It’s not their fault that they are confused and bitter. It is ours for not loving them with a true love, a love that refuses to back down, a love that reveals the evil in the schemes of mankind. That means all evil whether Republican or Democrat for there is plenty to go around. Whether white of black for there is plenty to go around. It does no good to hate, destroy, kill, and be killed if there is nothing to build after the revolution.

Psalm 49 (ESV)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.

1 Hear this, all peoples!

Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,

2 both low and high,

rich and poor together!

3 My mouth shall speak wisdom;

the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.

4 I will incline my ear to a proverb;

I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.

5 Why should I fear in times of trouble,

when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,

6 those who trust in their wealth

and boast of the abundance of their riches?

7 Truly no man can ransom another,

or give to God the price of his life,

8 for the ransom of their life is costly

and can never suffice,

9 that he should live on forever

and never see the pit.

10 For he sees that even the wise die;

the fool and the stupid alike must perish

and leave their wealth to others.

11 Their graves are their homes forever,

their dwelling places to all generations,

though they called lands by their own names.

12 Man in his pomp will not remain;

he is like the beasts that perish.

13 This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;

yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah

14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;

death shall be their shepherd,

and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.

Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.

15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,

for he will receive me. Selah

16 Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,

when the glory of his house increases.

17 For when he dies he will carry nothing away;

his glory will not go down after him.

18 For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed

—and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—

19 his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,

who will never again see light.

20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

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The Power of Ideas

…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, ESV)

In 1948, Richard Weaver, professor of English at the University of Chicago, published a book titled “Ideas Have Consequences.” Weaver’s philosophical approach has been debated over the past 70 years, but I have no doubt in the power of ideas. Ideas, whether true or not, real or unreal, determine what we believe and how we choose to act. The ability to communicate one’s ideas can result in the creation of powerful movements that can change everything. You can debate what Weaver means by the phrase and how he works his idea out in the book, but i don’t know how you can debate the statement that ideas have consequences.

I think this claim can be tied to the words of St. Paul, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV) When he speaks about the fight the Church is in, he removes the individual element. In other words, our fight is not with people, our fight is with ideas that are contrary to the reign of God Almighty, ideas that are evil.

The Church may fight this battle well. It might not. That is for God to judge. However, historically, when the Church built by Jesus Christ wages the battle with ideas well, amazing things happen. You can contrast such battle with the differences between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. One resulted in the creation of a powerful nation consisting of the protection of life, liberty, and prosperity. The other ended in chaos and resulted in the rise of a tyrant who made himself Emperor.

Ideas have consequences, and the current strife today is about ideas. Black people (not all, or even most necessarily, but the most vocal) believe that their lives and the lives of their children are at risk because police are out of control. I am not going to debate whether this claim is reasonable, true, or false. It is accepted as true by many and their words and deeds are the result of this belief.

As the Church, our duty to Christ is not to make this situation into a battle between black and white or any individual people. That is an error being made on both sides. “I don’t like your idea so I don’t like you.” “I am threatened by your idea so I am threatened by you.” The moment we stop reasonable attempts at a common solution, we devolve into crimes against humanity, and this has happened on both sides.

My Christian sisters and brothers, Jesus declared that he would build his Church. That is the reason we are brothers and sisters, no matter what our differences may be. He also proclaimed that the greatest power of evil would not be able to destroy the Church, his body. Do we believe it?

If we embrace the idea of Christ, what do we have to fear? They may tear down statues, we can replace them if we desire. But the statue is not the issue. The hatred toward what the statue seemingly represents is an idea that must be challenged. If we can remove our shock at the action and address the idea behind it, we will demonstrate the truth of the Word of Christ and the power of his Church.

There appears to be no end to the recent attempts to “undo” that which makes “Western Culture.” This is a dangerous and evil idea. It is dangerous because it is an emotional response to a perceived wrong. The consequence so far may not have reached the level of the French Revolution; people are not being ushered en masse to the guillotine. Interestingly, many of the recent statues destroyed have been bu cutting off the head. But it is more dangerous because the perceived wrong has not be defined beyond the most general of terms: four police officers killed a man by the use of excessive force so all police officers are out of control and we must remove the police entirely.

Isn’t it sad that the argument being made is so similar to the arguments made by slave owners? This is the evil. You did it to me so it is right for me to do it to you. Almost no one of any ethnicity would deny the wrong done to so many by slavery and later Jim Crow and other unwritten prejudices. Didn’t our mothers tell us that two wrongs don’t make a right? No matter how things appear, you cannot win a war of fire fighting fire. You can only burn everything to the ground. Then what do you have?

Such is the second reason the attempts to destroy “Western Culture” is evil. Get rid of history that cannot be changed. Destroy statues and monuments that have nothing to do with the declared issue. Go back hundreds of years and prevent the racist music written by racist men. Do it all. What do you have left? Nothing. Emptiness. Waste.

So, we must look for other answers and other ways to address the issues. And as the Church, we have such an answer.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21–22, ESV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42, ESV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43–44, ESV)

“…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12–15, ESV)

Our battles do not need to become physical. To destroy any property that does not belong to you comes from a wrong idea. To kill another human being comes from an evil idea. But to love one another, if you care for others as you would have them care for you, this is the idea of God who created you, cares for you, and loves you as his creation.

The Church can ill afford to get involved in such destructiveness, whether in actuality or through justifying the sinful deeds of others. There are no excuses for evil thoughts, intentions, or actions. There is only reason to love one another with or without agreement. Stop the destruction of civilization. We are not animals. We do not survive without love, without purpose, without tending to one another and the creation around us.

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11–12, ESV)

That’s an idea we all can live with.

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Black Lives Matter

The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 4:5, ESV)

Sometimes the Bible uses colorful ways to get a point across.

Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land is scorched, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no one spares another. They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied; each devours the flesh of his own arm…” (Isaiah 9:19–20, ESV)

This is the foolishness of man which the preacher of Ecclesiastes mourns as vanity, “all is vanity.” One of the first problems with governments is that they forget they are ordained by God for his purpose and that they are not the practical social reality of man. This is just as true for any organization that denies God to serve man. The goal is to remake God and creation in the image of man.

Now I recognize that as a preacher, I’m not supposed to talk about political things. There are two sources for this ban on my freedom of speech. Sadly, the first is the church. I have been told more than once that my sermon is too political. Its too bad that we have forgotten the most basic principles that drove the men and women of this country to make serious sacrifices because “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Moreover, this rule of God providing for all to seek after Christ without interference is amplified in the very next sentence, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

As best as I can see, the founders of this nation, though many had differing ideas about the nature of God, agreed that the foundation of all social order is the unalienable rights provided by him. That means, there is nothing that is not within the realm of religion. In order to fulfill my duties as a minister of the Word and Sacraments, I must preach the truth of the whole gospel.

The second source is the Internal Revenue Service. There is no established law made by congress declaring that politics cannot be preached from the pulpit. In has not been infrequent for political candidates to arrange to address a congregation in a Sunday morning worship service. However, we are afraid of the IRS for their power to declare whether churches are tax free or not. Another way of putting it is that the IRS believes that it may bless the churches with tax free status allowing all contributions to be made with and get some form of benefit from it.

The hardest thing for one who has been scammed is to acknowledge that they have been scammed. And this is one of the biggest and best. The church has come to believe that if people don’t get a tax benefit from their contributions, the financial gifts will disappear. This is wrong on so many levels for first, we are not giving something to God if we expect something in return. Second, the one who controls the purse controls everything else. Churches are afraid to proclaim political truths from the pulpit because they are afraid of losing a government benefit.

One of the things that should be proclaimed loudly and clearly from every church is that the Government does not own us, our contributions, or our property ( I suggest this is true about all property privately owned). On top of that, the church should sound the trumpet that the role of the government is to protect the church from interference. This does not mean that the church gets a pass on obeying the laws that uphold godly morality. Frankly, with the emphasis on evolution, there is no justification for any morality beyond the advancement of the individual gene pool. Thank goodness we have not fallen that deeply yet.

Now, why did I spend all this time writing about government before addressing Black Lives Matter? Well, what is true for government is also true for the individual and for other groups of individuals. We all have to make the choice to either obey God or to remake God in the image we most like. The latter is the purpose of modern revolutions. The most obvious problem with Black Lives Matter is that if you disagree with any of their stated and unstated purposes, you are somehow saying that black lives don’t matter. Either you are a part of Black Lives Matter or you are a racist.

These are false claims and the assumptions are deceptive. The About page on the Black Lives Matter sight says the following,

“In the years since, we’ve committed to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.”

What exactly is “anti-blackness”? In these days, we are told that if you are born white you are already a racist. To confuse the matter even more, there is systemic racism, fundamental racism, programmatic racism and many more. Unfortunately, it is easy to throw out a term if you don’t define it. It’s easy to slur a whole group of people if all you have to do is shout louder than they do. And it’s easy to make people feel guilty for things that they are not guilty for.

Here’s where Ecclesiastes states that “The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.” We see it happening every day. The mayor of New York City is so focused on writing “Black Lives Matter” in front of Trump tower that when someone throws red paint on it, he is out there repainting it as fast as he can. At the same time, the murder rate in the city has risen dramatically, and it is black people who are dying. The message is that black lives do not matter to the mayor of New York City, though I am sure he felt good about himself when he went to sleep in his comfortably protected home that night.

The NFL plans to allow players to put stickers with the initials of those who have suffered “racism” at the hands of the police this year. An act that will make no difference to whatever problem they think they want to correct. However, the plan to play the “Black National Anthem” before the Star Spangled Banner at every NFL game has potential. The composer of the song is James Weldon Johnson who is the first black individual to pass the Florida Bar. Mr. Johnson was a strong Christian man with a good Christian ethic. He was a civil rights activist and began the NAACP. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was a poem he wrote in 1900. His brother added music to it in 1905 and in 1919 the NAACP dubbed it the “Black National Anthem.”

I assure you that the song will be played and hopefully sung. I’ll let the words resonate to close this blog.

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

† accessed through https://www.naacp.org/naacp-history-lift-evry-voice-and-sing/

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From Below

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23, ESV)

The eight chapter of John applies to us very nicely, in my opinion. It begins with the religious leaders of the day (the self-proclaimed righteous) bringing a woman to Jesus for judgment. He is told that this woman has been caught in adultery. Now they pose a question to Jesus which none of them could possibly answer. This is not because they wanted to know the truth, but because they knew there were only two ways he could answer, and in their thinking, either answer would be wrong.

So, they present the following dilemma to the Lord of heaven and earth: The Law of Moses required that a woman caught in adultery must be stoned (their phasing of the Law, not God’s). So if Jesus refuses to stone her he is supposedly in violation of God’s Law. However, if he does stone her, he is in violation of Roman law. Aha! They’ve got him!

The first flaw with their trap is a legal one. The Law in Deuteronomy and Leviticus demands that the man and the woman who commit adultery together must die (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:20-24). In this accusation, where is the man? Jesus need not do anything without both defendants. Furthermore, we only have the Pharisees word that she was an adulterous woman but there are no legally required two witnesses. Without knowing it (though they should have) the testers have trapped themselves as not really knowing or applying the Law correctly.

Yet Jesus is not one to let a learning moment go by unanswered. Neither does he fall into a debate with those who have already convinced themselves that they are right. So, Jesus drives home his point silently. He bends down and writes on the ground with his finger. No speculation here is warranted. If God wanted us to know what Jesus wrote, it would have been recorded. Whatever it was, the Pharisees demand an answer and continue to badger him with repeating the question over and over.

Thus, Jesus stands back up and gives an answer that no one, not even the woman expected, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Ouch! Not at all what the expected or wanted to hear. Another human foolish testing of God fails. After they all leave, Jesus graciously addresses the woman and gives her forgiveness. Though I am sure the Pharisees didn’t learn their lesson, I believe she learned hers. It’s what Jesus did repeatedly, cast down the proud and lift up the humble.

But that is only the beginning of the chapter, and though I will not spend time on everything worthy of reflection and study, later Jesus addressed the Jews who had heard him teach and believed in him. “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”” (John 8:31–32, ESV)

I have heard the last phrase repeated often in religious and non-religious circles. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I first want to note that I lose patience with those who deny God and Christ and who repeatedly quote him as if all of a sudden they believe. Please stop it.

However, those who confess they believe do something I consider far worse. In the first case, unbelievers only reveal their duplicity and hypocrisy. But believers steal a phrase out of context to justify something they want to be true, even if it is not. The freedom of truth is not unconditional. Jesus gives two conditions to knowing the truth: 1) “If you abide in my word,” and 2) you are my disciples.

None of us can or do know truth apart from the Word of God. While Jesus walked this earth, the Word of God included the Scriptures (Old Testament) and himself! (John 1:1) Now, the Word which is Christ is recorded and kept for us today in the New Testament. The easiest way of stating this is, if you want to know truth, you have to know all of God’s word.

The objection I hear to this is that there are many brilliant people who know much about the world through science, math, medicine, and more, who do not believe in the Bible, God, or Christ. You have no argument with me. God has revealed himself in his word from the very beginning: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3, ESV) The sciences in their purest form are the study of this world that God created. But the recognition of God through the sciences is another matter altogether. Not only can it be done, but it should be done if one is seeking truth.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20, ESV) Paul doesn’t hedge about the truth, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” Sounds a lot like the Pharisees in John 8.

Any discipline that does not reveal God and Christ is not the fault of the truth but of the one practicing the discipline with a presupposed believe that there is no God or Christ. This is the problem with all public education and in most universities. They start with a denial of God and then claim to be interested in truth. This is in itself a lie.

The second qualification to truth must therefore be emphasized, “you are truly my disciples.” Abiding in the the word means a constant relationship of word to life, and this is what defines being a disciple. A disciple is a follower, one committed to someone or something.

The issue I have with many social justice issues in general and Black Lives Matters in particular is that they are dishonest attempts to find and apply truth. They are dishonest in that they begin with a position that is prejudicial against all other positions. They are dishonest because they are not open to discussion or debate about the idea or the facts used to make their version of the truth win out. They are dishonest because, knowing they do not have truth on their side, they abandon the truth and fall into the fallacy of name calling destroying their opponents and the destruction of their property and lives.

In America today, it is nearly impossible to have intelligent discussions about abortion, traditional marriage, real discrimination, racism, politics and a whole lot more. It is impossible because one side tends to abandon reason, debate, and logic and defer to outbursts, shouting, overbearing accusations, and more. A most obvious example is the failure of our universities which are supposed to be safe havens for seeking and testing truth but have become impenetrable fortresses of one position and one position only. If you disagree with the agenda, there is no room for debate. Worse, if you are on the wrong side, you are not even free to speak.

Many are upset by the destruction of statues, monuments, etc. honoring people who were instrumental in founding and running America. Such destruction is only a symptom of the real problem: they have already destroyed the principles of government established by the greatest of our fore-fathers.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” (The Declaration of Independence)

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (The Constitution of the United States of America)

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln~November 19, 1863

We who are of this world will never be able to resolve the issues that face us until we become disciples of he who is from above. Peace only comes from the Prince of Peace.

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You Can’t Go Back

I haven’t written for a while. I haven’t known how to proceed. Watching all that has been going on in our society has made me take some time to think things over. The problem I have is that events have been so dumbfounding that anything I have to say certainly cannot help. However, what God has to say does help, but only if someone is willing and able to listen.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity. They hatch adders’ eggs; they weave the spider’s web; he who eats their eggs dies, and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched. Their webs will not serve as clothing; men will not cover themselves with what they make. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives. “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”” (Isaiah 59, ESV)

The Lord gave these words to Isaiah for the nation Israel. They do a pretty good job of describing things in America today. As I watch and listen, I hear cries for justice. But they are cries for justice for some and not for others. They are cries for justice while using injustice to gain an ear. They are the cries of the unrighteous demanding righteousness when true righteousness has already been rejected.

How can an individual today be held accountable for the sins of someone two, three, or four hundred years ago? What can be done to repair the damage, the hurt, the wrong? The most recent answer to these questions is the strangest ever: go back and erase the wrong. But you cannot go back. You cannot rewrite history and you cannot blame someone today for a history you don’t like. tear down all the statues you want. Deface all the buildings you can. Get everyone who has ever said something you don’t like fired. Nothing will be changed.

Is it not interesting that those who cry out for justice today are among the most unjust? A policeman commits an heinous act so all policemen are bad. Horrible things were done to those enslaved in times long past so let us enslave others today. You cannot go back and change the past. If you could, why not go back to the Garden and change the sin of our first parents?

But wait! We don’t have to rewrite the past. Every sin must receive justice. Not man’s justice because human justice is no justice at all. Those who demand justice for the sins of those in the past can never get what they want. EVERY HUMAN BEING IS A SLAVE TO SIN. How does a riot gain justice for the past?

There is only one justice. That is the payment for the sin committed by the sinner. Could this be what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3–5, ESV)

Isaiah promised a Redeemer from Zion who will come for those who turn from transgression. The word translated “turn” is one of the most frequent Hebrew words in the Old Testament. In its uses, it means to turn away from something and return to something else. I believe Isaiah is saying that we are called to turn from our sin to the Redeemer. Jesus appears to explain why: our transgression is the log blinding us.

There is only one way to deal with the past, and that is to pay for the sins of the past. However, the only ones who must pay are the ones who committed those sins. We must pay for our own sins, and we definitely have much to pay. So much that we cannot come close to paying what we owe. I owe those whom I have sinned against. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:3–4, ESV).

This is a pretty depressing conclusion. I know my transgressions. David is remembering his transgressions seducing Bathsheba, committing adultery, and murdering Bathsheba’s husband to cover up his evil. How could David turn from his murderous sin and bring justice to Uriah? He could not go back and change the past. He could only pray for the grace and mercy of God who demands the purity of righteous justice. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:1–2, ESV)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25, ESV)

I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 44:22, ESV)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–14, ESV)

There is a solution to all of our ills and it is not forcing others to speak, behave, or suffer like we want them to. It is by giving ourselves over to Christ Jesus who has paid the penalty for our sins. This is God’s satisfaction for transgression. Isaiah speaks of blindness because of those who are blinded by their own rage, by their own sin, by their hatred. God offers sight to the blind. Turn away from your sin and turn to the healer of the nations.

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Blinded by Hate

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:7–11, ESV)

What happened to George Floyd was a crime, legally and morally. It is not the first time such a crime has ever been committed in the name of law and order. The murder of Mr. Floyd, whether intentional or thoughtlessness is repulsive any way I look at it. Rightly, it has sparked protest and the review of policies in police departments around the country.

There have been many programs on television analyzing and debating the reaction to what is going on. Most of the ones I have watched sympathize with the desire to rid America of the racism that is and has been so prevalent. Few of them really offer any kind of answer or strategy to change our culture. Some call for revolution, others for better communication. Who is talking about the heart?

I believe that the beginning is the presuppositions we all bring to the issue. We all have to start somewhere and our default starting place is always our world view. Foundational world views are not taught in schools as much as they are taught at home and on the streets and playgrounds. Unless we are conscious of our world view, we can never hope to change it. More importantly is that we are impotent when it comes to changing another’s world view.

Jesus told us to take the log out of our own eye before we try to get the speck out of another’s. That commands me to look to myself first, not to build up walls against others but to become vulnerable enough to honestly discover my “log.” We are all by nature in the dark. We all want to point the finger somewhere else. We all want to fix the problem but we don’t want the discomfort of realizing that we are each the problem.

One of the world view changes I think we all need is the recognition that the concept of race erroneous. Race can only exist if the mythical theory of evolution is true. Why are we afraid of accepting that we are all descendants of Eve and Adam? We are all the race of humankind. I think it is because being the children of Adam and Eve we must bear the responsibility of sin. Herein lies the root of the problem.

John said it well: “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” Our society is stumbling around in the dark because hatred has blinded us. The only way out is to love one another.

However, love is not the kind of love we have created. Most of our romantic ideas of love are merely a desire to find true love. Unable to do that, we make love a biological reaction. We hate our humanity and become as animals. We hate life an promote death wherever we can. John tells us that God is love. He does not say that God loves everyone and everything indiscriminately. He says that love is the very nature of God. In other words, When we live bearing the image of God, we live lovingly. And to love God is to love one another.

It seems so simple. Love instead of hate. Yet it feels so impossible because we have not loved God, we have loved to be god. There is only one way to become true lovers of God and neighbor which is to restore the image of God with which we were created. Unable to save ourselves, Jesus who is God sacrificed himself to save us. In Christ Jesus we learn again to love as God is love.

For me, racism does not exist, but ethnic hatred does. When it gets down to it, ethnic hatred sounds really silly. It makes not sense other than it is a growth of our hatred of our selves. We are created to bring forth the glory of God. Hating to do that is the self-hatred that grows into other-person-hatred. Years ago Rodney King said, “Can’t we just all get along?” We cannot. That is, we cannot get along or find any kind of peace until we remove the log from our own eye and allow Christ to make us again into who we are to be.

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I Will Deliver You

A sermon given on June 7, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church, Tenino, WA

A Psalm for Asah

The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

Psalm 50:1–15 (ESV)

Twelve weeks have passed since we last gathered as the Church to worship. Individuals and families can practice devotional times and even small gatherings for prayer, singing, and Bible study. However, it takes the communion of the Church in public worship that allows for the fullest expressions of praise and lament, joy and sorrow, and the hearing of the Word of God proclaimed. No matter what you call us, the Church is the community that worships God by gathering.

The question is, what would prevent us from coming together for this lofty purpose? What could be so earth-shacking to upset the practice of the Church meet for worship? Is not worship for the Christian as important as eating and drinking and breathing?

We all know the answer to my question: COVID-19 and “social distancing along with quarantine. Yet the Coronavirus does not answer the question fully. So, possibly the question should be re framed: where does such a virus that is as powerful and destructive as this one originate?

There are more answers to this question than anyone can collect at one time or in one place. Some pastors have suggested that the pandemic is a sign of the imminent return of Jesus. Others with less religion may say that the virus is an example of science run amok. It is something we can do but probably should not. So we are now paying the price for our arrogant use of nature by manipulating it. Radicals of this ilk may even suggest that it is only the beginning of the end. Then there are conspiracy theorists who believe that the virus was created by the Chinese intent on bringing America and Western European culture to its knees.

For me, none of these answers ring true and if anyone is true, unfulfilling. The question remains for the Christian because we believe in the all powerful Most High God who is sovereign over all that man tries to do. I believe there is a more theological approach that can be seen in Psalm 50. This Psalm is a psalm of warning, of judgment, and of deliverance.

In Psalm 50, God gathers the whole world to hear and observe his judgment upon those who are supposed to be his faithful people, but are instead mere hypocrites. The symbolism at the beginning works to declare who God is and why he can judge anyone.

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” Zion is the dwelling place of God. It is not a physical place, though it is often represented as one in the Old Testament Scriptures. For instance, Mount Sinai is the representation of Zion for the newly delivered Hebrew people. From Zion, God spoke. “Our God comes; he does not keep silence.” God gave Israel his Law at Zion. Our God is still proclaiming his Law Word to us by means of the Holy Spirit and the Bible.

Not only is he the Law-giving God, but he is also a God who not only can call the whole world to gather, but he can cause the whole world to take notice. He declares his superiority and supremacy over all that is.

I have often heard the line “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” Technically, that God owns all things is correct. However, those who use this verse often use it to comfort themselves in times of need. That is not what God says it for. That he owns the cattle is not a comfort but it is declared to create a discomfort in us. If he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, then we own none! We are totally at the mercy of the Lord for all things.

Which brings us to an interesting situation, for God gathers the whole world, then he gathers his “faithful ones.” They are defined as those who made a covenant with God by sacrifice. This identifies this smaller group as the Children of Abraham who made a covenant with God in Genesis 15. And surprisingly, it is to these that he brings his judgment. In front of the whole world!

The key is that God is not satisfied that Israel has followed his law robotically. They offer their sacrifices the right way at the right time. We should not judge the Israelites, though. How many of us go to church every Sunday and daydream through the sermon. Then we blame the preacher for being boring. Both cases are examples of hypocrisy. And God hates hypocrisy.

Offering sacrifices without the heart, or giving money in the offering plate out of obligation are the same sort of error. God’s response to Israel, and to us, is to “Make thanksgiving your sacrifice to God.” Why thanksgiving? Because a thankful heart is a humble heart. We can’t come home from work and say, “I got a raise.” The reality is that in the workings of God’s will you have been blessed with a raise. As a sidebar, getting a raise is not supposed to be about becoming more comfortable or buying a bigger, better whatchamacallit. Thanksgiving asks God why he gave me a raise and what does he want me to do with the money.

Hypocrisy says, “I can do it myself,” whereas thanksgiving recognizes that God is the one who has done it for you. I know I am speaking in simple terms and that the whole matter is much more complex. However, the principle is the same: God hates hypocrisy.

Why, then, does he want the whole world to see his judgment upon his faithful? Because the Lord chastens those he loves. Because our chief end is to glorify God and he is glorified when we receive his correction and amend our lives. To glorify God occurs when he shows the world through his people what is righteous.

Now, what has any of this have to do with the current pandemic? Let me suggest that it has everything to do with it. I don’t know anyone who could deny that the pandemic as attracted the world’s attention. The Coronavirus was not created by God, nor is it just a shaking up of the world. The Coronavirus can be used by God for his purposes. And one of those purposes should be considered in terms of the Church’s reaction?

Sadly, I am not sure we have responded well. I wonder why I did not go to some agency and volunteer to help. I could have delivered meals. I could have ignored the risks and offered to help home-bound elderly people who had no family support. During the Black Plague, Martin Luther opened his home to care for those suffering and dying with out concern for his own life.

In whatever way anyone can come up with, the Church is called to bear the light of Christ in the world. None of us should judge others in this matter. We have enough to handle judging ourselves. But judgment is not the end. “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving…and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” That is the end.

Thanking is a condition of the heart that loves God wholly and trusts God completely. It is with a heart of thanksgiving that we know we are not our own, but belong to Christ in life and in death. Thanksgiving is the place from which we may call upon the Sovereign Lord. His deliverance is his glory.

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