Because I Said So

When I was a child, there were time I pushed the boundaries of logic with my parents. Don’t get me wrong, I was using child like logic that made sense to me. It’s like the kid who keeps asking the question, “Why?” after every explanation. My teachers and parents got frustrated with this tactic and would often try to end the circle by saying, “Because I said so.” If I could get them to this point, I was generally satisfied with myself having driven someone crazy with all my questioning. Not surprisingly, when my children were young, they did the same thing to me and I would catch myself saying, “Because I said so.”

I am significantly older now, and my children are adults with kids of their own. Yet, I have been reflecting on that childish logic. Maybe it is not so childish. The motivation of causing others’ frustration was certainly childish. But the logic is, I believe, sound. To be honest, I have never stopped asking, “Why?” The difference is that now, I really want to know the why of things. Over my lifetime, I have frustrated more people than not with my incessant questioning. Not that I want to over-generalize, but I think there may be two kinds of people: those who want to know as much as they can about this world and life in it, and those who are happy to just go along and accept things as they are. There is no moral judgment in my conclusion.

However, I cannot find satisfaction in the latter. I have to know, and I really have to know the reason. I suspect that those in the latter category are really of the former but have gotten tired of asking or convinced themselves that they really don’t want to know. For example, there are scientists that are so convinced that the theory of evolution is the way things came to be that they act as if it is not a theory at all, but a fact. Their science, then, is not an investigation testing the theory, but a philosophical religion. They mock religion as foolishness and not scientific and are not willing to recognize that their faith in materialism to the exclusion of anything else is a religious posture that needs to ask a lot more questions. In the end, evolutionists must become interested in asking why and less apt to support their theory with further theories. You cannot make the world fit your presuppositions, and neither can I.

In theology, the tactics I am describing are called exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis required one to put aside their theological convictions and search for what the Bible teaches. Eisegesis reads into the text of Scripture my ideas of what it should mean. No matter how convinced theologians are that the former takes precedence over the latter, actual practice has demonstrated repeatedly that eisegesis is dominant. No one can approach Scripture without doing so within the framework of their presuppositions. However, serious students of Scripture are willing to acknowledge the influence of their world view and intentionally place it on trial seeking the truth.

So, let me get down to brass tacks, so to speak. I attended a Christian college steeped in the world of dispensationalism. I quickly learned that few faculty members were willing to field questions challenging that system of thinking. I also discovered that few pastors I knew were able to respond to such questioning. The whole system of dispensationalism is founded upon the shaky background of one man who popularized it. The first Bible my parents gave me was a Scofield Reference Bible. It didn’t take me long to develop a skepticism of any study Bible or thematic Bible. Human thoughts placed along side of Scripture encourage people to not ask why, but to simply accept as authoritative the conclusions of the notes in the margin. There is no difference, by the way, when people who like their pastor cling to everything they proclaim from the pulpit as the truth of the matter.

Asking questions is not to challenge another’s authority. No matter how studied a pastor is, he is not an authority on the truth. Jesus is the truth. The job of the pastor is to present, as best as he can the Word of God. He should also raise the inquisitiveness of the members of the congregation. Sadly, and I say this as carefully as I can, there are too many pastors enamored by the cult of celebrity and too many congregants desiring to have their ears tickled. You may say that this is just my opinion, but I would then suggest you challenge my thesis with questions that go deep into the where, how, and why I say this. Nevertheless, preaching is a good dose of teaching with application to life. Those who listened to sermons in churches influenced by the Reformation would hear a pastor preach for an hour or more. The sermon would not just be long, but highly detailed with Scripture.

It is my experience that if the entire service is longer than an hour, the pastor is on thin ice. If the message is full of Biblical information, it is called teaching, not preaching. And, if the message is longer than 20 minutes, people in the pews begin to squirm and wiggle because they just can’t sit that long. There are many reasons for this and the issue is more complex that I can go into now, but I wonder if the lack of intention span is partly due to a lack of hunger for knowledge. I never want to preach a “Because I said so” sermon. Popular or not, the truth is infinitely deeper than that.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.”

Psalm 8:3–6, ESV

I love these verses from Psalm 8 because they ask a question that forces self-awareness and deeper truth. “What is man that you are mindful of him?” Why would God care about me? Why should I care about him? Because he created me and has crowned me with glory and honor. Furthermore, he did not do this for me, but for the task he has asked me to do. I was mad to have “dominion over the works of [his] hands.” So have you. Our existence goes back to the ultimate why. Our purpose is to tend and expand the work of God throughout the earth. Fulfilling this purpose brings glory to him.

If I am not willing to ask the deeper questions, the questions that go to the heart of things, then I will never know all that God would have me know. None of us can reach the peak of inquisitiveness in this life. There are two conclusions, then. First, I my current estate, I will never be able to bring God the glory he is due. This is a quality issue, not a quantity one. Why? Because at any point that I stop learning about God and his creation, I stop glorifying him.

Second, the more I grow in the knowledge of Christ, the closer I grow in him, and the more prepared I am for eternal life with him. Humans were made to care for God’s creation. He called this caregiving dominion. We are the highest of his creation hear on earth. We were made to rule the earth. This reign is designed for the glory of God. There is no question that we failed. But Jesus came to pay for our failure, and to restore us to our job. We thus are to restore the glory.

By the way, the knowledge of this comes from our asking followed by our working. Why? Because he made it so.

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Necrocracy

There are a lot of oddities in the world. Well, maybe not so odd when you consider the sin nature within all humanity.

A necrocracy is a government ruled by a dead leader. The Urban Dictionary defines necrocracy, “A system of government whereby the people are governed by the dead.” Now, some claim that North Korea is the only necrocracy in the world today. I haven’t taken the time to thoroughly investigate the claim, but North Korea is the most well-known necrocracy.

In 1950, Kim Il-sung led a revolution in Korea with the intent of establishing a communist government throughout the country. What has become known as the Korean War ended with no victor resulting in the current separation of North and South Korea. Kim Il-sung became the president of the North. Following his death in 1994, power was transferred to Kim Jung-il. But though the power transferred, the title of president did not. Kim Il-sung had created a nation that worshipped him (the demonstrative ego of all tyrants). In 1998, the Constitution of North Korea was re-written so that Kim Il-sung would be the Eternal President and the supreme leader of North Korea even though he had died. Kim Jong-il was made the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

Therefore, North Korea is a nation ruled by a dead man making its government a necrocracy. Reflecting on the way things are in North Korea, the government of a necrocracy seemed odd. However, the more I thought about it, the more I came to see that all governments are necrocracies. All governments rely upon the rule of human beings who are polluted by sin. According to the Scriptures, the plight of sin is the condition of being dead. This was the curse for the representative parents of humanity, Adam and Eve. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17, ESV)

A popular explanation for this state of death is that humankind has been separated from God. Though true, I think there is more to it. The consequence of sin goes far deeper than mere separation. It involves all of the laws teaching the Jews what clean and unclean are. It involves the actual death of people, tribes, and whole nations. Sin has touched ever aspect of our lives polluting our thinking, perverting our actions, and shattering the image of God within us. Our likeness to God has not disappeared, but it does not control us. The grace of God prevents all of us from acting fully in sin. The degree of evil in humans and civilizations is limited by God’s eternal rule.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV

So, the truth is that all human governments are ruled by sin and they all decay. Edward Gibbons’ series of books, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” demonstrates the degeneration inherent in all human endeavors. But there is one government that is not human in origin, neither is it ruled by the dead. The government I speak of is ruled by the One who has risen from the dead, Jesus Christ. By taking upon himself the sin of the world, Jesus reconciled us to God and granted his sheep a new life redeemed and recreated in the image of God. Yes, sin doesn’t always act as if defeated by Christ, but we are assured it has.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:1–2, ESV

The good news is that the King of all kings is the Lord of all lords as he was coronated by his ascension to the throne of God. And a consequence of this state of affairs is that human governments may also find redemption if submitted to Christ. God ordained government to rule the civil affairs of humankind. Government was established to restrain sin and evil natural to sinful people. This is the reason for the civil laws in the Old Testament. The Jews were a people promised to Abraham as a light to all nations. The moral law of God is the foundation of all law, for all creation reflects the nature of God. Apart from this moral foundation, there is no basis for morality at all which is one of the major flaws in evolution.

At least two things arise from the Gospel. First, sin and death have been defeated by Christ, and second, the righteousness of Christ is the requirement for all governments today. Many of our laws reflect God’s moral law, an no matter how much anyone complains that you cannot legislate morality, all legislation by its very nature is about morality. But, rebellion against the reign of Christ always results in the decay of life into death. Always! The farther any government disobeys God’s Law, the closer to extinction it becomes.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:21–32, ESV

The spiral of sin as Paul describes is the downward spiral toward extinction, death. Yet, because of the graciousness of God, we have a benevolent King who watches over his own. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16–17, ESV)

My sense that necrocracy is an odd form of government is, therefore, both true and false. The untrue aspect is that necrocracy is the most common form of human government and it has been from the original fall of our first parents. The truth is that there is no need for humans to live under a necrocracy. Necrocracy is odd because if you don’t need to die, why choose death? It all sounds so simple, yet it is not simple at all. If it were merely a matter of choosing to no longer submit to death, everyone would do it. But, just like in North Korea, there is no second option, and all means of discovering a second option is prevented by the state.

Never lose hope! The world once thought that the Soviet Union was a great power for death. The world didn’t believe that the Berlin Wall would ever fall. And, even God’s people to a large degree have missed the Messianic King they sought. Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ does control the world, and the job of his people is to establish his reign throughout the earth.

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With Liberty and Justice for All

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 16:18–20, ESV

For over a year, we have heard cries in the streets for justice. Justice for Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and whoever is not White. Cities have been virtually decimated while the news outlets call the protests mostly peaceful. The rhetoric has dominated all media: America is systemically racist. Whiteness is a disease. I see no need to debate whether there is systemic racism or any kind of racism in our nation, our institutions, or in any sense. The point may be argued, but who will listen? Who is willing to sit down and calmly discuss the issues? Who actually cares enough to seek a real solution that results in justice for all.

How sad it is that whoever yells the loudest wins the argument? Even sadder yet is that those who yell the loudest are also the most ignorant, in my opinion. Yelling and screaming have overtaken rational debate. And this kind of silliness has been granted permission by none other than the President. Kate Slater wrote this:

On Jan. 20, President Joe Biden became the first in U.S. history to explicitly name “the sting of systemic racism” in his inaugural address. With this deliberate and specific use of the term, Biden was drawing attention to the deep-seated racial inequities in America.

https://www.today.com/tmrw/what-systemic-racism-t207878

The debate is purely emotional. Not only is systemic racism a claim being made, but it is also a toothless claim. If there were evidences for the fact rather than emotional whining that the claim is valid, there would be a rational debate. But there is no debate. We are told to believe it is true just because. And we are expected to believe it is confirmed by the supposed victims of racism.

For example, the hollow organization Black Lives Matter has collected millions of dollars in donations to further the cause of defeating racism. Too bad. The donors were shellacked as the leaders frivolously spent the funds on themselves. So much for racism. The message is to the everyday person, “Every man for himself!” as the ship of truth sinks in the cold seas of empty rhetoric. It sounds nice. It even rings true. But the more profound lesson is that “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Confronted with the reality, the racism battle carries on.

Justice is more than an ideological option. Justice can be defined, and any discussion about the social conditions today that are called unjust cannot occur without such a definition. Every politician knows that definition of terms is the first thing to be scuttled if any campaign is to succeed. You do not need to speak the truth. Instead, you must sound like you speak the truth. Truth divides those who can hear it and those who cannot. To win elections, you cannot take a stand. Case in point: Joe Biden did virtually nothing to campaign for the presidency. He should have thought about that years ago. He may have become president sooner.

In Hebrew, the concept of judgment and justice is mostly commonly expressed with the term שׁפט (šāpaṭ), which means “to govern” or “to administer justice,” and its related noun מִשְׁפָט (mišpāṭ, “judgment”). Another set of Hebrew terms related to justice in the OT includes the noun צֶדֶק (ṣedeq, “righteousness”) and its related verb צָדֹק (ṣādōq, “to be or make righteous”). Depending on context, the Septuagint uses Greek words related to the terms δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē, “righteousness”) or κρίνω (krinō, “to judge”) to translate these Hebrew words. The NT mostly follows the Septuagint’s terminology for justice. For example, the NT uses terms derived from the δικ- (dik-) word group to express positive forms of judgment (e.g., “legally righteous,” “innocent,” or “justify”) and words related to κρίνω (krinō) to express more negative forms of judgment (e.g., “lawsuit,” “verdict,” or “condemn”). Neither set of words solely refers to negative or positive judgments; in each case, the context will determine the most likely connotation of a particular term related to justice. The Bible also contains many less-frequently used Hebrew and Greek terms that denote various persons and types of judgments.

Jeremiah K. Garrett, Lexham Theological Wordbook, 2014.

Justice, according to the Creator, is foundational to morality. It is about discerning right from wrong. We know that such discernment is difficult or impossible at times. Solomon could have simply given the baby to its mother, but he had to prove to the combatants who really loved the child as a wise judge. No matter how hard justice may be, it is an absolute necessity to any peaceful social system. From the earliest times in Jewish history, God has called for the appointment of righteous judges. There is no room for favoritism in justice. This is one reason that the arguments demanding racial justice fall flat today.

The initial solution to the racial question is that blacks are to be favored over whites. Blacks deserve such favoritism due to the injustice of slavery. It doesn’t matter that no black has been enslaved in America in their generation, or even the generation before them. We are told that the institution of black slavery has had long-lasting effects. Once again, claims are made from emotional rhetoric without solid substance. The is a gap between whites and blacks economically, it is said. The truth is that this “poverty” gap is not universal to the black experience. There are too many African Americans who did not join gangs or deal drugs. There are too many who worked for their education and worked for their advancement and position. There are too many successful African Americans. The same is true for every race in America.

Justice demands an objective moral standard. It cannot float along with every wind of change. The universal human experience is that life is change. We grow, we learn, we gain wisdom (hopefully.) Yet, the foundation must be a rock. Building on sand always ends in failure.

Moreover, the only rock worthy of being our foundation for justice is the Son of God, who suffered injustice greater than anyone on earth. He is the rock David sang about in the Psalms. He is the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God, according to Paul.

The painful truth is that injustice always cries out for righteous judgment. There is only one who is capable of such judgment, Jesus the Messiah. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”” (Acts 4:12, ESV)

Anyone who truly seeks salvation from the humanistic problems of antinomianism and false faith in governments and people, turn to Jesus Christ, who knows your pain and frustration, and the only one who can do something about it. Stop listening to foolishness and seek wisdom and justice in Christ, which always results in freedom. “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, ESV)

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Music Outside of the Church Liturgy

No, I’m not talking about whether Rock, Pop, Christian Pop, etc., are evil. I’m thinking about music written using Scripture passages for the libretto but was condemned as mere entertainment. Anything come to mind? Right! Handel’s Messiah. Today marks the anniversary of Handel’s death. And in a way, what is now considered Handel’s masterpiece died shortly after it was written.

It was denied success in London. Many believers were appalled because the “Messiah” was not music for a church service but a “Grand Musical Entertainment” (Jennens). They considered that these Bible passages should only be heard in a liturgical setting. The Bishop of London forbade any performance in an Anglican church.

https://www.crescendo.org/download/_JYjOh4VJLA/MESSIAH%20Text%20for%20small%20groups.pdf

This was when the regulative principle went too far, in my opinion. The issue for me is not the music (though I deplore those who try to jazz it up with a pop style.) I have had the privilege of participating in The Messiah’s performance several times. What bothers me most is that some people believed that the Scripture passages were debased if not heard in a liturgical setting. How could it be performed in a church when the Bishop of London forbade it?

Give the Bishop some credit, though, because he believed that the composition was inappropriate for liturgical worship. However, it could have been performed at another time than a worship service. (I realize that the Anglican Church thought the Sanctuary was a holy place reserved exclusively for liturgical worship.) Today, churches allow many things to be done in a “sanctuary” that are probably inappropriate. We have swung quite away from the old tradition when we suggest that the church is just a building and the Sanctuary just a meeting space. Such an attitude is reinforced by churches making an auditorium with a stage for a sanctuary.

Anyone I know who has entered a grand cathedral or one of the many large Roman Catholic churches has come away with a sense of God’s awesomeness. When you speak in one of these churches, you drop your voice to a whisper because it feels like God’s presence surrounds you. We don’t need a cathedral to make a holy space where God is worshipped. But churches usually are structures anyone can recognize as the place people go to worship the one God. Add to that the absence of the symbols of a church within the Sanctuary. When did we throw out great pipe organs? What about the pulpit that reminds us that the preaching of the Word is authorized by God himself?

Sorry. Back to Handel. The music to which the Scriptures are set wells up within the soul and lifts us up. The Scriptures chosen for this piece tell the gospel story of the life of Christ, our Savior, from the prophecies that promise a way prepared for God the Son to enter human life. He is presented in all of his humanity and all of his deity. So, even if the oratorio is “Grand Musical Entertainment,” it presents the Gospel of Christ to those who do not know or believe the story. For those of us who can hear Scriptures presented individually and as a whole in such a way that we can be opened to deeper understanding.

When I began in the pastoral ministry, I thought I had to do something unique and different for Christmas and Easter sermons. Now I am older, and I have become convinced that following the church calendar is not mere tradition. Instead, it is an annual re-living the Gospel. Christmas is to remember and experience what the shepherds saw, what Simeon and Anna experienced, what the magi traveled so far to see and worship. We need to hear this story every year. We need to remember the story of the resurrection of Christ. For that matter, it is good to hear of Christ’s baptism by John, his ascension to the throne of the universe, all of the gospel. I believe that Christmas is kind of empty if I can’t start the day with morning worship. When did we lose that awe of hearing the multitude of angels singing? When did Christmas become a private celebration for feasting and opening presents? Handel’s Messiah helps us restore the gospel, for, in it, we relive the life of Christ, which in whole, it is the foundation of our faith.

I looked back at my life, and I realized that when I was closest to my Lord, I attended Christmas Eve and Christmas morning worship. It was when I led Ascension Day services, poorly attended because it is always a mid-week celebration. When I was a participant every year within the gospel.

Life outside the Church has become all too important. We don’t want to miss a thing. We use day planners and “smart” phones to keep our day on track. What have we done? What is more important than Christ. Jesus is present with us in the Church and in the Church’s worship. Why is it so hard to go to church more than once a week (excluding non-worship activities)? I think that is why being with the elderly is important. Those old Christians can’t wait to enter the permanent presence of Christ.

So, hat’s off to you, Georg Friedrich Handel. May you enjoy the blessings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for you gave the world one of the most magnificent works of art that keeps the gospel before us.

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To Regulate or Not to Regulate

All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name. Selah

Psalm 66:4, ESV

The last time I wrote, the question I asked related to whether worship services needed to be Liturgical or free flowing. At least part of the answer to that question has to do with how you define the terms “worship” and “liturgical.” There is another question that must be answered as well. It has to do with the Regulative Principle.

The regulative principle simply put says that worshipped must be ordered by the Scriptures and only by them. I don’t really know many Evangelical or even Reformed churches that apply the regulative principle to their worship. It they did, worship services would be much more reflective and probably with no rock ‘n roll.

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and I love rock ‘n roll music, at least much of it. However, the use of electric guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards make it more difficult for me to focus on God rather than my own personal likes. The other problem I have with much of the music used in church worship services today are the lyrics. The authors of these songs are generally bad poets and even worse theologians.

I do listen to a lot of Christian rock and pop music and I am sometimes inspired by the music, even to the point of ignoring the poor lyrics. However, the music is designed to “bring people in” rather than to direct hearts upward. Please don’t tell me that music is only a preference and all music can be used rightly or wrongly. My opinion is that anything left in the hands of human desire are bound to lead away from Christ, not to him. Many years ago, my wife and I attended a worship service in a mid-west mega church. When we left the church (by the way, where no one noticed us or recognized we were the strangers their services were geared for), we looked at each other and both said, “When does worship start?”

Feed the flesh and you only get flesh back. Feed the Spirit and you are lifted up while you are bowing down.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:5–8, ESV

The benefit of the regulative principle is significant. First, our worship should remind us that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.” Why should we strive to live biblically driven lives if we don’t even try to worship as God would desire. Second, it keep the focus on worship on God, not on any supposed benefit we would like to get from attending Sunday morning church. Pastors will be grateful for a flock that wants to ask questions of the sermon and not judge whether it kept them awake or not. And church members would not have to look for a new church because there are not enough special programs for every member of the family. Every one in the family should be together throughout the service from infant through teenager. The argument I often hear to challenge that is, “Children can’t follow the message like adults can,” and, “church is not exciting to make Christianity relevant to them, they get bored.”

Third, worship is something learned, not some ecstatic, impromptu response to what God has done for us. Another way of putting it, worship is not about the expression of our feelings. It is an act of obedience to the call of God to “Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:5, ESV) I will not suggest that worship does not result in feelings, but it is much like love. To love is to serve; to be loved is to receive. There is no doubt that our obedience in worship often results in God’s blessings, that which St. Ignatius de Loyola called “consolation.”

In our instant scientifically prove it society, I do not doubt that the next question is, “So where does the Bible say how we are to worship?” Not to be flip in my answer, but where does it not say how we are to worship? Return with me to creation and the first humans. Did not God instruct Adam and Eve what to do with that which he created? And did he also tell them what not to do? To listen to the serpent over and above God’s instruction was really placing themselves above God. The worshipped the creation and not the creator, to cite Paul in Romans 1. We can even go to Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel. They both labored hard at their work. The both brought the fruit of their labor as an offering to the Lord.

And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

Genesis 4:4–5, ESV

No where are we made privy to any instructions God had given people about worshipping with gifts. He had to sometime and somewhere, because Abel’s offering was regarded and Cain’s was not. Without speculating why this was so, we can safely say that Abel worshipped God as God desired and Cain had not. Abraham was given specific direction how he was to worship God, and how his household was to worship, too. Moses and Aaron were instructed how to build the tabernacle and how to worship. Every time his instructions were not observed, disaster came upon the Israelites. You can even see such self determined worship in the book of Judges for repeatedly,

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.

Judges 2:11–13, ESV

The next objection I often hear is, “But we are not under law, but under grace.” This is both right and wrong. According to Matthew, Jesus came to “fulfill” the law. Right! But we cannot define and defend doctrine by a single verse. We can read the whole passage.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17–20, ESV

First, Jesus does not say that he came to end the Law or the Prophets. He speaks of fulfilling them. How are they fulfilled? By Christ’s obedience. However, that he obeyed every law by living a perfect human life, nowhere is it implied that the value of the Law is no more. Instead, he warns against anyone who would “relax” even the least of the Laws, they can expect the same from God. Finally, the lesson is not that the law is no more but that his disciples are called to have a righteousness that exceeds that of those who were the best legalists of his day, the scribes and the Pharisees.

I have not understood the argument that we are not under law but under grace. In the same way as we are today, the Jews of history could claim the same. Why? Because salvation has never been accomplished by obedience to the Law. Salvation has always been according to the grace of God. Some of the Old Testament Laws have been completed once and for all, such as the sacrifice of a lamb for the atonement of sins. To continue the bloody sacrifices is to deny the efficacy of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.

Nevertheless, no one has ever been able to claim they were not required to follow God’s law. Even Jesus is reported to have said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV) We may not want to call Christ’s commands the Law of God, but since Jesus came to do his Father’s will, I think it is fair to say that the will of God is displayed in his Law.

Returning to the topic at hand, Bible believing Christians stake their lives on the Word of God. Except when it comes down to a conflict with their own will. I cannot dodge the indictment either. Yet, our lives are to be drawing closer to Christ every day. And closer to Christ does not mean to feel closer and more loved by him, we already have the whole love of God. Drawing closer must refer to greater obedience to him, to his commands. And God has given us plenty to study in order to apply all of his commands to life and worship.

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Liturgical Worship

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

Psalm 29:2, ESV

I believe that the primary activity of the Christian and the Church is to worship God. I think there is sufficient biblical support to this idea and the Westminster Shorter Catechism states it in the answer to the very first question.

What is the chief end of man?
Man’ s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps. 73:25–28)

Here is what A. A. Hodge wrote about these words “IN QUESTION FIRST affirms that by nature man is a religious being, created with the ultimate design of promoting the glory of God, and so constituted as to find his highest and permanent blessedness in his communion and service. The first of the great corner-stones upon which the theology of our Catechism rests is, consequently, the religious nature and endowments of man and the validity of his moral and spiritual intuitions. [1]

Is there any Christian in the world that does not believe we are to worship God often and regularly? Probably not. Yet, the issue of worship has been an issue of debate in every church I have served. What’s all the fuss about? Why do people choose a church or leave a church because they don’t like the worship?

It appears to me that the greatest tension over worship during my lifetime revolves around the words “traditional” and “contemporary.” Labels can be constructive helps to understanding. Or they can become the focus rather than lead to the truth. What do these two words mean? It depends upon who you ask. There are general characteristics attached to these words which have nothing to do with the words themselves.

TraditionalContemporary
LiturgicalFree and Spirit led
Robes; vestments; suits and dressesnone of the traditional – wear whatever you want
has a SanctuaryDoes not have a Sanctuary and often has a stage
Candles and possibly Incense are usedFire hazards – very limited use
Large Pipe Organ provides musical directionsemi Rock Band plays the music
May have someone direct the singing, but no director is more commonLed by a Worship Leader or Praise Team
Feels FormalFeels Casual
Sings old hymns that are barely comprehendedSinge contemporary Pop Songs
Long Sermons that take work to listen toLong talks that elicit an emotional response
Kid unfriendlyKid friendly
Worship is objectiveWorship is subjective

You may agree or disagree with these things, and you may have others to list. However, these two styles of worship have divided the people of God. Any division of the unity of God’s people is not supposed to be in the Christian playbook. So there have been attempts to bring the two sides together. Some of them include giving the word “liturgy” a different meaning suggesting that both traditional and contemporary worship has liturgy. I’m not sure they really know what liturgy is because so many Christians in America have never attended a church that uses liturgy. Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, older Reformed, and Presbyterian are examples that use liturgy.

Liturgy cannot be simplified by saying it is just a church service’s order. If that is the case, it is true that every church, no matter how formal or informal, would have a liturgy. But Liturgy refers not only to the order but to the way everything in a service is done. For example, a few years back, I attended another church, and it was communion Sunday. They had four stations around the room containing bread, juice, and a candle. During the welcoming time, the pastor told everyone that they are free to go take communion anytime they felt like it. This, to me, is the opposite of Liturgy.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 11:23–27, ESV

Growing up, every church my parents took me to at least quoted part of the 1 Corinthians passage. Additionally, communion was distributed to everyone so that the eating and drinking were done together. That practice came closer to Liturgy because it had Biblical instruction with the participants following the commands to eat and drink. The participant was also reminded that the Lord’s Supper was not just something that we do in church once a month. It is something we have been commanded to follow as a part of worship, and it’s purpose is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

When I was a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, the week before the Lord’s Supper, we took the time to read a form explaining why the supper, who is called to the supper, and how each person should prepare themselves for the supper. Some churches read the form(s) on the day of the Lord’s Supper just before serving it. This is Liturgy. Whether you agree with the form or how the service is performed, there are a couple of things to note. First, serving and receiving the Lord’s Supper is an act of obedience to the Lord by mandate of the Scriptures. Obedience is something one does for a superior, so it is an act of humility. Second, to not take the supper or to not follow Christ’s instructions are acts of rebellion. Rebellion is disobedience, and those who disobey are claiming authority over Christ.

To say that a Church is Liturgical is to identify it as a place where God’s people gather to worship the Lord according to his precepts. Churches that use a Book of Common Worship are churches that take seriously that God has ordered worship and that worship has little to do with human emotional reactions. Instead, worship is an act of cheerful submission and obedience to God. I like the reference to the Lord’s Supper as the Eucharist. The title means to give thanks for grace. For me, that concept is what the supper is all about, and it is what Christianity is all about.

There is more to say, which I will in coming blogs. We need to understand more about the Eucharist and its place in worship. And we need to understand what worship really is. Much of what goes on in many churches on Sunday mornings is not worship, but doing things to please man and, to a large degree, ignore God.

[1] Archibald Alexander Hodge, J. Aspinwall Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Opened and Explained., (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1888), 8.

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Hats Off to Saint Patrick

There are many stories and legends surrounding the Saints of the Church. None more so than with St. Patrick. I don’t know if the words of St. Patrick’s Breastplate were penned by him or someone else, but I love the prayer. May we all seek the courage to arise today.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Ephesians 6:11 (ESV)
I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

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Free Will

Free will is a topic over which there has been much debate both in Christian and non-Christian spheres. The one side claims free will means we are free to choose any or all options. If I want to be saved (in Christian terms), I choose to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. If I am male but want to be female (or any of the other genders), I choose it. Reasonably speaking, this is at the heart of many cultural debates today. I have read and heard many times that because I am white, I am racist. This argument speaks against free will or the choice to be racist. If I have no choice but to be racist, then how can I be culpable for racism? This kind of argument is used by the gender issue. “I am a female in a male body. I did not choose this. It is who I am.” Thus, we are expected to accept the argument and those who claim to be some other gender. They can’t help it. They cannot, therefore, be culpable on a moral level.

Such reasoning is self-contradictory. If it is true in one case, then it must be true in every case. And in that case, why are people losing jobs and, moreover, apparently racist comments (this is a wholly different topic)? Obviously, they can’t help it. To hold someone culpable, the activity they become involved with must be a free choice. The extreme application of the argument against free choice is fatalism. Think of Doris Day singing, “Que sera, sera.” The argument against fatalism is that no one can truly live that way. There are no choices, only the illusion of choices. There is no right or wrong because what will be will be. The consequence? There is no culpability. In that case, we might as well disband the police (and military, border patrol, etc.).

We know this cannot be reasonable because we all make choices, and there are predictable consequences to our choices. If I choose to skip school, I will not be able to use my intelligence. Some might say this is where about half of our country is. If I don’t have such a choice, then welfare programs make sense because I can’t get a job. But do they? Why would we choose to give our money away when there is no choice. Even to choose to create such programs. This becomes survival of the fittest, which makes many scientists and teachers very happy. They would have evidence of evolution.

No. To make me accountable for racism, you must identify the action that is racist and demonstrate that I had a choice in my action. I may not be thoughtful or reflective about my choice. I still have the power to not do racist things. Thoughts don’t count unless they are acted upon. No one can read my mind, and only I can judge my thoughts. Unfortunately, humankind wants it both ways. You can judge my thoughts, but I cannot judge yours. And now, the real punch to free will. There is nothing that scientifically explains gender beyond two: male and female. If I say I am a homosexual, it can only be a choice of my free will. The choice may have been influenced by many things, but in the end, it is still a choice. Let me be clear. I believe that those who claim to be other genders or homosexual still deserve respect due to every human being. However, I do not need to approve of forced programs telling me that this is morally good. This especially goes for our children.

Free will is something we all have and human beings. Yet, how free is our free will? If I am offered a slice of cherry pie or a slice of apple pie, I will always choose cherry. Why? I don’t know. The choice is free, but at the same time not absolutely free. The choice I make is freely made. I can choose the apple. However, my choice is influenced by something within me that prefers cherry over apple (or anything over pumpkin). What is that thing? I believe it is something tied to my personality, which, together with many of such things, makes me a unique human being. I also believe that my personality, my personhood has a source which is the Creator.

Free will has limitations because we are created beings, finite in all aspects of our being. We cannot have unlimited choices because we are not unlimited. This brings me to a man named Pelagius. Pelagius lived during the fourth and fifth centuries when the church had developed significantly but was still young. Pelagius was a diligent scholar and committed to the Christian faith. As such, he soon realized that many Christians were not living as the Bible told us to live. Faithful as he was, he sought the reason for this and concluded that people were choosing to live the way they did. The reasonable answer to his conclusion is to teach people that they had the ability to live holy lives if only they would choose to do so. Pelagius became know for his asceticism when he lived in Rome. No one is a true teacher if they do not live the life.

There was another devout Christian man who lived in North Africa. His name is Augustine. You may have heard him called Saint Augustine, though you have never heard of Saint Pelagius. Through the efforts of Augustine, Pelagius, and his teaching called Pelagianism, were declared heretical by the church in 418 A.D. (B.C.E.) and excommunicated. The fundamental disagreement was over the nature of free will and went all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the first sin (original sin). I will save you from what I consider to be a thrilling debate. But the conclusion is foundational to all debate over free will.

I remember that Jesus claimed that he did nothing of his own will but by the will of the Father. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” (John 4:34, ESV) “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38, ESV) A part of that work is the call of the gospel.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16, ESV

The gospel is offered to everyone. Anyone who believes shall have eternal life. The offer, though, does not imply that I can choose to believe. So, John also wrote that the belief is not of our will.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:12-13

So, we are all bound to the death of sin from our birth. There is no such thing as an innocent newborn child in terms of original sin. All human beings wrestle their entire lives with sin. We all do wrong, and we are culpable for the wrong that we do. Anyone who does not think racism is evil is a fool. Likewise, everyone who sees racism where there are no acts of racism is a fool. The name has changed over the years. Systemic racism. Institutional racism. Sadly, when one focuses on others’ perceived racism, they are blinded to their own racism. When we use epithets like homo or homophobe, we are focused on others. And to be honest, I’ve got too many of my own problems to get all tangled up in yours.

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

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Welcome Home

Sunday I returned home from a vacation to California. It’s good to be home, so much so that I drove 15 hours with only two stops for gas. When I go away from family and church, even for the best reasons, I get to a point when I can’t wait to get home. “Home is where the heart is.” This is a common saying that sounds good. There is truth to that. However, getting to see my granddaughter’s first steps captured my heart. So did seeing long missed family and friends. Yet, I still was not home. I missed my wife and son. I missed my own bed and shower. I missed being able to go to the fridge for a midnight snack. I missed everything about being home.

There is a pull deep down inside that draws me toward home. It is the place we can be ourselves, let our hair down, so to speak. Home is a place where we feel secure, safe, and warm. When anything disrupts the home, we are cast into a sea of chaos and confusion. If anyone has experienced a burglary in their home, there is a sense of violation. Something is not right and it takes a long time to readjust equilibrium.

Once, early in our marriage, my wife and I came home after dark and found the front door open. We called the police to enter the house first. Yes, we were scared! Everything was fine and I gained a new appreciation for the women and men who serve and protect. The best I could guess is that I did not close the door completely. I went from afraid to the fool quickly. I also decided I would rather be the fool than afraid.

In most of our cities today, you can barely drive anywhere without encountering many who are homeless. I know there are many reasons for this situation and I don’t want to try to analyze them now. Instead, I feel the sense of fear that comes over me when I try to put myself in their place. Longing for home can lead to methods of dulling the senses. I can understand the pain one would want to cover over with alcohol or drugs. The cycle that begins often tends toward death, unless there is some form of intervention. This is the nature of sin.

Our culture tosses around words without consideration of their meaning. Sin is a desert item on a menu or a quart of Rocky Road ice cream in the freezer. Evil is saved for people who see things differently or for political parties. These words deserve more than that.

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.

Psalm 52:1–4, ESV

There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.

Psalm 38:3, ESV

We all make mistakes in our lives. Errors are common, but evil and sin are not in the same category. Neil Plantinga was one of my theology professors when I was in Seminary. He wrote an excellent book called Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. The explanation for the book on Amazon reads, “This timely book retrieves an old awareness that has slipped and changed in recent decades. The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it–and grieved over it. But the shadow of sin has now dimmed in our consciousness. Even preachers, who once got visibly angry over a congregation’s sin, now speak of sin in a mumble.”

There is evil in this world and it wants to remain hidden or obscured. With every good lie there is some truth. Our sin is the result of the lies we believe. Deception rests within our hearts and it has since Eve and Adam ate from the forbidden tree in Eden. All of us are affected and sadly, all of us fail to fight for the Truth. The Truth is that Eden was created to be our home. Ever since we were banished from the garden, we have longed to return. It is our home. It is “the way it’s supposed to be.”

So, what do we do? We attempt to rationalize the evil we do because we know it is evil. We build lies upon the lie. And we fall farther from home, farther from the Truth. The Hebrew King David became our example. He saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing on a roof top and lust rose up within him. Evil lied to him saying that as King, he could have anyone he pleased, so he had her brought to him and he laid with her in sin. Bathsheba’s husband was an important warrior in the palace and a confidant of David’s. The King’s righteousness stripped away the lie and made David aware of his sin. But this was not in a good way. David deceived himself again thinking he could cover things up so no one would ever know.

King David had Uriah assigned to the front lines in a military campaign hoping he would not return. When Uriah did not return, David had committed a worse sin: murder. David had fallen far from home. He added lie upon lie and fell farther. Most of the time, our compounding sins are more subtle even though just as evil. We continue to freefall until something or someone intervenes. (Please, I am NOT equating homelessness with sin. I am suggesting that the angst felt being far from home or hope is what we feel when we are far from God.)

Our home, our life is connected to God our Creator. Out side of Eden is being apart from God, or better, in the state of death, bound to our sin. There is an answer! There is a solution! There is hope!

A MASKIL OF DAVID. 

      Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, 
                whose sin is covered. 
      Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, 
                 and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 

      For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away 
                through my groaning all day long. 
      For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; 
                my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 

      I acknowledged my sin to you, 
                and I did not cover my iniquity; 
      I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” 
                and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah 

      Therefore let everyone who is godly 
                offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; 
      surely in the rush of great waters, 
                they shall not reach him. 
      You are a hiding place for me; 
                you preserve me from trouble; 
                you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah 

      I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; 
                I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 
      Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, 
                which must be curbed with bit and bridle, 
                or it will not stay near you. 

      Many are the sorrows of the wicked, 
                but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. 
      Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, 
                and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! 

Psalm 32, ESV

Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on earth, good will to those who please him. (My loose translation of Luke 2:14.) In other words, all of our desires, all of our longings drive us toward home. No human can be fulfilled with anything short of God, for whose glory we are created. Home is with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and there is only one way to get there. The path home is humble repentance. When we are at home with Christ, we can be anywhere. Yet home is our security, our protection, our salvation. That is because home is truth, righteousness, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and more. No matter our location, we can all come home.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:1–6, ESV

Hear these words. Heed these words. And, welcome home.

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Shepherds and Sheep

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

Ezekiel 34:1–24, ESV

Ezekiel was a Priest in Judah and was carried off into exile by the Babylonians. Let’s clear up something from the start. Prophets spoke the Word of the Lord to the people of God. Sometimes this Word spoke of future things, as is evident in the above passage. But the Word given had to do with present circumstances. The Lord speaks to Judah through Ezekiel explaining why he has allowed the Babylonians to defeat them, destroy the Temple and Jerusalem, and carry them off to a foreign land. The message is clear. Those who were Shepherds over Israel and Judah, those who were leaders of the people, priests and kings, managed things for their own benefit and not for the sake of the people.

Those who are called to lead the people should be considered Shepherds. “Sheep were domesticated in the ancient Near East in 7000 BC. They are mentioned more than any other livestock in the Bible, indicating their economic importance as a source of food, wool, and hide. With the primary responsibilities of leading and protecting their flock, the occupation naturally lent itself as a symbol for those in leadership and God.(Matthew Montonini, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, 2016.) This description is important because the role of a shepherd was one of self-sacrifice for the sake of the sheep. The reason the “sheep” of Judah are in exile is because their shepherds failed miserably at their jobs. Furthermore, the job of a shepherd was God ordained. Priests were appointed by God from the time of the Exodus. Aaron was the first and the Levites were appointed for the perpetuation of the office.

The people were not innocent of sin. But the head of the people are those who led them into sin by their own sin. Righteous leaders lead righteously. Sinful leaders lead into unrighteousness. Righteous shepherds lead their sheep to safe and bountiful places. Unrighteous shepherds lead their sheep into unsafe places where the shepherds can feed their gluttony and avarice. Righteous sheep demand righteous shepherds, and when they cannot get them, they have the promise of the Lord that he will be their shepherd.

 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  
 He makes me lie down in green pastures.  
 He leads me beside still waters.  
 He restores my soul.  
 He leads me in paths of righteousness  
 for his name’s sake.  
 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  
 I will fear no evil,  
 for you are with me;  
 your rod and your staff,  
 they comfort me.  
 You prepare a table before me  
 in the presence of my enemies;  
 you anoint my head with oil;  
 my cup overflows.  
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me  
 all the days of my life,  
 and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord  
 forever.  
 Psalm 23, ESV 
 

The requirements of God have not changed. Neither has the promise. Today, we have shepherds who are ordained by God to lead us, protect us, and ensure that we can live as sheep are called to live. The most obvious shepherds are pastors, which title literally means “a helper, or feeder of sheep.” Pastors today are given this title to remind themselves and the people they lead that their role is to help them spiritually and to feed them the whole counsel of God. Though pastors do not literally prophesy, they do fill the role of the ancient prophets by declaring the will of God revealed to us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. There are two major issues relating to pastors that I have seen today. First, there are pastors who sheer the sheep for their own personal gain. Contemporary media has made this easier for them to do, but it has been an issue from the beginning.

Second, there are sheep who resist the leadership of their good pastors. We all, in a sense, are sheep after this description. I don’t believe there is a Christian alive who has not and who does not resist the will of Christ. Paul presents his case plainly in Romans 7 that we are all trapped in this way. The process of sanctification (the process of salvation) is a life-long journey whereby the Spirit of Christ remakes us into people whose primary existence is to glorify God. However, there are sheep who resist on another level. These are the sheep who sit in the pews (or theater seats) demanding to be entertained, uplifted, and basically made to feel good about who they are. This is NOT the purpose or end of the Gospel. The goal of Christ in his work as our Great Shepherd is to make disciples who will obey all that he has commanded. All those things we want, peace, purpose, joy, pleasure, reside in discipleship. All those things are inward developments of disciples and not outward experiences.

Pastors who work for their own glory and ego, who seek to profit from their position, who seek personal gratification or a desire to “climb the ladder of success,” are Ezekiel 34 shepherds. Pastors who yield to the whims of their sheep, who design their services and their sermons to meet the demands of the sheep in order to fill the pews and grow in status are Ezekiel 34 shepherds. May God forgive me for all of these things, and may his forgiveness allow me to continually amend my service until I recognize my sheep are God’s sheep and not my own, but Christ’s, and that I do not determine what is good for Christ’s sheep, nor do the sheep determine what is good for themselves, but Christ alone is the God Shepherd leading his sheep. As a pastor, I have spent decades aware of the traps of ministry and prayed for the Spirit’s direction and help.

There are other shepherds, though. Every elected and non-elected official in government is a shepherd called and ordained by God. In America, our founding fathers wrote a document outlining the purpose of a righteous government. It is to protect the God given inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. None of these rights can be interpreted in the sense of one person’s rights denying another’s. None of these rights are absolute. Rights bestowed by God demand exercise under God’s rule and law. And, in fact, the drafting of the Constitution of the United States took this declaration very seriously.

Unfortunately, Ezekiel’s description describes many of these leaders and many of the people as well. Even though there are people and leaders who do not believe in Christ (though they may say they do), the end is the same. Evil leaders will receive their due from God. So will evil sheep. In the mean while, it is the work of Christ’s disciples to demand righteous leadership and to hold all government officials accountable to the law of God. It is not godly for the Church to avoid politics and it is ungodly for politicians to deny the Church’s involvement yet use the church to advance themselves. I spoke of the latter previously here. Those who think it is somehow dirty or beneath the Church to bring politics into the pulpit know little about the Word of God.

Every aspect of politics is about morality. Every law passed is a moral decision and demands a moral reaction. Abortion, gender reassignment or choice, discontinuance of capital punishment, taxation, debt forgiveness, capitalism or socialism, government “freebies,” and everything else are moral issues and should be topics for instruction in God’s Law. The character of individuals running for office is also a topic for preaching, if it comes from the perspective of God’s Law Word. I believe care should be taken to make sure any information about a policy or individual is correct is essential, for if it is incorrect, the preacher fails to present God’s Word. However, the unwritten rule that you cannot name names when addressing evil is not God’s rule, as evidenced repeatedly by the Apostle Paul. (There are plenty of ministries that should be called out and identified as contrary to Christ.)

My discussion can go on ad infinitum. And frankly, it should be just a beginning to the Church’s wrestling with the issues in which it finds herself. The bottom line, though, is the hope that Ezekiel gave the people of Judah which remains for us today. God is the ultimate Judge and he has given judgment over to Christ. The ungodly should fear this, and because they don’t, they are fools. The godly do fear this for disciples want nothing less that to be obedient to all Christ has commanded us. These two groups are called by Jesus the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the chaff. Where do I fall in relation to Christ? Where do you?

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Filed under Gospel, Humanism, Law of God, Obedience