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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Filed under Hate, Law of God, Racism, Truth

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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Filed under Hate, Love, Racism, World View

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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Filed under Covenant, Faith, Law of God

Clean Hands

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.” (Isaiah 59:3–4, ESV)

The death of George Floyd was not a tragedy. It was the result of evil. Not an impersonal evil, but one that was endemic of human hatred toward one another. As a people, one nation, so to speak, we cry out for justice, and we weep for the loss of a man’s life. When Mr. Floyd was killed, we all were killed a little bit.

We live in a country that for over five centuries has been unable to manifest basic respect for our neighbors. I believe that one reason we have failed to deal with systemic racism is that we don’t really know the history of it. We have been taught what the people in power want us to know. However, omitting truth is the same as lying. And we all have been lied to so much, that we can’t even believe those who know better.

To this end, I suggest a hard look at ourselves, especially the Church which has been complicit in the lie. One way to do that is to read a book written by Joel McDurmon titled, “The Problem of Slavery in Christian America.” The Church is one place that we should find righteousness, justice, love, and peace, because the Church is an institution of faith in God, who is the source of these things. That’s why we as the Church bear the greatest burden for Mr. Floyd’s death and the injustice in our land.

If we have not all been disturbed by the events across America in the past week, we have lost sight of God’s purpose in our creation. Israel had lost sight of God’s calling as well. Isaiah does not hold back a thing. Isaiah is speaking for God. And where ever this passage rings true, it bears the weight of God’s judgment. We should not be deceived. George Floyd was murdered because we have lived materialistic lives of competitiveness where the golden rule is, “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

The desire to protest such injustice is a Constitutional privilege that has been used to express the fear of the Black community and the fear that they are all targets of injustice. However, there are two issues I struggle with relating to protests.

First, protesting is showing support for a cause and making that support impressed upon the hearts and minds of those who have the power to change things. However, if those who can change things have dead hearts and closed minds, protesting does little more than making the protester feel good for having taken a stand. This feeling soon dissipates and changes into thinking I have done all I can do. Discouragement sets in because nothing appears to change. Eventually discouragement morphs into despair and the believe that nothing I do will ever matter.

Second, there are always a few unscrupulous individuals who take protesting as a cover for rioting and destruction of property. No one wins in this case, everyone loses. This is what has been occurring throughout the States too much this week.

There is an answer, though. I did not include the first two verses of Isaiah’s prophecy before, but read them now.

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.” (Isaiah 59:1–2, ESV)

The Lord God is not altered by our human failures. We are the ones who become separated from the only one who can resolve the issue and bring peace. Its not that he can’t hear. Its that he doesn’t listen because of our iniquity. The answer is that we must make more than a stand for justice, we must demand it. But we cannot demand justice using injustice. It doesn’t work to fight fire with fire. If Jesus taught us anything by his life, it is that evil does not stop evil. Jesus stopped the evil by absorbing in in himself. He gave himself over to it and for over two thousand years, his act has not been forgotten.

Jesus did not fight back. He stopped Peter from his attempt at defense. He told us all to turn the other cheek, to walk another mile, to give our coat too. I have been told that in the legal system in America, you must come to court with “clean hands.” I believe that should be true if it is not, because I know it is true with God. We can’t wash our hands so Christ has done it for us.

So, evil cannot be stopped with evil. Wars don’t stop when there is a victor because the loss on both sides is too much to bear. Wars stop when parties refuse to go to war. It is the job of the State to bear justice. Its just that our State has not listened to the God that rules over it. God can change it. He makes his changes by waking us up to righteousness by allowing us to taste our own unrighteousness. Then he calls his righteous ones forward to change the very system of human life in this world into the system of his Kingdom.

As C. S. Lewis wrote in the Last Battle, let us all move higher up and farther in.

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The Law of Love

My last post had to do with obedience. May more things could be said about obedience, however, I would like to reflect on the word love, since that is the sum of God’s law.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, ESV)

Much of what I hear today sets the focus of love on ones’ self. We talk about how much God loves me, or God loves the poor, or God loves sinners. Yet the Law of Love is not about how God loves but how we love. More to the point, how we love God. There is a song sung by Michael W. Smith that says,

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus
I’m sorry Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus [1]

The problem is that all too often it is all about me. “I don’t like that song,” or “The preacher sure was boring today, I couldn’t even follow him,” or “When are they going to put new carpet in the sanctuary,” or “I wonder what the score of the game is.” If it is all about God and Christ, then none of these other things are important. And the trouble is that we are commanded to love ther Lord our God.

This is difficult to do, maybe impossible. Remember, though, that the standard is to yeild to the power and authority of the Holy Spirit and not expect sanctification results too quickly. On the other hand, we must also remember that there are three qualifiers God uses describing how we are to go about loving him: with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. It’s getting harder, isn’t it.

When God commands us to do something, he often shows us how to do it. In this passage, he declares that fulfilling his command to love is to be taught to our children. We should talk about loving God all the time, “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” 

The Hebrews out of an honest desire to fulfill God’s command took this part too far. They created philacteries[2] for their foreheads and the mezuzah [3] for their doors. I reality, these are mnemonic devices may or may not work, and I am certainly not condemning them here. I think, though, that what God wants us to do is to slowly but surely place his word in the forefront of our lives until our first reaction to any situation is, “How can I love God?”

In the end, it is all about God who created the heavens and the earth and placed them in human custody that we could, in all things, make known his great glory. I only pray that I continue to make progress toward that end.

 

[1] copied from https://www.lyricsfreak.com/m/michael+w+smith/all+about+you_20609001.html

[2] Phylacteries contain copies of the four biblical passages upon which their usage is based: Exod 13:9, 16; Deut 6:8; 11:18. They serve as a ritual reminder of the covenantal commitment to keep the Torah of Moses and to thank God for His many blessings. Paul A. Rainbow, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, 2016.

[3] …a small box, containing scrolls bearing the same four verses, mounted to the right doorpost of the house and of each room. Paul A. Rainbow, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, 2016.

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Obedience

Many years ago, Keith Green wrote a song for the church called “To Obey Is Greater than Sacrifice.” The words [1] are powerful: (you can hear it here)

To obey is better than sacrifice
I don’t need your money, I want your life
And I hear you say that I’m coming back soon
But you act like I’ll never return

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet
How you thrive on milk but reject my meat
And I can’t help weeping of how it will be
If you keep on ignoring my words
Well you pray to prosper and succeed
But your flesh is something I just can’t feed

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights
‘Cause if you can’t come to me everyday
Then don’t bother coming at all

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire, not your prayers of ice
And I’m coming quickly to give back to you
According to what you have done
According to what you have done
According to what you have done

The words of the song, though, gain their authority from the Scriptures.

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22, ESV)

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6, ESV)

Jesus referred to the Hosea passage as recorded by Matthew and Mark. His disciples are going through the fields gleaning grain on the sabbath. When the Pharisees saw this they complained that Jesus and his disciples were breaking the law. Jesus reminds them that David gleaned on the Sabbath, but then he teaches us all a tremendous lesson, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice.”

I think it interesting that steadfast love requires a greater sacrifice than many of the things we consider sacrificial. The sum of the Law of God is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and minds, and strength. This love if God requires loving our neighbors as well. To obey is greater than sacrifice.

Loving God fulfills the Law. The first of the Ten Commandments tells us to love God, and God alone. This is the beginning. Faith starts here. Anything that is not loving God is a distraction from our purpose and life. To obey is greater than sacrifice.

So, what keeps you from total obedience loving God? I don’t need to make suggestions for you to discover your distractions. We all have them. The bottom line is, what takes you away from God? What has become more important than him? What prevents you from gathering at church? What keeps us from fellowshipping with other believers? Whatever it is, we should strive to put it aside and love God as best as we can. Our prayers will change from asking God for things to praising God for what he has already given. Our time with God will excite us to study his word with diligence because if God said it, it is the most important thing for me to hear and know. When we read Scripture, we will not skip over the hard stuff, or the boring stuff, because we know that God gave it all to us for our benefit.

To obey is greater than sacrifice. True obedience takes a lifetime to learn.

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6–8, ESV)

 

[1] copied from https://www.metrolyrics.com/to-obey-is-better-than-sacrifice-lyrics-keith-green.html

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Marked for Life

In 1990, 20th Century Fox released a Steven Seagal movie called “Marked for Death.” It is typical of the action genre that has become the norm for decades. Good versus Bad, white hat versus black hat, or in this case, fear versus greater fear. That’s right. A burned-out CIA agent retires and goes back home only to learn that a gang of ruthless Jamaicans has taken over the drug trade in his home town. As with most of these movies, the law is unable to deal with such a situation because it is inept or because it “has to play by the rules” when criminals don’t.

The leader of this gang is Screwface, a Jamaican drug lord who rules and accomplishes what he wants through fear. Now I have laid out this background so 1.) you don’t have to watch the movie, and 2.) to present a quote by Screwface who at one point says, “Everybody want go heaven. Nobody want dead.” Out of the mouth of evil comes an interesting statement that is an interesting thought, especially as we currently live in a society that has virtually shut down out of the fear of death.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear is an emotional response, not a reasonable one. Fear has a positive use. For example, I have a healthy fear of rattlesnakes. I have had a number of encounters with them growing up in Southern California. That fear makes me cautious when I do encounter one. However, to allow the fear to become my emotional response in an encounter is most certainly going to end in disaster. Remaining calm and allowing the snake to go on its way is generally going to result in a short delay and nothing more.

Throughout history, fear has been used as a means of controlling others. A recent article about such a use of fear was written by Gary DeMar and can be found here. I believe that the greatest fear many people have is the fear of death. This, to me, is interesting because as Screwface says in another place, “Look upon this madman! Him dead and him don’t even know it!” Can it be that we fear death because we all know instinctively we are already dead and refuse to acknowledge it?

My question goes to the heart of the Gospel.

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)

The human problem is we are all born dead in sin. You may want to try to get philosophical and want to define death at this point, but I suggest that you just reflect on what death might mean to you. Non-existence? Sleep? Pain? Heaven? Hell? “Everybody want go heaven.” I do! So why fear death? I suggest a couple of reasons. First, we were created and given life which is essential to our purpose. It is natural for me to want to live and not want to die. Second, because we are touched by the ramifications of death every day. We know death and we don’t have to admit it for it to be true. Third, most of us believe in a heaven of some kind, and most of us know that it is our deeds that may keep us out of heaven. How many times have you heard about someone who dies and was a good person? How good does one have to be to go to heaven?

Now I present to you a solution to the human problem. The solution to the human problem.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4–9, ESV)

Screwface was right! To go to heaven you must die. Or someone must die. And someone has died making us alive, Jesus Christ. There are no works that can take us to heaven. There are no deeds that can give us eternal life. But there is Christ Jesus and God’s grace. This truth defeats the fear of death. Why?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:31–35, ESV)

While the world turns itself inside out and upside down because of COVID-19, fear not but believe that the one who is greater than the virus loves you. In Christ, we can be marked for life.

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The Chief End of Man

There have always been Christians and non-Christians speculating on the end of the world. There are those who keep trying to tell us when the Rapture, the tribulation, and the final judgment of all mankind will take place. This has been done ever since the early days of the church.[1] Christians are not alone in this fanciful speculation. Take the movie 2012. We love catastrophic movies and books so much, that we are uncritically accepting the same kind of thinking by the scientific community building their models and guessing on what is going to happen.

My suggestion to all of it is to give it up. Why focus on the end of life and society? The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes clear just what the end of mankind is: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

What a shift in our outlook this offers. We can cast off all fears of what is going to happen tomorrow. We become indifferent to circumstance. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we care about the glory of God above all else. We recognize that our humanness is not something evolved from anything. We know better! We are created beings. Created to display God’s being. We are created in his image.

The difficulty is that we don’t act that way. The church of the Middle Ages recognized this with their Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. What’s more, we humans have redefined most of these things into virtues. We can only do this if we cast off God the Creator and replace him with God the created.

Why is it that all governments want to control our lives “from cradle to grave?” Only because we, not just the politicians, have removed God from his throne of glory and replaced him with ourselves. Government is good. It is God-ordained. Yet this can only be true if we remember that the purpose of all human government is to glorify God and to aid each of us to glorify him and enjoy our relationship with our Creator.

Little children look up to their parents. They want to be like mom and dad. Can this be why Jesus said we must become like little children? Could this be the meaning Jesus intended when he said, “Let the children come to me?” Our Father wants us to come to him, to make our concerns known to him, be comforted by him.

I don’t remember a lot about being a little child. However, there is one memory that is seared into my mind and heart. I remember walking with my dad and my hand was too small to hold his hand. So I would grab onto his index finger and squeeze. Holding that finger was my comfort and joy because my dad was everything to me.

My dad would be the first to acknowledge that when I was that age, and even to the moment of his death, he was really a stand-in for my true Father. Holding my dad’s finger made me believe that nothing could happen that would cause me harm. How much greater is it to hang on to our Father in heaven and proclaim, “Hallowed be thy name.”

 

[1] see The Day and the Hour

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Essential

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, both State and Federal governments have designated some people as essential to the recovery due to their job functions. The rest of us are evidently non-essential because we were told to stay home. If your in the same situation as I am, how does it feel to be a non-essential person? I ask this because some stores remain open and others not. If you are a market you must stay open. If you are a liquor store you should be closed.

Some have pointed out that allowing the government at any level to segregate the population into essential and not essential can have serious consequences for the future (see here). It may become an issue or it may not. It does make any student of history think of Hitler, Stalin, and others.

Instead, I want to suggest that we are all essential to God. It started at the beginning:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

We, human beings, male and female were the pinnacle of God’s creation. Nothing else was made in his image. Nothing else was given dominion over all of creation. That seems to me to be pretty important. When we look at each other, God wanted us to see him. And, he wanted all the rest of creation to see him too.

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.” (Romans 1:19–20, ESV)

I am not really interested in what the government says about us. We are all essential. And while many of us are told to stay home, I think there has been too little concern for the things that make us human. We have friends and family who we love but cannot touch them or even see them unless it is done electronically. We have work that gives us purpose and provides for our needs. We have Spiritual needs as well. After all, God started this whole thing in the beginning.

I believe these needs are as essential as caring for patients with COVID-19. No one wants to spread the virus. Everyone wants to stop the disease. People created with reasoning minds can and will take steps necessary for protection. So is this “quarantine” really as necessary as has been made of it? I don’t know and I don’t claim to know. However, there are some things I do know.

First, there are always more options than the one taken. The one chosen after careful thought and study may be the best one. But there are many smart people in this world and they don’t all agree on the path to take. There may also be things that were not considered when making decisions. This brings me back to the importance of community.

It also is a reminder that we all need enough humility to say, “Maybe I’m wrong.” In the state where I live, the governor put a ban on fishing among other things. It took a lot of pressure from the public to finally get him to lift the ban even though the numbers haven’t really changed as much as he originally claimed they needed to.

Second, about other options, take a look at this YouTube video by John Stossel.  I’m not saying Sweden has it right and we don’t. Time will tell. Maybe. Maybe the U.S. and Sweden are both right.

So, here is the essential idea to take from this blog. God is bigger than COVID-19. Yes, many people have gotten sick, some have died. And I don’t want to make light of any of this. However, none of us have been invited to the counsel of God to know what he is about. But I know he is about something. And I am sure in faith to know that God did not permit this virus to completely destroy those who bear his image.

And remember, we are essential, even if we are restaurant servers, teachers, pastors, or retired. We are essential to God, and just maybe that should be enough.

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