Category Archives: Faith

The Power of Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s an idea we all can live with.

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Filed under Faith, Hate, Love, Racism

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

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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Filed under Faith, Law of God, Love

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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Filed under Comfort, Faith, Gospel, Love

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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Filed under Faith, World View

Unprecedented

Thursday night, the NFL Draft began with comments on COVID-19 from the Commissioner.  One of his comments included the oft-heard phrase that we are in unprecedented times.

It may seem that way. None of us have lived through a pandemic before. However, in my lifetime there have been a number of declared pandemics including the Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, HIV/AIDS, and the Swine Flu [1]. In the last century, we can also add the Spanish Flu.

Maybe what is unprecedented is the way we are experiencing this particular pandemic. The Federal and State governments have tried to enforce emergency orders restricting movement and association with the laudable intention of minimizing risk. Some of these attempts have been helpful, some maybe not so. All of them, though, rely upon fear. Some of them sound hollow like Washington State’s attempt to prevent fishing.

Even though well-intentioned, some of the moves ordered by the government have a hidden cost of the reduction of liberty [2]. But my question is this, is any of this unprecedented?

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9–11, ESV)

It appears that we have not only forgotten history, but we have forgotten the significance of history too. And this also is not unprecedented as the preacher in Ecclesiastes says.

I believe that the remembrance of history is not the significant thing, though. I believe that what the preacher is saying has been forgotten is much more serious than getting the facts straight. What is most often forgotten is the authority and power of the Most High God. This is the God who went to war against Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Have we forgotten how that ended? This is the God who went to war against sin and death. Have we forgotten how that began a new era with a new covenant of life?

Easter is one step in a chain of historical events that together reconcile us to God, establish his kingdom, and enthrone Jesus Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Even over Covid-19. Even over the human efforts to gain control over the sickness and deaths. Let us not forget that our suffering is our joy as we share in the sufferings of our Savior. And if you are reading this and don’t know the truth of it all, pick up your Bible and start reading about the amazing God of the world, bend your knees and bow your back to the ruler of all things, and pray for the faith to believe and live without fear in love.

 

[1]:https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/

[2]:DeMar, Gary

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Filed under Easter, Faith