Category Archives: Gospel

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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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Worship

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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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Truth

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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Filed under Comfort, Faith, Gospel, Truth

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

A Church?

I confess. I did not watch the Superbowl. I was not tempted to watch the Superbowl. Generally speaking, I do not share the sentiments of the NFL , or most professional athletes, for that matter. I like the sports, but I do not like the pettiness of multimillionaires whining that they don’t get enough play time, make enough money, fail to fulfill their contractual obligations, and the quarterback doesn’t throw me the ball often enough. Its all a little bit phoney to me.

For instance, in football, a human being spots where the ball should be placed, sometimes from some distance away. Yet to determine if it is a first down, sometimes they have to measure to a pole connected to a ten yard chain which was also placed by a human eyeing it to where the ball actually is. Moreover, if the nose of the football comes short of the pole by the smallest of margins, it is not a first down. For me, if your going to eyeball it, then do it, but don’t bring in some kind of measuring system that gives it some kind of objectivity.

This blog post is not about football or professional sports, per se. It is about something that happens because of the Superbowl. The increased importance given to the Superbowl over the past fifty-five years has given us another tradition, Superbowl commercials.

CBS opened the bidding for 30-second commercial spots for Super Bowl 55 at $5.6 million, which was the average cost of the same length advertisement for last year’s game.

https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/super-bowl-commercials-cost-2021/o496m61j4lkn19kxoygv9690a

These commercials are often humorous. They try to be more catchy than normal ones. However, there is a trend that became more the norm than not beginning just a couple of months ago. Commercials right now try to awaken our senses to the need for social justice. Some people have made a joke out of this tendency trying to guess what product is being sold by what is going on in the commercial. Yes, you guessed it, they often fail.

Social justice is an emphasis that will be with us for a long time. My personal problem with those trying to convince me that being white male makes me among the lowest lifeforms on the planet is that by doing so, they perpetuate the same kind of social injustice they are complaining about. All of this is grossly unbiblical. Then again, what does contemporary social justice have to do with the Bible? For instance, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, ESV) What does this look and feel like?

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:3–7, ESV

I am not suggesting that any and all judgments are not to be made. What I do think is that we have no right to judge a human’s soul. Nor do we have the right to harm or kill another human outside of the government acting in accordance with true justice.

Therefore, I submit that modern cries for social justice are from those who should not cast stones because of their own sins. If everyone would observe this principle, there would be room to openly discuss the wrongs and injustices in society and find just answers to deal with them. Our tact now is that those who scream the loudest and the longest get laws passed in their favor. Such laws are often of themselves unjust.

With all of that said, here is my complaint about one Superbowl ad that aired Sunday that baffled me. It is the one where Bruce Springsteen talks about a small church in the center of America (the lower 48). The commercial is a play on our Americanism in an attempt to draw us together. It even ends with the word Re-united States. Why a call for unity? Why now? The clear implication is that now the evil Trump has been ousted, we can re-united and move forward as one nation (under God?). I cry foul. Hypocrisy. Manipulation. And I say that this ad, along with many of the pleas we hear today are not for unity but for uniformity.

Start with this. Why has there been such turmoil for the past four years? Because the Democratic Party acted like a spoiled brat and blocked anything the President tried to accomplish. They tried to void the first amendment right of free speech. They whined that when Trump was elected, the votes were in accurate and the election was stolen. They created a phoney scandal to impeach the President. They supported rioting, violence, and twisted facts into damnable falsehoods. Now that we have a new President, Trumps similar claims are ridiculed and discounted. One news reported did everything he could, badgering his guest Rand Paul into saying there was no fraud in the election.

Paul neither confirmed not denied whether or not there was actual fraud. What he did seek was the right for investigations to take place. The news caster was incensed. Even the courts have ruled there was no fraud he claimed. Paul again tried to bring rationality to the discussion pointing out that the courts refused to hear the cases stating those who brought the suits had no standing. That is far different that proving there was no fraud.

Do I think there was fraud? I personally believe that there is a good chance of fraud in every election since they are conducted by sinners on both sides of the aisle. But again, this is not my point. I want to know how people who saw no problem with defacing church properties, pulling down statues of Christ, and as a mob objecting to everything Christian as racist, can all of a sudden turn to the church as an icon for unifying the currently diametrically opposed sides? Bruce Springsteen can use the most calm and quiet tone in reading his script, but how many times has he been to church in his life? Better yet, has he tried to live a life guided by Jesus Christ and his commands? And what about the others?

How many members of our Federal government regularly attend church? How many take guidance from the Bible? How many seek to have a relationship with godly pastors? I’ll let you answer. As for me, I have a hard time accepting anyone who claims to be a Christian as just and devout who murders unborn babies, who let men play in women’s sports because they feel feminine, or who unjustly enrich themselves. Pastor, church member, non-church member, social justice warrior, whoever, look to the log in your own eye before you try to take the spec out of someone else’s.

The principles of the Constitution of the United States lie squarely upon that which is proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Free speech is expected to be reasoned speech. Free exercise of religion is expected to be respectful of others who practice a different religion. Freedom of the Press expects that those who report the news report all of the significant facts truthfully without bias. America rests on law that protects everyone’s rights as bestowed by their Creator.

None of what I have written makes any difference for my decision to show the office of President with respect. It makes no difference whether I agree or disagree. I am legally allowed to publish both. However, those who govern are God’s appointed minister’s, and rebelling there (apart from biblical exceptions) is counted as rebellion against God. (Romans 13) But, please do not use the name of Christ or the image of his church as an icon for unity when you are not interested in true unity under Christ Jesus. After all, the commercial (for Jeep, by the way) discounts Catholic, Orthodox, Judaism, Islam, and any other religion not old country church. How unifying is that?

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The Law of Laws, part 9 of 10

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:16, ESV

The big question I have with this commandment is, what does it mean? Is it only in reference to my neighbor? Or, its it about lying in general? Years ago, when I attended a Christian College, we had a required course where the textbook was “Situation Ethics,” by Joseph Fletcher. It has been a long time since I read the book, but what I remember most is that Fletcher attempted to define ethics in terms of the context and that there are no absolute values.

WEEELLLL – not really. For Fletcher, there is one moral absolute, namely, that of brotherly love. Even my uneducated mind recognized the moral relativism being applied to God and the Bible. However, like all claims to moral relativity, there is still a need for at least one absolute. Fletcher chose for his absolute brotherly love, a very Christian sounding ideal. But what exectly is brotherly love? How do you define brotherly love (yes, I recognize that in today’s language this is misogynistic)? Jesus made very clear who our brother is in the parqable of the good Samaritan. Yet, pinning down a definition for love is much more difficult.

You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with the nineth commandment?” I suggest that the greatest violation of this commandment is the way love has been defined as social justice, and that Jesus’ ministry was all about social justice. This interpretation of the gospels is a good example of eisegesis (reading a passage in terms of a preconceived position). And I propose that interpreting Jesus’ ministry this way is bearing false witness against him.

The only one who has a right to interpret Jesus’ ministry on earth is Jesus and the Father. Jesus performed many acts that we might consider as examples of brotherly love. Take healing, there are many who would say this is what Jesus meant by love. Such people carry over that idea to universal healthcare. In other words, if we want to love like Jesus loved, we need to have those who have money use it for those who do not. The same goes for the homeless and hungry poor people. Now, I am NOT suggesting that we don’t have a responsibility to help where we can. But the good Samaritan did not have someone force him to help the injured man. No one said he had to pay for a night’s lodging. The good Samaritan was good because he chose to get involved.

There are other problems with the false rendering of Christ’s earthly ministry. Jesus did heal many people. However, he did not heal every sick individual. Nor did he every say that if individuals would not be charitable, that they should be forced to be charitable by taking their money or property to provide for these needy people. In truth, the exact opposite is the case. In Matthew 25, at the end of the chapter, Jesus speaks of the judgment to come. At that time he said he would divide all humanity into two groups, the sheep and the goats. What was the basis of this division and the final estate of each group? The willful choice of the individual to be charitable to those in need.

I do not believe that forcing people to be charitable is real charity. As history has shown, all of the programs the govenment has established to heal the sick, house the homeless, or feed the poor have only created more people who are sick, more people who live on the streets, ans more hungry people. Therefore, to say that Jesus was a social warrior by our terms and definitions results in bearing false withness against him.

How many Evangelical churches have changed the gospel into some kind of justification of forced charity? I will not judge, but Jesus will. And, I can point to a passage that denies that Jesus came to help the poor, etc. John six relates the event where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people by the Sea of Tiberius. After the meal, the people with full stomachs sought to make him king.

So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

John 6:13–15, ESV

To say he was the Prophet was to identify him as the Messiah. In this judgment, they were correct. So why did Jesus depart and go to the mountains by himself? Because he did not come to fill bellies. He came for a very different reason.

“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

Jesus is the Christ. But the role of the Messiah was not to rule by might, but to save by his sacrifice. When the twelve disciples bickered about who will be the greatest in the Kingdom, Jesus recognizes that they have the wrong idea of his Kingdom. Using a child, he taught that the one who is like a little child shal be the greatest. He was speaking of humility. Before Pilate, Jessus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The issue centers around Christ’s mission to die for the sins of his people and to establish the seeds of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Until we can learn the humility that Jesus spoke of, until we quit trying to define Christ, we will violate the nineth commandment. Situation ethics or not, submission to the truth of Christ and the truth of the Word, do we really need to ask other questions. And, by the way, love is defined in both Old and New Testaments by obedience to the commandments.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth...and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

1 John 3:8, 18, 22-24

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Peace and Joy

Merry Christmas Eve! and Merry Christmas!

These are words that have been progressively pushed out of our culture. How sad it is that in a land in which so many have lost their lives to purchase the right to speak openly and freely, that the words merry Christmas have become such words of disdain.

The truth is, there would be no holidays if there had not been Holy Days. Our civil calendars have borrowed from the ancient Church calendar celebrating the Christ, Jesus our Lord. The yearly cycles tell the gospel story from a humble birth to a glorious crowning as King of kings and Lord of lords. The world views dominating culture today all take from the truth of Christ and use it for their own ends.

Those who embrace their Creator, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension are, by their faith, declared righteous and promised everlasting life. Why? So the glory of God shines forth as he determined it should through his creation. We human beings are the highest of that creation. This is not because we have earned it or deserved it, but because God ordained it. All who reject their ordained purpose make God a liar and a fraud. He is neither of these things.

Christmas should be merry, full of celebration, and joy. The coming of Christ in the flesh is a momentous event, one that has forever changed the world. To us the change is new. To God it is a change back to the original. However you look at it, giving gifts, eating banquets, decorating festively, and worshipping Christ with joy, music, and laughter are all appropriate for the season. We can be merry because of Christ. If anyone doesn’t like it, they have made their choice. Part of our Christmas celebration should and must be to pray for them. We must seek God’s mercy for them and his judgment upon their rejecting hearts.

The church has been doing things differently for three quarters of 2020 due to a pandemic. Some have rebelled against shut-downs and limitations. Others have remained closed and tried to worship through videos, podcasts, of vlogs. The difficulty for me is that the church is much more than mere communication. Liturgy requires real presence, not electronic connections. A good, short introduction to the concept of Christian Liturgy can be found in Liturgy and Psalter from the Theopolis Institute. In any case, churches, families, and individuals will be celebrating Christmas in disparate ways. The hinderance to celebrations should not stop us from observing the Holy Day.

My church is very small. We do gather on Sundays to worship, but we have been careful to follow the mandates of the state of Washington. Though the people may be limited in number, it is not limited in heart, faith, and creativity. One of the members created a video by going to various members’ homes and filming decorations, carols, and Scripture readings. I recorded a short Christmas Eve message at the end. I invite anyone interested in viewing this video to go here. This was our attempt to gather the family together as best as we can. In the church, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, for a few minutes this Christmas Eve, we will make the best connection we can.

No matter how you choose to celebrate Christmas, do so with a heart of joy and gratitude. Don’t prevent the celebration just because you cannot gather in large groups. Don’t allow football, basketball, or any non-Christmassy activity to hinder your celebration. May the Spirit of Christ be with you all this Christmas Eve bringing peace and quiet anticipation. May he be with you Christmas Day with the joy of the promise fulfilled. The birth of Jesus was the beginning of the gospel’s realization of all God’s promises to his people. The coming of Christ Jesus to us is the assurance of the ultimate perfection of God’s ordained creation marked by the New Jerusalem.

Merry, merry Christmas!

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Take Up Your Cross, part two

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 14:8-23 (ESV)

Paul and Barnabas travel from Iconium to Lystra. They are on a missionary journey preaching the good new of salvation in Jesus Christ. Up to this point, the opposition they have encountered has come from those Jews who are loyal to the teachings from Jerusalem. In Iconium, their difficulty from like Jews came to a point when Paul heard they were to be stoned. Wisdom sent them on their way before this could happen. Nevertheless, many other Jews believed along with many Hellenists.

When the two came to Lystra, they had the same kind of success proclaiming the gospel. The people of Lystra included many Greeks who had their own religions. At the end of this record by Luke, we find Paul was stoned by the manipulation of the traditional Jews and was left for dead. He an Barnabas moved on then made a reverse trip back to Antioch. We are told that during this journey, they re-entered each city and established the churches their by ordaining elders. Luke never forgets to keep his theme in mind: the growth of the Church of Christ.

Here in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas face a very different kind of problem which begins with the healing of a man born crippled. Paul sees the man, tells him to get up, and he does. That’s enough for the Greeks who became excited. To understand what is going on I must take you to the Roman poet Ovid who wrote Metamorphoses. It it he tells the story of Baucis and Philemon, an poor elderly couple living in a town in Phrygia (which was the region just west of Lycaonia in which Lystra sat.

The story goes that Zeus and his messenger Hermes descended Mount Olympus and disguised themselves as common peasants. (Ovid tells it better!) They come to a town and began inquiring for a place to stay and to eat. The townspeople were so wicked that every one turned these two peasants away. Everyone, that is, except this poor elderly couple who invited them into their humble cottage and fed them what they had. During the meal Baucis would repeatedly pour wine for the guests. When she noticed that the level of the wine in the pitcher never decreased, she and Philemon recognized they were in the presence of gods.

Zeus invites them to climb a mountain with he and Hermes but the couple are told that they cannot turn and look back until they reach the top. When they do, they discover the whole town had been destroyed with a flood. But their little cottage had become a golden palace.

This well-known story was surely hovering in the minds of the Greeks in Lystra when they saw a miracle that could only have been done by a god. They were right, of course, but they though of the wrong God. They cry out, “The gods have comedown to us in the likeness of men,” calling Paul Hermes and Barnabas Zeus. Their excitement was that they believed Zeus and Hermes had come down just like they had in their neighboring Phrygia. They were determined not to make the same dreadful mistake made there.

So, the priest in the temple of Zeus gathered bulls and garlands that the people might make sacrifices to these two magnificent gods. Now comes the “cross” part. How easy would it have been to get caught up in their popularity? They could live out their lives in luxury. On the other hand, what kind of fear might they have felt knowing they had to put a stop to the situation at probably get stoned by a disappointed and angry mob? How easy might it have been to simply sneak out a back way and never return?

Paul and Barnabas do not hesitate. No matter what the consequences, they will continue to preach the gospel of truth. Paul says to the crown gathered at the temple, “What in the world are you doing!? We are humans just like you. All we have done is proclaimed the good news that you can and should turn away from these vain things and turn to a living God. This God made you and in the past he allowed the nations to wander in darkness. Even then he left a witness in granting rain and good harvests.”

Paul is not having to think too mach about what to say for he knows the Scriptures intimately, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.” (Habakkuk 2:18–19, ESV) Instead of these dead idols Paul brings them the living God, the one and only God. Even his reference to the rain comes from the prophets: “Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things.” (Jeremiah 14:22, ESV)

Now is when I turn from teaching to meddlin’, as a friend in Chicago used to say. How are we like the Lyaconians? Or putting the question another way, what are the gods in your life that prevent you from living in the presence of the Father through the Spirit? You see, to take up your cross is to abandon all that is vain and has no substance or value. Replace those things with Christ Jesus. As I have said, this is hard. No one can accomplish this on their own.

What it takes is the Word of God, the Bible, the Spirit of God, our teacher and guide, and the community of Christ known as the Church. God does not speak in dreams and visions because he has spoken once and then very clearly. “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Reading the Bible is good. Memorizing the Bible is better. Studying the Bible is best. If you do the latter, I can guarantee you will accomplish the former two.

However, study must be guided by the Spirit of God. And the the community of the Saints includes all who have gone before, led by the Spirit and preaching and writing what they have learned. The more you submit to Christ, the more you will be able to identify your idols. Don’t be surprised! Idols come in many forms. But there is only one Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior of the world.

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You Can’t Go Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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