Category Archives: Love

Take Up Your Cross, part one

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

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)

Many of us have heard these words many times. Take up your cross. Does this mean we are to expect suffering. That depends. If you are a typical American then suffering is a bout of the flu, or a setback in the market, or your car suddenly quits running. If these, and many more like them are considered suffering, then I don’t think that counts as a cross. These things are just life and everyone who has ever lived and will live will experience these minor things.

What I believe Jesus meant was that he discipline of the Christian life is hard. Moreover, standing firmly in the Truth and proclaiming the gospel in our world may, for many, result in physical harm. For those of us in America, this kind of suffering may be closer to reality sooner rather than later. (I am not trying to predict the future, but no one can deny the mob in Portland was intentionally burning Bibles.)

In Acts, Luke gives us a dramatic example recalling Paul being stoned and left for dead in Lystra. I have never experienced this degree of suffering. I hope you haven’t either. Taking up our cross does not need to be a complicated thing, but it is probably the hardest thing one will ever do. Taking up your cross means that Christ becomes the greatest priority in your life. Yes, greater than possessions, time, loved ones, hopes and desires, and yourself. Our relationship to these things can be lived two ways.

First, you can play with God like we did when I was a child. We all got together and had church. The game did not last long, though, before we all got bored. We didn’t know what church was, so we played to entertain ourselves. Enter many churches and nominal Christians today. We choose the church we go to because of the music, or the pastor, or the possibility of anonymity. The basic word for this is humanism: we put ourselves first and forget about anything else.

Much of the turmoil today is rooted in humanism. I deserve to be seen, treated well, fed, housed. None of these things is bad. It’s the word “deserve.” Modern day interpretation, “It’s my right!”

There is an essential flaw with this approach to life. There is no standard to balance one individual’s right against another’s. Those who want to “de-fund” the police seem to think that everyone is essentially good so we can work this out together. Such fantasy is not worthy of reasonable thought. The death and destruction in large cities during the past three months should be a reality check.

Without any standard for balancing differing rights, there is also no standard for morality of any kind. This issue goes deeper into the core understanding of humanity. Thanks to the “science” of evolution, we all came from whatever you want to insert here. The only value is the one natural law of survival of the fittest. If you can’t see the problem here, just imagine that every human being wants to be a god with absolute authority over everything else.

This, too, is not as far as we may want to think. When I can burn you home or store, when I can beat you or even kill you, then I am claiming a right over you that no human has over another. How do I know? Without a moral standard, there would be no progress, no creativity, no development, no education. What would be left is endless fighting and violence. Thankfully, there is another way of living in the world. That is to recognize there is one God who created the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. He created humanity to be those who care and tend all of the creation which includes caring and tending one another.

All things have been made by the One Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All things are created for his glory. Therefore, all things are connected to one purpose which is the glory of the Most High God. Being the Creator, he ordered all things so that they may serve his glory. He gave us moral law because from the first humans, humanism has taken hold of the heart, so we need to know how to love God, how to love one another, and how to love the rest of creation. For me, this is the pursuit of happiness.

And that is what taking up your cross is all about. Without human sin there would be no need of a cross. But there is one, the one Jesus was crucified on. This is the cross we are to take up, the cross of Jesus Christ. Everything in life is about living according to our created purpose. Everything is about dying and if we die with him, we will most assuredly be raised with him.

The suffering of the cross is our suffering. As Paul points out in Acts 14:16, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.” The time for that has passed. Now there is a new way, the way of Christ. Let us all pray that we might know and have strength to live in his way.

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Filed under Law of God, Love, Truth

The Great Divide

A Sermon

Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.” (Acts 14:1–7, ESV)

Our world is seriously divided today. The divisions are greater than almost anytime I can remember, though the Civil Rights movement along with the protests against the Vietnam military action (war) were pretty serious too. Yet there was a significant difference. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of peace and he worked hard to keep the civil rights battle non-violent. He did not sacrifice his principles, and what he was calling for was a specific change. Everyone, especially now, should read again and again that famous speech King made on August 28, 1963. You can find it here.

Today, the violence in our major cities is irrational. How can such destruction, crime, and death result in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I am afraid that there are some people who in the past, restrained by the Spirit of God, simply want to destroy anything they can see and touch. As in Iconium, their minds have been poisoned by unscrupulous leaders, university professors, politicians, and just plain anti-nomians.

At the same time, the American churches have forgotten the gospel. We have remembered part of it; the part with God’s love and grace. We have preached that anyone and everyone can enter the Kingdom if they would believe in Jesus Christ. But we have forgotten the hard part.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34–39, ESV)

These words of Jesus are an echo of the prophecy of Micah:

The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house. But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:2–7, ESV)

It is frightening how the words from the ancient past accurately describe what we are living today. The basic truth, though, has never changed. All humanity is effectively separated from God by sin. The promise of Christ who would come to bring reconciliation would naturally cause the division between God and humanity to the fore. Those who look to God and Christ for their salvation do find it and experience forgiveness of sin and relationship with the Creator of all that is.

However, from Adam throughout all time, there are those who make the choice to oppose Christ and his salvation. They have a better way. And so, as in Iconium, peace becomes division all because many turned their lives to the one and only God. And division plots violence against God and his people. Haven’t you wondered why Americans tolerate every religion under the sun except Christianity? Could it be because Christians answer to a greater God and have his authoritative word? To make accommodation to any governments of the world is to deny the rule of Jesus Christ.

I am not suggesting that Christians become opposition to the government. Some have taken it this way. But we are to remain apart from the world while respecting the government as an instrument of God preserving life and order while he continues to gather his sheep. And that is the real problem. For decades, we have allowed human ideas to prevail over godly ideals. We have trusted the ungodly to educate our children naively thinking they had no agenda other than reading, writing and arithmetic. Once it became too late, we discovered that all humanistic education was a transforming of young minds slowly, generation by generation, until we arrive to a world that has not taught our children how to reason and think but what to think without reason.

So, in 2020 we have arrived. The great divide between God and man is before us in dramatic fashion. Jesus said it would happen and this is not the first time it is happening. And now can be the Church’s finest hour, or its saddest. We call all people to the gospel. We call them to the love of Christ who died for them. We call them to the grace of God who sent is Son to die for them.

When Jesus said he would bring a division between parent and child, he was not saying the child must stop loving the parent or the parent must stop loving their child in order to love God and become a disciple of Christ. He was saying that there must be a priority of love. “Whoever finds his live will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The great chasm between God and man has been bridged by the love of God. When the Spirit brings Christ’s reconciliation and applies it to me, I become a different me; one who loves the Lord my God with all my heart, all my strength, and all my mind.

The divide will be closed one day. Jesus will return to the earth for his final judgment. He will separate his sheep from the goats, his wheat from the chaff. It is interesting to me that in Acts 14, what has been translated as “unbelieving Jews” is really “disobedient Jews.” The “Jews” part is not what is important and to be clear, disobedient Jews implies there were obedient Jews. Paul was one. But the interesting part is that disobedience is really the foundation of all unbelief. Opposition to God, oppositions to God ordained government, opposition to the Word of Truth is what we are facing in our world today.

The judgment of God comes in many forms, and the rebellion and irrationality of violence may be one of them. But it is God who judges. We do not bring judgment on anyone. However, as my mother always said, actions speak louder than words, and we can discern those who love God from those who do not by their actions. And seeing so many who have been led astray must break our hearts. Because we have the only answer there is.

Nevertheless, division will remain, and Christian faith will always be a matter of bearing a cross. You can label the division however you like:

  • Democrat versus Republican
  • Conservative versus Liberal
  • White versus Black or Black versus White
  • Educated versus Uneducated
  • Rich versus poor

When all is said and done, none of these divisions, perceived or real, is what Jesus Christ will look for when he returns. There is only one great division from which all others flow: the division between those who believe and those who don’t. Care must be taken by those who believe, for we all know that our faith was not something we could produce on our own. Neither is it possible for the unbeliever to turn from their disobedience apart from the grace of God and the Holy Spirit.

In the meantime, we who believe must pray for peace and proclaim the gospel always and everywhere. It is our calling. The Truth proclaimed is for those who do not believe that they may believe, or that they have no excuse when Christ returns.

Maranatha. Come quickly Lord Jesus. And make us faithful.

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Filed under Hate, Love, Missional Church, World View

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

Blinded by Hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Hate, Love, Racism, World View

Clean Hands

For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.” (Isaiah 59:3–4, ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1–2, ESV)

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

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

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

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

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The Law of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Obedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Marked for Life

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

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

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

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

My question goes to the heart of the Gospel.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Chief End of Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[1] see The Day and the Hour

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Is This the End?

I remember when I was a child reading a book about Chicken Little. Almost everyone knows this parable in some form. The basic story is that one day an acorn falls from an oak tree and hits Chicken Little in the head. His conclusion was the sky was falling, and his mission became to spread the news of the coming disaster. The ending changes from tale to tale and is either positive or negative. On his way to tell the king, Chicken Little tells all the birds and animals he comes across. The last is the fox, who offers his den as protection.

The sad ending is that the fox eats them all. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. The happy ending (not for the fox!) is they all escape and make it to the king. Be strong and courageous, and things will turn out well.

As with all moralistic stories, they are parables and must be limited in application. Chicken Little was more than merely mistaken. If he had taken a moment to investigate and not make an irrational conclusion, nothing would have happened from it. If the other animals had inquired into what Chicken Little was claiming, they might have realized that the idea of the sky falling is nonsense.

What reminded me of this story is an interpretation of the Corona Virus, which has resulted in tragedy and disruption of life is a judgment of God. The same argument has been made through the centuries for plagues and natural disasters. However, I believe that in each case, we have called the falling sky a curse from God, we border on the flaw of Chicken Little’s irrationalism and the others’ blind acceptance of the claim.

There are thinking people in the church who have called us to not speak of judgment but of compassion, love, and a call to service. I may agree or disagree with their reasoning. Still, I do believe that one of the things I have noticed during this critical time is that many people who are not necessarily religious have given of themselves for the sake of their neighbor. Judgment or not, this arises, I believe, from the nature of all mankind having been created in the image of God.

Whether or not people believe in Christ for their salvation from sin, they have, for the most part, rejected the evolutionary concept of the survival of the fittest. If that maxim was right, we would let the virus run rampant and not mourn those who, in their weakness, die. Yet even atheists, agnostics, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and every other kind of faith you can think of, have joined in the effort to reduce the effect of this and other diseases.

So, I am thanking God for showing us all that we are his creation and that our care for one another is a loving example of his glory.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5–7, ESV)

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