Category Archives: Obedience

The Communion of Saints

Often, this line is separated from the other lines connected with the Holy Spirit. I am quickly changing my thoughts about this. I do believe in the communion of saints. However, this line seems fitting as a description of the Church. The Church consists of the Saints. There is a communion, not simply a fellowship, but a relationship between all Saints of all places and all times.

It is truly impossible to mention or to conceive a conjunction, more beautiful, more close and intimate, or more endeared by mutual love, than that which subsists between God and his people, between Christ and the Church. Here beauty and comeliness appear in full perfection. In Christ indeed it shines with a transcendant lustre; and hence it is said in the Psalms, “Thou art fairer than the sons of men;” where the doubling of the radical letters in the Hebrew word rendered “fairer,” adds to the energy of the signification. But the beauty even of the Church is so great, that he whose province it is to judge, pronounces this eulogy upon her: “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair, thou hast doves’ eyes.” Nay, “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” Again, this union is so intimate, that hardly any similitude is sufficient to express its closeness.

Herman Witsius and Donald Fraser, Sacred Dissertations, on What Is Commonly Called the Apostles’ Creed, (London: Khull, Blackie & Co., 1823), 2:346. (emphasis mine)

Culturally speaking, I think we shy away too quickly from the word intimate. As with so much in our day, words have been co-opted by sex. Intimacy is one of those words. But intimacy is “in•ti•mate \ˈin-tə-mət\ adjective [alteration of obsolete intime, from Latin intimus] 1632. 1 a: INTRINSIC, ESSENTIAL,
b: belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature; 2: marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity 〈intimate knowledge of the law; 3 a: marked by a warm friendship developing through long association 〈intimate friends〉; b: suggesting informal warmth or privacy 〈intimate clubs〉; 4: of a very personal or private nature 〈intimate secrets〉. (Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.)

All of these aspects are present in the Church. We are individual members of one body, as Paul would put it. Yet, there is a clear connection between the Saints, true members of the Church.

Becoming a Christian is not really about institutional membership or about adopting a system of ideas. To become a Christian is to be included in the circle of Jesus’ followers. I am washed with the same bath that Jesus and all his followers have had. I get to share the same meal that Jesus shared with his followers. Four of Jesus’ followers left written records of what he said and what he was like, and I get to spend my life continually pondering those four accounts. I read them not because I am studying ideas about Jesus but because I am studying him. I want everything in my life, right down to the smallest and most disappointing details, to enter somehow into communion with the life of Jesus.
I share the holy bath and the holy meal, and I read the holy stories, because I am seeking Jesus. But when I do these things I am also seeking myself. I want to find myself among the circle of Jesus’ followers. I want to be wherever Jesus is—and he is in the company of his friends. I want my whole life to be “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). I want my life’s small story to be tucked into the folds of Jesus’ story.
When this happens, my life acquires a meaning beyond itself. I begin to see myself as part of a great company, an ever-widening circle of people who have handed their lives over to the pattern of Jesus’ life. This great company of disciples seems to speak with one voice, to breathe with one Spirit, to cry “Abba, Father!” with one unceasing prayer (Rom 8:15–16).

Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, eds. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 110–111.

If this is a description of the Church, I might ask why is there so much division, fighting, political maneuvering, and downright hostility in our churches? First, there is no true intimacy among the local church members. I have known many parents whose whole view of theology changes when one of their children strays from the faith. They think that love requires them to become different parents to keep their child’s love. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6, ESV) Think about the prodigal son. His father knew he was making a terrible mistake, but he let his son go and be chastised by the world.

This situation, though, does not play out the same way when these parents discover some sin in the life of others in the church. “I saw Henrietta go into that bar down the street. Shame on her for drinking alcohol! We’ve got to do something about this, or we will be known as the church of the drunkards.” And so, the gossip mill begins to churn. How quickly the judgment is made. No one took the time to find out that Henrietta was not a drunk. She was meeting a friend for a drink and spent the evening sharing the gospel. Who do you think God would chastise now? In both scenarios, faith was lost, love was lost, and people were hurt. The sinful son led the parents to lose faith. The parent who lost faith because of love for a sinful son acted like those in the world when it came to jumping to conclusions, judging a fellow believer, and spreading false information that would lead others to judge poor Henrietta.

One short illustration paints a dark picture. Where is communion here?

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:33–34, ESV

Second, there has been a failure of the Elders of the church to discipline her members. There are traditionally three marks of the Church: preaching the Word of God; administering the Sacraments; and disciplining her members. When the first is not done, there can be no communion. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:11–13, ESV, emphasis mine). All three marks of the Church work together to “build up the body of Christ” by “attaining unity of the faith.” I could say quite a bit about the first two marks, but it is the third that has disappeared from most churches.

This disappearance of discipline may come from a lack of teaching the Word of God. It may come from failure to seriously administer the sacraments. But, I believe it also comes because so many people view the church like they view every other institution in society. We live in a “me first” world, which should not surprise us as that attitude was the root cause of original sin. Unless we become intentional enough to fight against this sin, teach against this sin, and discipline those who continue to live in this sin, the Church will not matter. When Church does not rule the lives of people, there is no communion and no church.

The parents who allow their son’s errors transform their theology away from Christ have nothing to stand on. Their son may fall deeper and deeper in his sin, even to the point of his own physical harm, have nothing to offer. Their love became corrupted by their fear to discipline. The parent’s concerns that to discipline might end with the loss of their son become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the church fails to discipline her members out of the fear they might lose some ends up losing everyone.

Now, a word about discipline. Such a nasty concept. Such a wrong idea, too. Discipline is not corporeal punishment. Discipline is training. When we devote ourselves to follow Christ, we begin to live a life ruled by Christ and his Word.

     “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!” (Psalm 119:1–8, ESV)

     “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:14–16, ESV)

     “Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” (Psalm 119:33–35, ESV)

     “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105, ESV)

These verses come from only one Psalm, but their sentiment can be found throughout the Psalms and all of Scripture. We are to meditate on the Word of God. Meditation is not the same as taught in Eastern cultures. There, people are taught to empty their minds to enter the ultimate realm. Sadly, such a state or place, or ideal does not exist. Christian meditation is the process of focus on the Word. It is to memorize the Word, not just its words but the content of them. Great athletes practice and work hard to discipline their bodies so they can perform well even under great pressure and stress. Musicians practice their music, no, more than music but also the very sound they make with their instruments so that every note comes out clean and pure. When in a group, they practice together so they can get to know each other and play various notes and rhythms together with one another so that the end result is an audience that hears the whole piece, not its parts.

All of this is discipline. Athletes who whine about the exercises they are given are not athletes for long. Musicians who do not dedicate their lives to their craft will not remain musicians for long. They will fall into the category of musician that has a hobby, not a calling. The same could be said of wood workers, programmers, teachers, business men and women, and so on. And, Christians who do not hide God’s Word in their hearts, who do not study the Word, who do not count the errors of others in church, who fail to hear the Spirit’s message in the sermon instead of becoming bored with it, or offended by it are among those who use Christianity as a hobby, not a life.

I believe in the communion of saints. I believe because all of the saints will live in communion with each other, and with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever. What can I do to become a better Saint, to be knit more closely to Christ and all the Saints. That is my calling; that is our calling.

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He ascended into Heaven…

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Acts 1:9, ESV

The complete line in the creed is “He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

One of the great days on the Church calendar is Ascension Day. It has fallen into the dark recesses of theological thinking in modern American Evangelicalism. Yes, we sing with all our might, “Our God reigns!” Yet we fail to live as if this is true. The reality of it is that most Christians believe the IRS reigns over the Church. The fear of losing our tax-exempt status has relegated preaching to general platitudes. We are to be bold. We are to be fearless. We are to say that we don’t care about getting tax exemptions for our donations. We give to God because it is the right thing to do. (I could go on about giving practices, but I will refrain myself.) Test yourself. Test your faith. Do we seek the kingdom of God first?

The ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand (the authority) of God was the coronation of the King of the Universe. Our God does reign! If we believe it, we will expect our pastors to preach the word of God. We need to know what God thinks of our government and those who run it. We need to know what God says about abortion, the family, homosexuality, welfare, and more. And we need to stop being apologetic about it all. We are the subjects of the King of kings. What have we to fear? Nothing!

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 8:32–35, ESV

In the 1970s, comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made me do it,” to get a laugh. In a sense, Eve was the first to use such an excuse for her disobedience in the Garden. Nevertheless, there have always been stories of supernatural evils performed by the devil and his demons. My issue with all of these stories, from the Salem witch trials to Satan’s bible, is that we give the devil too much credit. But he was utterly defeated by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—

Jude 6, ESV

Talk of the devil and his power has led to all sorts of evil. But let’s tell the truth. The devil is in chains. He was put there by the King. When we are tempted to do wrong, it is our own sinful nature leading us astray. We are responsible for what we think, say, and do. And the reign of Christ ends with the judgment of the unjust. Judgment befalls us all.

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:12–15, ESV

The ascension of Christ marks the beginning of the reign he earned by conquering sin and death. For me, the Day of Ascension should be celebrated right up there with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. It used to be that Christians gathered for worship on Ascension Day. I cannot say that this is not done anymore, but I can say that when I was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church, the attendance at such a service dwindled just like Sunday night worship. When I was called by a Presbyterian church as her pastor, there was no thought whatsoever about either of these services. Today, my heart breaks that most Christians act like God is only worth an hour of our time each week.

Christ is our King. The King has separated one whole day each week when we are to put aside all our worldly activities and bow in the courts of Christ Jesus. Only then will we have grown spiritually enough that we can stand against the evil in our world. When we are transformed into dedicated followers, disciples, if you will, of Jesus, we can turn the tide and impact the false religion of humanism. Such a stand is what seeking the kingdom of God entails.

I have one final comment. One of the reasons the Church has become relevantly impotent is due to the heresy called Dispensationalism. I was raised with a Scofield Bible in my hand. I attended a Dispensational college. One of the problems with Dispensational theology is that it is solely focused on the future Kingdom of Christ, and it doesn’t credit the current Kingdom. I once heard the famous J. Vernon McGee ask his radio listeners, “Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?” The answer to this rhetorical question is supposed to be no. But there are some problems with the premise behind the question.

The implication is that the world is the sinking ship. Therefore, the Church and her members have no obligation to work to improve society. You see, the Dispensationalist is taught that we are going to “jump ship” before it sinks entirely by means of a rapture. Thus, who really cares if the government mandates we either get vaccinated or lose our job? Certainly not Christians. The outlook of a Dispensationalist is pessimistic at best. It doesn’t feel that way because we’re going to a “better place.” But what is the mission of the Church? It is not to make believers because only the Holy Spirit can do that. It is to make disciples by teaching them to obey all Christ commands. In other words, to become servants of the King in his Kingdom.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

Matthew 25:31–45, ESV

It appears that we are to “polish brass” because the ship is the Lord’s, and he is not about to let it sink. The “end of the world” is the end of the world of humanism and the sin that follows. I don’t know of a Scripture anywhere that says the created earth is going to be destroyed. God said it was good after he created it. The sin of man did not eradicate the goodness of God’s creation, nor could it. The sin of man is the breaking of the image of God in man. You see, Jesus came to redeem, not to completely destroy.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 8:20–21, ESV

I have continued on long enough to hopefully help my brothers and sisters more fully appreciate the doctrine of the ascension of Christ to his Throne. The end of the world is not near. Every day that Christians grow deeper in the Word, they move farther away from their sin and become obedient servants of Christ. And, Jesus is coming again. Seems to me that our most important function right now is to polish that brass for his arrival.

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The third day he rose again from the dead

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:3–6, ESV

Before I continue with today’s blog, I would like to apologize for failing to write at my normal pace recently. Life changes have interfered with my production. My calling to pastor a church will stop (temporarily?) at the end of October. As of November 1, I will be retired, so, I am hoping to do more writing then.

Today, I learned a new term for my identity. Surely, I am way behind the times, but that word is “cisgender.” I always thought I was male, but the liberal segment of our society seemed to need to call me cisgender because they no longer use the only two genders that have ever existed, male and female. I had to look cisgender up and found this definition:

Cisgender (sometimes cissexual, often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth[1] For example, someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. The term cisgender is the opposite of the word transgender.[2][3]

https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/cisgender
  1. ^ “Definition of Cisgender”http://www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  2. a b Schilt, Kristen; Westbrook, Laurel (August 2009). “Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: ‘Gender Normals,’Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality”. Gender & Society23 (4): 440–464 [461].doi:10.1177/0891243209340034. S2CID 145354177.
  3. ^ Blank, Paula. “Will the Word “Cisgender” Ever Go Mainstream?”The Atlantic. Retrieved May 13, 2018.

I would like to thank those of the nominal members of society for ensuring I cannot be confused with those who are transgender. I was worried for a moment. It is interesting, though, that those who claim to be transgender are allowed to adopt their own moniker while finding that my ordained gender can no longer be called male. I kind of like being male. And I love that my wife is female. Things have worked well that way, at least for the past 40 years.

Things have truly been turned on their heads in the past few years. Government has always been problematic as few Presidents, Congress men and women, and Senators have ignored the safeguards of the Constitution. Those who wrote this historic document all agreed that there was no protection in it from unscrupulous politicians who seek to control the populous rather than be controlled by them. Please don’t think I am referring only to President Biden, for there are many names that should be added to a long list of these men. Unfortunately, Biden has become the pinnacle of our loss of liberty and enslavement to irrational socialists. We only have ourselves to blame.

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10, ESV). Likewise, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, ESV) I would suggest that any politician who does not govern as Christ came to serve, are immoral leaders deserving of judgment. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18, ESV)

How can we survive a society that longs to be enslaved by socialism, that loves handing their children over to Moloch, that changes the very meaning of words so they become the opposite of sense? The obvious way for me is to turn our lives over to the King of all creation and obey all that we are taught in the Scriptures. This, however, can have many meanings, so let me suggest one. Those who are true to Christ know in the deepest recesses of their hearts that on the third day following his burial, Jesus rose from the dead.

I know that churches celebrate this truth on Easter. Yet, the resurrection is far more than a one-day-a-year celebration. As with all of God’s truth, the resurrection must transform us every day. Think about it. What does the resurrection of Christ mean?

First, Christ Jesus was raised from the dead to demonstrate that his work on the cross fulfilled God’s purposes. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as payment for sin. Second, Jesus’ resurrection provides that those who are his are reconciled to the Father. Third, Jesus’ resurrection was new life. Jesus was different from before. He was also the same, but he now had accomplished his mission of seeking and saving his lost sheep. Fourth, and most importantly for us, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ became our death and new birth in him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV

Our resurrection is both in the present and in the future. Much of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 has to do with this final resurrection when the trumpet shall sound, the dead in Christ shall be raise, and the living in Christ shall be translated. Corruptible become incorruptible. Assuredly, this is the day we most look forward to. This is our hope, our everlasting life, our perfect and continual offering of service to God our Father. It is when we are adorned in white as the Bride of Christ and join him in the wedding feast. O, how we long for that day!

“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”

1 Corinthians 15:52–56, ESV

But today is not that day. And Paul quickly reminds us that there is much to do before that day comes: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)

Man’s world cannot stand against that no matter how oppressive or how silly. Cisgender and transgender are humanity’s words. Male and Female are God’s Word. There is no question in my mind that humanity’s words will follow the way of humanity’s tower of Babel. We are experiencing the confusion of language even now. God’s answer to those he has called his children is to stand firm and not be moved by the culture in which we live. We are to always flourish doing the Lord’s work. Because, our labor in the Lord is empty. We are victorious in Christ and we are to live as victors even though we may not see immediate success. For the righteous shall live by faith.

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Everything is Racist?

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

Romans 1:28–32 (ESV)

I can’t help but think that all of America has gone mad. Every day, someone somewhere claims that something in normal life is racist. For example, go here. Some of these sources claim to some sort of expertise whether as journalists, politicians, university professors, or theologians. Some of Paul’s inspired words for these people include envy, foolish, heartless, and ruthless. Their baseless claims are slanderous and come from their hatred of God.

One might wonder why the most patriotic citizens in our country came from other countries to seek freedom. Yes, the freedom they celebrate is the same freedom others so easily denigrate. The sad part of our freedom of speech is that so many use it to freely express their inventions of evil, or maybe it’s just their ignorance. So many victims born in the United States!

The liberty so many generations fought and died for is the freedom to work hard in order to provide for family and self. It is the freedom to help others in need and to be self-governing good people. It is the freedom to fail, get up again, and amend our ways. It is the freedom to forgive.

Some people say time changes all things. I say that it is not time that changes things, it is sin that takes all that is good and transforms it into everything that is bad. Freedom to be righteous has become freedom to be self-righteous. Freedom to make one’s way through life has become a desire for a free ride. True caring for the poor or the oppressed has become public theft through illegitimate taxation that people who choose not to be responsible are essentially paid to remain irresponsible.

Ultimately, the greatest deception of sin, in my opinion, is to make us believe that hatred of our condition is actually a love of ourselves. Equal opportunity has become equal outcome whether the outcome is earned or not. When the outcome is desired but not earned, it is tragically wasted. Working for something validates the value of the thing worked for. To receive something for nothing makes the something worth nothing. Liberty that does not cost a weighty price is not liberty. It is merely licentiousness.

God says through Paul that because people refuse to worship God, he gives them up to their own depraved thinking. Apart from submission to the Creator, there is no meaning and no value in anything. So, in the mind of those who deny God the status and glory that is his by right, everything is racist because “of no value, that which is worthless” is the real definition of the word racism. And Americans now reap what Americans have sown.

All value is derivative from the only One who is ultimately valuable, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has endowed his creation with value. This is especially true in regards to human beings, for we are created in God’s image. We were made to reflect the glory of God as mirrors of that glory. The image I see in a mirror is not me, but it is a representation of me. Therefore, we are not Gods but we were made to be representations of him. This explains why animals do not create things of beauty. We can see their beauty as creatures of God’s handiwork, but only human beings write poetry or great symphonies. Only those who bear the image of the creative God are creators of art, architecture, technology, and more. God gives us the raw material and using the knowledge, holiness, and righteousness within us we use this material to create wonderful things.

God’s goodness and grace are displayed in that even humans who refuse in sin to worship God use what God made them to be and create, rule creation, and work for one another. It rains on the righteous and the unrighteous and waters their crops the same. At the same time, the wickedness of the unrighteous is also displayed when they oppress and murder, hate and destroy, cheat and steal. How do we know this? By the reality that God’s love, righteousness, and justice have never completely disappeared from his creation.

Moreover, God entered his creation in Jesus Christ and showed us once again how valuable his creation and his people are. Our value is the very life of Jesus, who was crucified to pay for our sin. His work was finished on the cross which was proven effective by his resurrection from the dead. The good news did not stop there, for, on his coronation day, he ascended to heaven to take his throne and fulfill his rule over the earth. (May the Lord forgive us for no longer celebrating Ascension Day.)

This is why Paul could boldly claim that haters of God deserved to die. He did not say it was our job to kill them, only that they deserved death. Denial of God is the denial of everything that is. Applying this to our country means that making claims of racism where no racism exists is proof of the rejection of God and his creation. Is there such a thing as racism? Has the government of the United States of America done injustice and evil? Yes, but the standard is the one set by the Creator and Law Giver to whom everyone and every institution owes obedience and worship.

Our judgment is not what condemns people, for only Jesus Christ has been given that function. Yet, we are to judge others’ actions so that we can strive to counter their wickedness with righteousness and justice. Please notice that I did not say “social justice.” Social justice is the creation of sinful man. It may be dressed up as God’s justice, but there is no substitute for the real thing. Social justice condemns. God’s justice displays his glory. God’s justice corrects evil, cares for victims of evil, and restores wholeness.

God’s justice has dealt with the injustice of racism. The United States paid a huge price for the lives destroyed by the legalized slave trade. But God’s justice prevailed and slavery was ended. Many black Americans paid a huge price for the Jim Crow laws. But God’s justice prevailed and discrimination was made illegal. In neither of these events did justice happen overnight. Today, there are still some vestiges of discrimination. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ rules from heaven and is recreating the earth according to the New Covenant. Now, as I see it, you can either scream about perceived racism and injustice, you can demand to get something for nothing, or you can actually receive something without cost, the grace of God in salvation from sin, and you can join the reclamation work of the Lord.

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8–10 (ESV)

“…the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:17 (ESV)

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I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Begotten Son

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14, NKJV

Throughout the history of the Church, the identity of Christ and the dual nature of Jesus have been disputed. The Apostles’ Creed uses three designations that the orthodox faith requires to be held harmoniously. First, he is the Christ, Greek for the Hebrew term Messiah. Second, he is Jesus, who is to be identified more specifically in the following statements. Third, he is the only begotten Son of God. Each must be believed, not only individually but altogether as descriptive of the one person who is the second member of the Triune God.

During his life on earth, Jesus was both received and rejected as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. Sadly, even his disciples did not fully comprehend what this meant. When Jesus fed the crowds by Galilee, there were many there who would have made him King of the Jews on the spot. The Messiah was one anointed by God to become King according to the covenant made with David. This does not mean that the Jews understood what was meant, even though the Old Testament prophets expressed it.

David was a conquering king. He defeated Goliath, the Philistines, and Saul who had been disobedient before God. He had been hand-picked by God through the prophet Samuel. Whereas God had warned Israel against a human king, Saul became the proof of the pudding leading the people away from obedience. David was God’s response. He was no less human than Saul, but he was a man after God’s own heart. Despite his failings, the Kingdom of Israel became one of the most powerful in all the world.

Nevertheless, David was not the ultimate king. One was to come after him who would reign over the whole world. When Jesus came to earth, Israel was subjugated by the rule of Rome. The people’s hopes rested in what they believed was the promise of God to rule the world. True enough, but the arrogance of the Jews caused them to believe that they would rule the world as all other conquering empires before them. Time and again, God addressed this pride. His covenant with Abram was that all the people of the world would be blessed through his people. This is a far cry from a promise of domination by force.

One of the curious episodes in the Old Testament is that of the prophet Jonah. I think it is unfortunate that the part about the great fish has overshadowed the theological significance of Jonah’s call to proclaim God’s judgment to the Ninevites. We don’t see why Jonah tried to run from his duty to God until the end of the story. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1–3, ESV) Jonah was angry with God for being gracious to a heathen nation. Poor Jonah, he had not been trained theologically. He knew God was merciful. The problem is that God was supposed only to be merciful to Israel!

God’s people did not understand. God was merciful to all who would repent. Sadly, Israel did not bow in humble repentance for her sins against God. When exiled, they whined, “O woe to us! God has forsaken us.”

By the waters of Babylon, 
there we sat down and wept, 
when we remembered Zion.  
On the willows there, we hung up our lyres.  
For there our captors required of us songs,  
and our tormentors, mirth, saying, 
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 
How shall we sing the LORD’s song 
in a foreign land?  
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,  
let my right hand forget its skill!  
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,  
if I do not remember you,  
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!  
Remember, O LORD,  
against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem,  
how they said, “Lay it bare,  
lay it bare, down to its foundations!”  
O daughter of Babylon,  
doomed to be destroyed,  
blessed shall he be who repays you  
with what you have done to us!  
Blessed shall he be  
who takes your little ones  
and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137, ESV)

The Messiah had fed his people, and they sought to make him their King. Jesus had to slip away from them “for it was not yet his time.” Interestingly, the hopes of the people were the reason the Jewish leaders sought to kill Jesus. Their pride had become comfortable in their ruling over the people. It made them feel powerful, and they did not want to share the power they had acquired. Not much has changed over the millennia. Where are the righteous rulers of the people? As Ezekiel wrote, they were too busy eating the green grass and trampling the rest under their feet. They were too busy drinking the fresh water and fouling and muddying it under their feet.

Second, the Messiah is given a name, Jesus. How this came about is told in the gospels, and the creed goes into that soon enough. The fact that one appeared as a mere man claiming to be the Messiah was enough to raise doubt. The purpose of the miracles done by Jesus was to confirm that he was the Messiah sent by God. Jesus rightly pointed out that people seek a sign, but when they are given signs, they still do not believe. Signs are something material, tangible. How can the material prove the spiritual? This is why it is easy for people to con others into believing they have extraordinary powers from God. Ultimately, the false teachers are emperors running around with no clothes. Their riches amount to poverty, and their healings return only death.

An important aspect, though, to Jesus being a man is that he is also God. “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate…” (Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed., (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997)). The Nicene Creed was a clarification of the statement in the Apostles’ Creed, though they were likely both written about the same time. Later, Chalcedon and the Athanasian Creed clarified the point all the more.

The problem was that men could not seem to wrap their brains around the two natures of Christ, both God, and man, divine and human. It’s not that I cannot relate to the difficulty. I cannot experience divinity, but I know all too well humanity. As much as the councils of the Church attempted to clarify the matter, the heresies of ancient times have continued in one form or another ever since. The term begotten does not mean born, though that is almost always what it means in the human world. In the case of Jesus Christ, though, begotten of the Father means that he proceeds from the Father, not that he was generated by the Father. Jesus was born of a woman, but he was not born of God in the same way. This will get clearer, or fuzzier, for that matter, as we continue with the creed.

However, the matter is not whether Jesus was born or not. The matter is that Jesus Christ is the ONLY Son of God. Yes, “…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, ESV) We have become children of God, but not begotten children of God. We have been adopted as his children, whereas Jesus is by nature the Son of God. On our best day, we can only claim to be created by God, not begotten of him. We are not deity. The closest we will ever come to deity is to share in our inheritance in Christ Jesus.

So, why all these definitions, details, and splitting of hairs? Because there is only one truth and thousands of lies. If we would know God, then we must know him as he is and as he has revealed himself to us. We don’t dare allow ourselves to create God in our image. We are created in his, and to know who we are, we have to know who he is.

It is not really about what we think we know, for if we are wrong, we can’t honestly believe.

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I Believe in God

The Apostles’ Creed begins where the Bible begins. “In the beginning, God….” Everything starts here. No God, no anything. Yet throughout the history of the world, humankind has worked diligently in denying God. Today, the common words in the effort are Atheists, Agnostics, and Evolutionists. There are many more, but I think these could be the big three. Why is there such a concerted effort to deny God? Because the original sin was the act of trying to be God. The knowledge of good and evil in the garden was more than merely knowing good and evil.

“God had given such a sacramental nature and significance to the two trees in the midst of the garden, that their fruit could and would produce supersensual, mental, and spiritual effects upon the nature of the first human pair. The tree of life was to impart the power of transformation into eternal life. The tree of knowledge was to lead man to the knowledge of good and evil; and, according to the divine intention, this was to be attained through his not eating of its fruit.”

Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 1:53. Emphasis mine.

Gaining eternal life was not achieved by eating fruit. It was, as stated above, sacramental. Likewise, knowledge of good and evil could not have been attained by eating fruit of a specific tree. The understanding of good and evil came from obeying the word of God, which was tested by NOT eating the fruit. It, too, was sacramental in nature. My point is that there is no knowledge of morality and ethical behavior apart from obedience to God’s word. We know that word is powerful, for the creation of all that materially exists came from God speaking, “Let there be…”

Sin runs rampant in the world because the world does not honestly know good and evil apart from the word of God. Good is who and what God is. Evil is who and what God is not. Humanity was created good. God said so. He even went into greater detail, saying, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:26–31, ESV)

In the beginning of all things, God displayed his might in creating by his word. I believe in God the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth. And God also displayed his fatherly nature by blessing humanity and giving them purpose in maintaining his creation, expanding his creation, and using his creation to bring glory to God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Any denial through thought or act of this God is damnable sin and worthy of only one end, death.

This is why atheists who deny the existence of God, agnostics who accept the possibility of God but will go no farther, and evolutionists who claim that their scientific minds prove that there never was a God are to be condemned. (An important note, though, is that it is God who judges, not individuals. These God deniers, as with all God deniers, are created by God. Their very humanity grants them some dignity. However, their denial of God is a brutal battle that is waged within all they know in their being. As creatures of God, they deserve to hear the gospel offer of salvation, which to me means to oppose their positions without opposing their personhood.)

Within all of this, there is a cleverness to God. Everyone who exists only finds life and order because God the Father Almighty created them and the world in which they live. For example, anyone who follows the idea of evolution to its logical end must conclude that all morality is merely a convenience. There is no reason a stronger person should not swindle the weaker. In all truth, by evolutionary thinking, the stronger person should actually gain respect for exhibiting their strength. Experience, though, condemns the swindler as a criminal, deserving punishment for their theft of those who are weaker. If evolution is true, there could be no PETA because there could not possibly be an ethical reason to treat any animal “humanely.”

Every God denier lives their life on the borrowed principles of God the Father Almighty. This is the great deception. If science is really about discovering the workings of the world in which we live, scientists must acknowledge a creator-God’s existence. If they do not, the core principle of science, which is the verification of theory by repeatable testing, is just plain stupid. Why should anything repeat with regularity if our very being came from an unrepeatable event, so statistically impossible, end up creating an order in which we can trust the same outcome to be the result of a common cause?

The fundamental problem any God denier has is the inability to discover the first cause of all things. They can make claims to that end, but there is no evidence that can support their claims. This is because science only deals with that which is material. And the first cause of material is the word of God the Father Almighty. The business of science has devolved from investigation into attempts to control the material world. Scientists have become magicians who actually believe their manipulation of human perception is in itself reality.

Magic is very basic to modern science. The Biblical purpose of science is that man should seek knowledge in order that he might exercise dominion over the earth under God. Science in this sense is a necessary activity and sphere of knowledge for Christian cultures. But science today bypasses God and seeks to gain power without restraint and seeks knowledge as a tool of total power. Increasingly, science functions, not under the law of God, but as the new law of creation, as the new source of law and power. Instead of being governed by morality, science seeks to govern morality and to remake it in terms of its own standards. The purposes of science can be summed up as prediction, planning, and control. Science is thus a basic and essential part of the new politics, because their goals coincide; they are both clearly totalitarian. A scientific world is a controlled world, a world of experimentation, and valid experiments require a control of all factors. As a result, scientific society is a planned society, a society in which there is no liberty, because liberty is not possible in a situation of scientific planning. As a result, the more our culture is dominated by this new science, apostate science, the more totalitarian it will become. Modern science not only rests on magic, it is a form of magic; it is the belief that all things can be potentially or ultimately controlled by man.

Rousas John Rushdoony, Law & Liberty, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 70–71.

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. This claim is not proof of the existence of God. Faith is the substance of life. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV) The Greek word translated “assurance,” is hupóstasis. The verb from which it comes does not appear in the New Testament. Hupóstasis is “the essential or basic structure/nature of an entity, substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality…of things: among the meanings that can be authenticated for Hb 11:1 a strong claim can be made for realization.” (William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 2000, 1040.)

In light of this meaning, I prefer the translation of the King James Version: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV 1900) Why do I prefer this translation? Because it makes Biblical faith, or saving faith, is more than simple belief. It makes faith the bottom line for all human beings. Faith is substance and evidence. Therefore, faith takes us to things that exist that are not seen, and it makes the Christian hope more substantial than wishful thinking. Faith is what it would take for Adam and Eve to fulfill their created calling and purpose. Faith is what it would take to grow spiritually by the sacramental eating the fruit from the Tree of Life and by sacramentally not eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

All of this is wrapped up in the first statement in the Apostles’ Creed. No one can comprehend this kind of faith who does not have it, and no one can deny it who has been granted such faith. What is difficult for all humans to fathom is that everyone who does not have this faith is morally accountable, but everyone who has such faith cannot claim to have achieved it through any effort of their own. Belief in God the Father Almighty is something that becomes ours only by God’s grace. Once again, Fatherhood speaks to this free gift by grace. As loosely paraphrased from Paul in Ephesians 2, faith cannot be earned by working for it, but it is given so we can work toward the godly domain over his creation.

I realize that this post is quite explanatory and didactic. Yet, I would suggest that we are called to know who God is and who we are in relation to him. Apart from that knowledge, we cannot possibly serve God’s glory. And, by the way, knowledge comes by not eating of worldly things but by feasting on the Word of God. By this, we are being recreated and restored to God’s image.

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Because I Said So

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 8:3–6, ESV

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

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

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

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

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Liturgical Worship

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

Psalm 29:2, ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 11:23–27, ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Law of Laws, part 10 of 10

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Exodus 20:17, ESV

Webster defines the word covet:

1: to wish for earnestly 〈covet an award〉

2: to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably verb intransitive: to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another

Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.

So, the first thing to note concerning the word covet is that it can be a good sense or it can be in an evil sense. In the Creation story we see it in both uses. When Man is placed in the garden, God’s work is described, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9, ESV) The Hebrew word translated covet in the tenth commandment is here translated “pleasant.” The addition of “good for food” makes us aware that the “pleasant” creation of vegetation is to be desired, even strongly desired.

However, once the first couple are in the garden, they are instructed not to eat of a certain tree. Yet, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, ESV) Here, the Hebrew word is translated “to be desired.” The problem is, how did Eve know that the tree would make one wise? Only by listening to the chief of liars, the serpent. And here is the conflict. Eve was told she should desire every other plant and tree. But God said not to eat of this one. Who was right, God or the serpent?

Before we answer too quickly, I present this dilemma to illustrate the difference between good coveting and evil coveting. By listening to the devil, Eve began to desire the forbidden fruit. This desire became so powerful that it drove her into action. She ate the fruit ignoring what God had said. If anyone thinks choosing to listen to any voice opposed to God is good, then they are in serious trouble. Someone may say, “But just listening is not really bad.” It is, though, because listening to falsehood plants a seed of desire in one’s heart that will eventually grow into action. So, God commands us to not covet, and he lists a number of things to not desire: anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We may first note that the forbidden fruit of coveting is property. Everyone has a right to their own property. (Do not be confused in regard to a man’s wife. It is not the woman per se that is property but the love and devotion which was vowed to him in marriage.) Unfortunately, the American culture is deeply rooted in coveting. You may not end up actually stealing from your neighbor, but to “keep up with the Jones'” is to covet a lifestyle based not in what is good, but what is mere appearance. The result is often serious indebtedness from which many cannot recover. Yet we approve of this behavior by giving the person in debt and easy out with bankruptcy.

Now, some may think that this is the fault of Capitalism. I think the fault lies within our sin nature, thanks to Adam and Eve. Socialism is the system based on covetousness and envy. No matter how it is presented, the root of socialism is that it is wrong for people to have too much property because then those who are poor will have less. This, then, is second. The desire to have because others have is erroneous thinking. That some people are extremely wealthy and others are not is not the economic system, but only he envious desire to be like the rich. However, it is far more than that because the desire mutates into thinking that says, “If I can’t have what you have, they you can’t have it either.” This results in theft and harm done to your neighbor.

This is exactly the same as our representative parents faced in the garden. If God has it, so should I. A Socialist economy has failed wherever it has been implemented. So why do politicians play the envy card so often? Because if they say it long enough and loud enough, people will begin to believe it. When people believe enough, they elect and re-elect people to office. These elected officials work hard to gain control over you and me. An example? Under the guise of helping the poor, they decide to redefine healthcare. Now, in principle, no one should be turned away from the care they need because they don’t have the money to pay the bill. Everyone must have the same access to healthcare. So now, the government controls what healthcare costs and who can receive what care.

Third is that Socialism is founded on a wrong view of wealth in the world. The presupposition is that there is only so much wealth in the world and everyone deserves equal access to that wealth. On the face of it, such an idea seems wrong. How can it be that there is more wealth in America today than there was 100 years ago? In contrast, a free market allows anyone access to wealth and the world will not run out of it. The issue comes when the conditions to gaining wealth in a free market are more stringent than in Socialism. To get rich takes diligence over sloth, work over sitting around in a city park spending the free money that is handed out on liquor, Cigarettes, and drugs.

I do not deny that there are people who have become trapped in the endless cycle of addiction, mental illness, physical limitations, and more. All of these people and more need help, but that is where charity (not charities) comes in. How can real charity be done when one third or more of your income is taken by the government and redistributed to the “needy” without accountability? Giving money is not charity. Giving life is, and that can only be accomplished through building authentic relationships with others. The good Samaritan knew that there was no government program that would take care of the wounded stranger. He knew that he had to act. Nobody forced him into it. And the money the Samaritan used to care for the man was not watered down by government administrative costs, corruption, or just plain waste. All that he gave was useful and effective.

As I mentioned earlier, power and control are the name of the game. The government forces control over you by claiming your property for “the common good.” The government wants control over how much you earn and how much they take from what you earn. The government lays claim to all of your property, all in the name of “the common good.” How does the government create a populace willing to accept this illegitimate right of theirs? Covetousness.

Covet that which is good. What is good? There is only One, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Covet a righteous relationship with him.

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