Friday, December 19, 2014

I Hate Christmas

Okay, I really do not hate Christmas.  I hate what commercialization and cultural expectation has done to the season that begins in late November after both the turkey and the Detroit Lions have been devoured, and then ends a month later when everyone goes home after exchanging gifts, food, and fun.  Stores begin stocking seasonal items immediately following Halloween.  From Black Friday (which now begins Thursday evening) through December 24, we are inundated and overloaded with donation requests, party invitations, and church activities.  December has become the month to do everything for everyone to promote good will amongst others.  Throw in the endless advertising jingles, shopping traffic, and corporate year-end needs for your employer, and we have the makings of a complete meltdown.  We build up this gigantic pre-Christmas time to a huge climax with the idea that the new year can start fresh.

There is a temptation to retrograde into nostalgia of how simple and enjoyable childhood memories are.  That is a foolhardy endeavor, or to cite someone who knew better:
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.  (Eccl 7:10)
My childhood Christmases were simple and enjoyable.  I shall treasure them.  (Except maybe for the one time I had a chance to stand in line to see Santa but wouldn’t.  I was terrified of him.)  I remember waiting anxiously in eager anticipation as the days following Thanksgiving went by so slowly, longing for the day.  And therein lies the problem—not the anticipation, mind you, but its object.  What are we waiting for?  Or what should we be waiting for?

Lectionaries have always been designed to follow the life of Jesus through the entire year.  The earliest of these began the Church Year on Christmas with the birth of the Lord Jesus and followed different stages of His life.  At the end of the calendar the focus changes, because we change from Jesus’ life to His coming—His Advent.  You remember Advent, don’t you?  Maybe not.  This time begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas* and ends on Christmas Eve.  This time originally looked forward to Jesus’ promised return when He will judge the living and the dead.  It was a time to remember that we are to be living in light of the final day.  If we had gotten off track, this was a chance to consider once again that the King of kings was coming as He promised.  We once freshly examine the question, “Am I living in the light of His return?”  A tension arose between the Lord coming again and the first coming remembered at Christmas.  By holding that tension in place, we remember the humiliation our Lord took on by coming into this world as a baby, but He will come again arrayed in glory and splendor to rule and reign.  We remember that what was true in history will certainly come to pass as promised.  And while the Church Year was changed to begin with Advent, the focus has not changed: our Lord comes.

Somehow, I do not believe that there is much reflection of Jesus’ return in the checkout lines at the big-box store with the gifts purchased for Christmas morning.  Unbelievers will not; believers may not either.  I realize there is no way to reverse the trend, but we Christians should understand that our Lord returns, as the hymn puts it:
O blessèd hope!  O blissful promise!
Filling our hearts with rapture divine;
O day of days!  Hail Thy appearing!
Thy transcendent glory forever shall shine.

He is coming again, He is coming again,
The very same Jesus, rejected of men;
He is coming again, He is coming again,
With power and great glory, He is coming again!†

*  Technically, Advent begins on the Sunday before St. Andrew’s day, which in the U.S.A. is the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day.
†  Accessed at http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/h/e/heiscoma.htm

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dealing with Trolls

Photo courtesy of Wikia
Trolls.  Those who have been been on the internet long enough have witnessed their carnage.  Lurking silently, these denizens of the internet lay waste comment sections in forums, blogs, and Facebook groups expressing opinions, not because they are correct, but because they can.  Inflicting bitterness, emotional pain, and any form of instability, the only plan is to enter the conversation and spew contrary, hopefully stinging, remarks to decimate conversations and otherwise undermine any attempt at meaningful interaction.  Ogres, goblins, and orcs have more sophistication than this type.  Meet a troll on the street or in an elevator, and you might never take notice that something is different, but in private they reveal their true selves—something more akin to this cheerful fellow on the right.

Trolls feed on the chaos and confusion wrought through dissemination of hyperbole and misinformation.  Once the feeding frenzy begins, much damage is left behind with gaping wounds needing healed.  The way to stop a troll is to starve it.  This is difficult because the troll often aims for your weak spot in order to engender a response.  Wise counselors are useful for knowing how to do battle.  To this end I offer the following note from Albert Einstein to Marie Curie:
Prague, 23 November 1911

Highly esteemed Mrs. Curie,
    Do not laugh at me for writing you without having anything sensible to say.  But I am so enraged by the base manner in which the public is presently daring to concern itself with you that I absolutely must give vent to this feeling.  However, I am convinced that you consistently despise this rabble, whether it obsequiously lavishes respect on you or whether it attempts to satiate its lust for sensationalism!  I am impelled to tell you how much I have come to admire your intellect, your drive, and your honesty, and that I consider myself lucky to have made your personal acquaintance in Brussels.  Anyone who does not number among these reptiles is certainly happy, now as before, that we have such personages among us as you, and Langevin too, real people with whom one feels privileged to be in contact.  If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.
It is difficult to imagine that a noted scientist should need to be concerned with these “reptiles,” but Einstein is correct in his advice: Don’t feed the trolls; ignore them.  King Solomon took the response one step further.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.  (Prov 26:4-5)
Engage the troll, but not in the same snarky way, but as is warranted and in a godly way with wisdom.  Let the Lord do the work by correctly using His word.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Whose Robes Are They?

My morning Bible reading in Isaiah 59 was behind a previous post drawing attention to the armor of God in Ephesians 6 being the same that Jesus wears.  Continuing on through chapter 62 (or more precisely 63:6), I noted that the section details God’s eschatological plan and how it is based solely on His promises according to His character: the Lord acts because of who He is, not because of who we are.

In the middle of the exhortation, there is an apparent break in thought:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lᴏʀᴅ;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord Gᴏᴅ will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations.  (Isa 61:10-11)
These verses describe a response to God’s grace—righteousness and salvation growing within and adorning, but after my current reading of these chapters, I asked the same question as the Ethiopian eunuch:
About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?  (Acts 8:34)
In like manner as the armor mentioned previously, is this actually God the Son speaking to the Father?  Except for a point of view in the text that turns from direct address to a response (and afterward returns to direct address), there are no clear markers.  Should we not rather consider this primarily to be a glimpse of the inner communication within the Godhead?  This approach would maintain the continuity of the passage as coming from God alone.  Tertullian takes up the same theme as he describes Christ as a bridegroom:
I hold also that it is my Christ who is meant by the bridegroom, of whom the psalm says: “He is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and His return is back to the end of it again” [Psa 19:5-6].  By the mouth of Isaiah He also says exultingly of the Father: “Let my soul rejoice in the Lord; for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation and with the tunic of joy, as a bridegroom. He has put a miter round about my head, as a bride” [Isa 61:10].
Against Marcion, IV.11

Guercino - Return of the Prodigal
The passage can secondarily apply to us as those to whom benefits fall as sons and heirs.  Firstly, in the parable of the marriage feast (Matt 22:1-14), Jesus mentions the freely-provided wedding garments.  Those who accepted the garment were welcome to participate in the kingdom of heaven, while the one entering without the garment was cast out.  Secondly, we are given a picture of the Church as the Bride of the Lamb:
“Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
(Rev 19:7-8)
The Bride is clothed with the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (Rom 3:21-22; Phil 3:9) and is of the same “stuff” as that borne by the Lord Jesus (2 Pet 1:1).  It is His righteousness that is displayed before the nations in worship, disciple-making, and occupying oneself in good works.  He who is our righteous (1 Cor 1:30) clothes us in a way that displays the glory of Almighty God inspiring praise worthy of the Lord of all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How Does Creation Worship?

Photo courtesy of Stephen Pohl
Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,

    stormy wind fulfilling his word!  (Psa 148:7-8)

Louis McBride at Baker Book House has opportunity to read many of the works that are published by Baker and shares book nuggets.  Recently, he mentioned A New Heaven and a New Earth by J. Richard Middleton, which addresses biblical eschatology.  As part of the discussion, Middleton looks at Psalm 148 and posits that we improperly define worship.  I will quote what Louis McBride observed in his blog post:
“First of all, we should not reduce human worship of God to verbal, emotionally charged expressions of praise (which is what we usually mean by the term).  Rather, our worship consists in all that we do.” (p. 40)  Looking at Psalm 148 he notes that all sorts of things from creation are called on to “praise” God.  “In fact, humans are mentioned in only two of the eleven verses (vv. 1-4, 6-12) that call on God’s heavenly and earthly creatures to worship him.” (p. 40)  According to this Psalm “mountains and stars worship God just as much as humans do. . .  But how do mountains and stars worship God?  Certainly not verbally or with emotions.  Rather, mountains worship God simply by being mountains, covered with vegetation or with steep crags or glaciers, depending on their elevation.  And stars worship God by beings stars, burning with nuclear energy according to their sizes and their life cycles, ranging from those like our own sun to the red giants, white dwarfs, pulsars, and black holes.  If mountains worship God by being mountains and stars worship God by being stars, how do humans worship God?  By being human, in the full glory of what that means.” (pp. 40-41)
Photo courtesy of Stephen Pohl



Mountains and all hills,
     fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
    creeping things and flying birds!

(Psa 148:9-10)








Middleton goes on to make what I consider to be an invalid conclusion, but I was struck by the argument thus far: a created thing properly worships when it does what it was created to do.  (So much for glitz, sparkle, and showmanship on Sunday mornings.)  But therein lies the rub.  Adam disobeyed, and as a result, all creation groans because of sin.  Only in the Lord Jesus can you and I worship rightly.

In one sense, Psalm 148 is a grand picture of all creation praising the person and work of God, yet on the other hand, it is not realized, because creation still suffers from the Fall.  In that regard, the psalm looks forward to the consummation of all things in Christ.

I doubt that the book will be on my Wish List, but this particular subject needs a second look.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Blessed Thanksgiving Day to You!









The Lᴏʀᴅ is my strength and my shield;
    in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
    and with my song I give thanks to him.  (Psalm 28:7)


On this day remember the Giver of all good gifts, especially His Son,
the Lord Jesus, who revealed the Father and by which we have access
to the throne of grace.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Audacious or Ordinary?

In recent years I have noted an increasing emphasis by pastors and other teachers to express that the normal Christian lives in a gregarious or extrovert manner: anything less is missing God’s plan for your life.  Terms such as radical, audacious, and outrageous are freely (and overly) used to spur believers from a place of lethargy to a state of high alert to make the gospel known to every other person by whatever means necessary, or spur them into being crowning examples of how the Christian life is to be lived in the fullness of the Spirit.  Heroes of the faith—the first disciples or those who gave all on the mission field—are brought out as examples to mimic.  The hype replaces the work being done by the Holy Spirit, so that zeal is mistaken for Spirit-filling.  Inflamed by a holy desire to win every person for Christ, believers pour forth initial boundless energy until finally strength wanes because of self-reliance or overwork.  Stumbling dazed and confused, they wonder why the Lord would allow such a thing in this holy pursuit.  The problem is that not every Christian is called to be the apostle Paul or Hudson Taylor.  Usually, we are called to be more like Aquila and Priscilla: ordinary, boring followers of Christ.

Of those believers mentioned in the New Testament, few would have a more mundane existence that Aquila and Priscilla.  This Jewish couple were tentmakers, originally living in Rome.  When Claudius commanded all Jews to leave, they moved to Corinth where they plied their trade and met up with Paul on his second missionary journey, then finally to Ephesus where they met Apollos and instructed him of Christ more correctly (Acts 18:1-26).  Maybe this seems to be a big deal, but when you look closely, there is nothing to see.  As opposed to Paul, who received an apostolic commission from the Lord Jesus Himself on the way to Damascus and was later confirmed by the Holy Spirit at Antioch, Aquila and Priscilla were normal people with a family business who found ways to share the gospel while in their vocations.  No great call was received, no great vision to evangelize the world, no impassioned message to be outrageous for Christ.  All they had was an everyday existence lived in the gospel.

There are two epistles written early in the apostolic era that explain how the typical believer is to be and act.  The first comes from James:
Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  (Jas 3:13-18)
Do you understand things better than everyone else on the planet?  Fine.  Show it by your good, peaceable, gentle conduct.  The wise man does not get into someone’s face or try to convince against the will, rather there is reason and sincerity.  Maybe you are smarter and wiser than the person breathing your air, but the Lord has made known that He desires you to sow in peace, and that yields the harvest of righteousness.

The next epistle text comes from Paul:
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.  But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.  (1 Thess 4:9-12)
Paul desires the zealous believers in Thessalonica who have made a name for themselves by their zeal in the gospel to live quietly and mind your own affairs.  That is how one lives properly before their neighbor.

There are multiple sources that call for us to tout the audacious Christian life; God works through ordinary means.  He may exalt any one of his children depending on the circumstance and need, but until that happens, be ordinary, be true.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Armor of God

Put on the whole armor of God….  Therefore take up the whole armor of God… (Eph 6:11-13)

Near the end of his epistle to Ephesus, Paul spends time admonishing the believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” and put on the armor of God.  I have enjoyed much good teaching on this section, but just recently a question popped into my head.  Why does Paul pull these together and refer to them as the armor of God?  Does he do so because they are derived or received from the Lord (and it is), or is something else also involved?  Take note of this table comparing the armor pieces with Old Testament passages:

Belt of truth Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins.  (Is 11:5)
Breastplate of righteousness He put on righteousness as a breastplate  (Is 59:17)
Feet shod with the preparation
    of the gospel of peace
How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  (Is 52:7)
Shield of faith I will say to the Lᴏʀᴅ, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.  (Ps 91:2-4)
Helmet of salvation He put…a helmet of salvation on his head  (Is 59:17)
Sword of the Spirit He made my mouth like a sharp sword  (Is 49:2)

Paul drew heavily from the prophet Isaiah to complete his list and for good reason: all these passages deal with the Servant of the Lord (i.e., Messiah).*  The place where this is most clearly portrayed is the description John gives of the One riding a white horse:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!  The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.  From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.  He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev 19:11-16)
Jesus is described as great warrior-king dressed in battle regalia for a war which he himself will lead and win.  The final battle will completely conquer all who are opposed to God.

Christians are called to stand against spiritual foes.  The armor that we are to put on is same type which the Lord Jesus takes for Himself: no other will suffice.  Many teachers have attempted to convince the naïve that types of protection are needed through self-perseverance, but the above demonstrates that the believer puts on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27) and subsequently continues to put on “the armor of light” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:12, 14) as he or she would “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).  It is this continual return to the place of cleansing by which we, though certainly washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, we go for the cleansing that occurs when we confess our sins (Jas 5:16; 1 Jo 1:9) and forgive one another (Col 3:12-13).

One article of clothing Jesus wears on the white horse is His alone—the robe.  Isaiah 59:17-18 reads:
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
According to their deeds, so will he repay,
    wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
    to the coastlands he will render repayment.
The robe or cloak is not meant for the Christian to take for himself.  The Lord Jesus alone is the one who uniquely exercises both vengeance and zeal (John 2:17).  Christians are called to stand firm.  Jesus has won our salvation, and He clothes us for what lies ahead.  We are called to stand in Him dressed in what He has provided and  to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph 6:18).  There the daily skirmish is fought.  There we “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12).


*  Psalm 91 is widely regarded as Messianic because a portion was used by Satan in the wilderness as if it was directly applicable to Jesus (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).  A reading of the complete psalm seems to support this.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Choices

Below is an image I found which gives a humorous flowchart for picking a religion.


Do you see that box in the bottom right corner?  If it read “Be a pseudo-Christian,” this flowchart would be 100% accurate.  What the creator may not have realized is that none of these leads to the God of the Bible, sovereign creator of heaven and earth.  This is because every attempt we make to choose Him, we fail and end up with something far less.  God chooses us.  How that happens is a mystery, but that is what scripture says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  (Eph 1:3-4)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.  (1 Thess 1:4-5)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thess 2:13)
I bring this up because our lives demonstrate who makes the choice—God or me.  Chad Bird has a post that explores an interesting comparison concerning God’s election, which can be summed up in his words:
It is simply this: everyone who’s in heaven is there because God chose them to be, and everyone who’s in hell is there because they chose to be.
Those who choose their own way have a worldview at complete odds with what the Lord requires of a holy people.  King David provided in Psalm 5 a definite dichotomy of worldview as he compared conduct  giving a direct relation to the one (or One) who has chosen the path for the individual.

God chose me I chose me
1-3 Give ear to my words, O Lᴏʀᴅ;
    consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
    my King and my God,
    for to you do I pray.
O Lᴏʀᴅ, in the morning you hear my voice;
    in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
4-6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
    evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
    you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
    the Lᴏʀᴅ abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
7-8 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
    will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
    in the fear of you.
Lead me, O Lᴏʀᴅ, in your righteousness
    because of my enemies;
    make your way straight before me.
9-10 For there is no truth in their mouth;
    their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
    they flatter with their tongue.
Make them bear their guilt, O God;
    let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
    for they have rebelled against you.
11-12 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
    let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lᴏʀᴅ;
    you cover him with favor as with a shield.

Notice the tremendous difference.  David places himself fully within a class of individuals who realize that all they have is derived from God.  Family, life, vocation, position, abilities, etc. are all gifts from the Almighty.  As a result of this realization, the response is a longing to engage in prayer, thanksgiving, rejoicing, exaltation, and every good thing offered in return as appreciation for the Lord’s goodness demonstrated through His wondrous promises and deeds.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who have chosen to remain as they are and go on in willful determination to take what they feel is due while cursing the One who was supplying the good things they did receive.  Convinced they are “getting by just fine” or are bending the system their way through whatever means, these people boast in their achievements either not realizing or not caring it will vanish quickly away and be for naught before God.

At this point, someone will complain that he or she is more in the middle.  They are not “sold out for God” but neither are they as bad as those wicked ones who David mentions.  The ugly truth is that there is no middle.  Those not believing in the Lord of glory are unrighteous, worthless, deceitful, bitter, bloodthirsty, and ruinous (Rom 3:10-18).  For them, this becomes a matter of what manner and to what degree the wickedness manifests itself.

How do we know or can be assured that we are chosen or elect?  Believe on the Lord: there is none else:
Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.  (Isa 45:22)
You are included in that number “all the ends of the earth.”  Lay hold of the sure promise of God’s Word that Jesus died for your sin (Rom 3:21-25).  Come to the water and be buried with Christ into death by baptism and walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4), receiving the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).

Election is strange: we do not realize that God chose us until after we “chose” Him.  We look back and rest in the assurance of a wondrous plan of salvation that began in our favor before the worlds were laid.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  (Rom 8:28-30)
The work of redemption is done in Christ.  We rest in that.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The More Things Change …

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  (1 Tim 1:15)

While reading more of Arnobius of Sicca, I was struck by a comment he makes about pagan reaction to Christianity:
These are your ideas, these are your sentiments, impiously conceived, and more impiously believed.  No, rather, to speak out more truly, the diviners, the dream interpreters, the soothsayers, the prophets, and the custodians of shrines, ever vain, have devised these fables.  For they, fearing that their own arts be brought to nothing, and that they may extort but paltry fees from the devotees, now few and infrequent, whenever they have found you to be willing that their craft should come into disrepute, cry aloud:
“The gods are neglected, and in the temples there is now a very thin attendance.  Former ceremonies are exposed to derision, and the time-honored rites of institutions once sacred have sunk before the superstitions of new religions.  Justly is the human race afflicted by so many pressing calamities, justly is it racked by the hardships of so many toils.  And men—a senseless race—being unable, from their inborn blindness, to see even that which is placed in open light, dare to assert in their frenzy what you in your sane mind do not blush to believe.”
The Case against the Pagans, I.24

Wait a minute!  Am I reading of early fourth-century pagans against Christians, or am I reading the transcript from a twenty-first-century news show discussing politics and economics?  The objections and underlying arguments are nearly identical: speculative prognostication is challenged, and in an effort to secure funding, the pundits cry out in a shrill voice that the truth-tellers are spewing superstitious nonsense—this in an effort to maintain income for pontificating ideas based more on predilection than fact.

Or could be I reading of a response from a recent church body gathering that has chosen to adhere more to cultural norms than scripture and have decided to distance themselves from those troglodytes who actually believe that the Bible means what it says?  The same shrill tone, reasoning, and conclusions can be found in an effort to maintain the shoddy foundation and rickety infrastructure upholding the organization.

Whether in politics, economics, or the church, why would people vigorously oppose the truth?  It is because they love the lie and the system upholding it.  In order to properly build God’s house, the apostle Paul relied on the foundation given him, Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:10-11), to lay a foundation for the assembly in Corinth.  To the church in Ephesus, he referred to Jesus as the cornerstone by which the foundational Church offices would be properly aligned and the structure joined together (Eph 2:19-21).  All attempts to reshape or refine the scandal of the gospel to make it palatable leave the life and work of Christ as no more than exemplary human drama or the zenith of spiritual achievement.  Whatever creative way Jesus may be presented which removes the sin problem leaves us with nice guy, not the Savior we need.

Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  We do not want to admit the need, but when we do and believe on Him, there is reconciliation between God and us and rest in knowing that we are accepted in the beloved.  May we keep that message central.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Special Delivery

From 1885 to 1997, the U.S. Postal Service offered Special Delivery for mailed items.  When a posted item arrived at the destination office, it would immediately be sent by courier to the intended recipient.  This special service cost extra and would generally be reserved for items of great import deemed to require great care for a prompt, safe delivery.  The item would be received with due regard and acted on accordingly.

In ancient Israel, the prophet Isaiah painted a similar picture: a message was being delivered and needed attention:
How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  (Isa 52:7)
The God who the nation had forsaken now was delivering the wonderful message of salvation. Isaiah, as the courier of this communiqué, had news that could scarcely be conceived, much less brought to pass: the Servant of the Lord was coming willingly to bear the sin of the world.  All our transgressions were laid on Him (Isa 52:13-53:12).  Now all the world could rejoice by turning to the Lord and entering into the blessings promised through Abraham (Isa 54-55).  The centuries of promise would be realized in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice.

After the Servant had paid the price for all sin, a Pharisee was chosen by the Lord to carry this message beyond the borders of Israel to the Gentiles.  Paul delivered the glories of what God’s Messiah had accomplished on their behalf to deal with sin:
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.  (1 Cor 15:3-5)
Pagans, who were without hope in the world, now had access to the throne of grace through as their Intercessor stood before the Father on their behalf.  And if this was not sufficient, Paul delivered a pattern for approaching and worshiping this God that they had not known.
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.… 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.” (1 Cor 11:2, 23-24)
This message of the gospel, Christ crucified, was the center of all that Paul proclaimed as he reasoned with men and women of their sin and need of the Savior.  All that the scriptures had described, typified, and prophesied was brought together in Christ.  It was this body of faith which was handed to the new believers and entrusted to faithful men to pass on to others (2 Tim 2:1-2).  The same message was delivered in every place: each city received the same message, the same body of teaching.  It was this truth and foundation on which believers rested as authoritative as having coming from God Himself.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  (Jude 1:3)
What had been received through the apostles was recognized as certain, being established on the promises given through Moses and the prophets and fulfilled in Jesus.  There is no alternative truth concerning man’s sin or need of redemption.  To turn from or ignore the apostolic witness freely and gladly delivered is to turn from the Lord of Glory and to spit on His immeasurable gift wrought through the shedding of most precious blood:
For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.  (2 Pet 2:21)
Those who turn away are doomed to everlasting destruction, because they refuse the most wonderful of gifts.  Good news has been delivered via special delivery: God Himself delivered the message by taking on human nature, guaranteed it by delivering Himself up, and gave his apostles charge to continue the proclamation and teaching.

What a blessing we have to tell others this specially delivered news.