St. John Wang Yi Zinzendorf the Baptist

December 17, 2018

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.  ~ Nicolaus Zinzendorf

This mantra has been stuck in my head for over a year now.  While there is some doubt as to whether the words were ever written or spoken by Zinzendorf in exactly this format, the spirit of them is definitely attributed to him.  In a world that seeks immortality through works and words and the acclaim of others, the Bible calls us to obedience to the God who created us, redeemed us, and alone can grant us immortality not simply in the memories of others but in flesh and blood and spirit.

Faithful obedience is not often glamorous.  Not often memorable.  Not often noteworthy.  It’s the decision to get up in the morning and do what needs to be done.  Laundry.  Cooking.  Earning a living.  Faithfulness to those around us.  Restraint.  Hardly laudable qualities in a modern culture that calls after fame and glory in 120 (or 280) character tweets or 4-second vines.

This past Sunday we considered Jesus’ words to John the Baptist – blessed is the one who is not offended by me.  John the Baptist is remembered 2000 years after his untimely death.  He remained faithful to the one who created him, the one who would redeem him.  Whether that faithfulness changed the world around him was not to be John’s concern, any more than whether or not he would ever be freed from prison.

Persecution is hardly new, and it isn’t something that I think we should seek out.  But if we attempt to be faithful, persecution is apt to find us in one way or another.  John the Baptist found this out.  Jesus knew this.  Pastor Wang Yi now lives with this reality.  While we don’t have any words known to be written personally by John the Baptist, I like to think that perhaps he might have said something similar to Pastor Wang Yi.

I pray that if I find myself in a similar situation my words will be very similar, seeking not to be remembered – so very, very, very, very few of us are, even for a short time! – but to be faithful.

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Reading Ramblings – December 23, 2018

December 16, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Advent – December 23, 2018

Texts: Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-56

Context: The big day is nearly here, and the Advent readings at long last turn their full attention to the details preceding our Lord’s birth. This birth was not something new, something that had not been hinted at. The prophet Micah directly prophesies that a great leader will arise from this very humble town. But more details are not provided, so that Mary is stunned to find that she will play an important role in the fulfillment of God’s promises, something she is obediently resigned to even though she can scarcely understand it. Yet over time, as the reality of the situation grows, she comes to see God’s gracious and powerful hand at work through her body, and gives true thanks and praise to the one who blesses his people not just for a time, but forever.

Micah 5:2-5a – Micah is the sixth of the Hebrew minor prophets, from the town of Moresheth (1:1) in the hill country to the south and west of Jerusalem. He is a contemporary of Isaiah, also ministering in Jerusalem in the second half of the 8th century BC, during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Similar to Isaiah he preaches against the leadership of Jerusalem, joining in Isaiah’s prophesies not of God’s continued blessing, but of destruction to come because of the sins of God’s people. Chapter 5 includes a prophecy now understood to refer to the Messiah, who would come out of the town of Bethlehem rather than one of the great cities. This leader will rule God’s people, and reference is made to the Gentiles (5:3b) who will be brought under him as well. Security and peace will result from his presence. These are all promises that have been fulfilled in part and will receive final fulfillment on the day of our Lord’s return. So it is that Christmas and the birth of the Christ-child must also be held in tandem with the Last Day as the complete fulfillment of divine promises to Eve, Noah, Abraham, David, and you and I.

Psalm 80:1-7 – The imagery of a shepherd is common throughout prophetic references and descriptions of the Lord’s anointed servant and son, the promised Messiah. So it is hardly a surprise that Jesus will use this language to describe himself and his work (John 10). If He is the shepherd, then we are the sheep in need of saving, who are in angst thinking that our shepherd is absent and we are left to fend for ourselves. In his presence is where we find the peace and comfort of knowing that all is well and no danger will befall us. This psalm is also candid in admitting that the shepherd’s temporary absence is due to the sinful willfulness of the sheep. Yet there is hope that the shepherd will not turn away forever, but will restore safety and joy to his sheep.

Hebrews 10:5-10 – Paul continues his demonstration that the work of Jesus as the Messiah was foreshadowed in the Israelite and Jewish practices under the Mosaic covenant. But what was accomplished only partially and imperfectly under that covenant is completed perfectly in the death and resurrection of the Son of God. The sacrificial laws were useful but limited – they could only absolve partially and imperfectly, having to be repeated regularly as they were not intended for the complete absolution of sin once and for all. That work is accomplished in Jesus.

Luke 1:39-56 – Many of us know the story of Mary’s visit to her relative, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, many years older than Mary but now miraculously pregnant as well, six months along. I imagine that Mary’s visit is an attempt by her family to blunt the shock of her pregnancy out of wedlock, but perhaps it is Mary’s idea also to verify Gabriel’s message. If her relative Elizabeth really is pregnant, then she can trust that God is at work, even if she can’t understand why He’s involving her.

As such it seems to me only fitting that it is only after seeing Elizabeth, only after being convinced that Gabriel was not just a bad dream, only after verifying that it is God indeed who is mysteriously at work can Mary fully give praise to him. And what praise it is! The Magnificat (so named from the Latin of praised) is one of the premiere expressions of thanksgiving and praise to God, often compared with Moses’ song of praise after God delivers the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea ( Exodus 15).

What strikes me as a reader in this post-modern age where the self sits at the center of all things, is how unselfish Mary’s song is. She of course acknowledges that she herself is the one giving him praise (vs. 46-47), but she does so because God is her savior. And his salvation of her and all humanity puts her in a position of peculiar and unique honor as the theotokos, the Mother of God, so that all future generations will acknowledge her blessed role in God the Father’s redemptive work through the incarnate God the Son. This is a great thing that God accomplishes – not just that Mary should bear the Son of God, but that Mary bears the very means of her own salvation, the means by which she might call on God as her savior.

Then the remainder of the song focuses on God, not her (the first few verses are really focused primarily on God as well, but she involves herself also). She elaborates on the traits and attributes of God the Father – his holiness, his mercy, his strength, the way He dismantles the proud and arrogant and provides for the humble and poor, how He acts both at an individual level as well as a corporate level, on behalf of all the descendants of Abraham. All of these attributes will be at play in the deliverance of creation from the grip of Satan through sin and the Law. God’s holiness cannot allow evil to remain unjudged. God’s mercy will not permit his creation to struggle under Satan’s rule for long. God’s strength alone is capable of delivering us from Satan. God is committed to unseating the effects of sin – the abuses of power and privilege and money so often marveled at today but a consistent feature of human experience since the fall (consider Lamech’s bragging in Genesis 4:23-24!). All of this on behalf of all creation, even those elements of it that we ourselves scarcely consider or wish to think about. Nobody is forgotten or overlooked, nobody is too poor or too inconsequential to receive the saving grace of God the Father through the death and resurrection of the incarnate God the Son.

A beautiful song of praise from a bewildered young woman in a backwater town in an unsettled stretch of the Roman empire. A young woman who otherwise would be lost to history as so many, many others are. But her faithfulness and obedience leave us extolling her simple acceptance of God’s will, and her beautiful expression of praise to him.

Reading Ramblings – December 16, 2018

December 9, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Advent – December 16, 2018

Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 85; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 7:18-28

Context: More and more our focus turns away from the messenger and to the promised one. More the focus is one of joy to come rather than judgment. Those in Christ are apt to worry that his return will not be joyous because of the number of people who refuse his grace and mercy. As such, it is easy to lose track of the Bible’s unambiguous assertions that this will be a joyful day. We are not the first to worry about friends and loved ones who either apparently or certainly reject the notion of God completely, or the Christian God. But we must also trust the supreme righteousness and justice of God the Father. As such, nobody on that Day of Judgment will be able to say to God this wasn’t right. While we may not be able to imagine it, we should trust that on that day God’s people will rejoice that He has done all things marvelously!

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – Zephaniah ministers in the late 600’s BC, contemporaneous with Jeremiah, in the reign of King Josias of Judah (641-611 BC). These words are written to comfort God’s people. Although God will judge his people He will preserve a remnant to give him thanksgiving and praise. The judgments rendered will not stand forever but will be removed (v. 15). While in the near term this could easily be interpreted as the restoration of Jerusalem 100 years later, in the longer term this verse is fulfilled as Jesus utters It is finished from the cross. It is his death that is the final sacrifice for sin, so that no judgments remain outstanding against God’s people. Likewise, this points further still to the time of Jesus’ return, when the LORD (the Hebrew name for God) is in the midst of his people once again and as their king (v.15). When God is perfectly present with his people once again, what cause can their be for fear? There will be no fear of God because we do not stand under the judgment of the Law any longer. And there certainly can be no fear from any adversary, as God will defend his righteous people himself. The return of Jesus will be a glad and glorious day for God’s people and we should never forget this!

Psalm 85 – This corporate prayer asks God to restore his favor to his people. This begins first off with a reference to God’s forgiveness to his people in the past. The language in the first three verses is sufficiently vague soas to be referenced to any number of Old Testament events. Perhaps a simple reference might be the book of Judges, which details a cycle of God withdrawing his protection and then extending it again. Verses 4-7 ask God to apply the same pattern of forgiveness and restoration to themselves. Surely God cannot be angry forever? Surely there is a limit to his wrath, a point at which it is spent? Surely wrath is not God’s natural attitude or disposition, and therefore He should return to his default disposition of love. Verses 8-9 express confidence that the Lord has spoken, is speaking, and will speak. He speaks in light of his Word, Scripture, which should be studiously obeyed by his people. The final verses of the psalm further express the confidence that God has heard this prayer and will respond to it appropriately – in faithful love and peace. God’s wrath will be turned away from his people – not because He wearies of punishing evil, but because ultimately evil has been defeated through his incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ.

Philippians 4:4-7 – Once again the major emphasis is on rejoicing. Our Lord will return – therefore how can we be worried or anxious about things? Are we in need? We lift up our needs to our heavenly Father who has already given us the greatest gift of all in his forgiveness. Are we elated? We give thanks to God from whom all good things come. This overarching understanding – that we are immortal creatures, forgiven for our rebelliousness and looking forward to the start of an eternity of joy and fellowship with God and one another – should anchor in us a peace. Not that we are stoic or unemotional, not that we don’t feel pain still as well as joy. But we do not allow ourselves to despair. There is hope! There is much to look forward to yet! God is coming! This peace is a gift from God, possible only through his forgiveness and grace, but it is also a peace that we must teach ourselves to focus on and interpret everything else in our lives through this reality of peace with God.

Luke 7:18-28 – Jesus’ answer to John’s questions is to demonstrate the blessings associated with the Servant of the Lord’s arrival and work from the prophet Isaiah. John’s disciples return to him to report that Jesus does the things the prophets said He would do. With one notable exception – He hasn’t released any prisoners, including John the Baptist himself. John no doubt is wondering why he sits in prison if he is indeed the promised messenger from Malachi. But Jesus’ demonstration is not simply for John’s benefit. It should be for the benefit of John’s disciples. The Apostle John reports in the Gospel of John that John the Baptist was actively directing his disciples towards Jesus (John 1:29-37) and fully expected that his disciples should do so (John 3:25-30). Yet these two – among others – had not left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. Jesus’ final words in verse 23 are somewhat enigmatic.  Certainly they can apply to John the Baptist himself, a direct address from Jesus not to give up hope just because John himself won’t personally experience directly the specific messianic blessing of being set free from prison.   But perhaps we should also take into consideration the situation the Apostle John paints in the third chapter of his Gospel. There, this is exactly what is happening – some of John the Baptist’s remaining disciples are jealous of Jesus, offended that his ministry is eclipsing John the Baptist’s. Jesus’ words as reported by Luke make more sense if they are directed towards these two people who have come from John the Baptist and will return to him with their report. Having done this, they should come to the same conclusion that John the Baptist should – that Jesus is indeed the one they have been waiting for, in which case they should all be following him instead of John the Baptist!

All are called to look to Jesus of Nazareth and determine whether indeed He is the one or not. Nobody can make this decision for us, nor can we provide faith to someone else. Each one who is confronted with the Gospel accounts must decide for themselves, and not take offense at the idea that Jesus is the promised Savior, or that they indeed need saving! The season of Advent calls all to come and see for themselves, and place their faith in the right person – the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

Reading Ramblings – December 9, 2018

December 2, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday in Advent – December 9, 2018

Texts: Malachi 3:1-7b; Psalm 66:1-12; Philippians 1:2-11; Luke 3:1-17

Context: The focus in Advent already begins to turn from the Last Days and the return of our Lord, to our Lord’s first arrival, highlighting John the Baptist as the messenger sent in advance of the Lord’s return. We consider John the Baptist as both prophet and forerunner of the Messiah, bridging the gap between the Old and New Testaments (Malachi 3:1. John fulfills a critical role, yet his role is secondary to the role that Jesus plays in God’s plan of redemption and salvation. John calls people to repentance, and this is the heart of Christian life, the continual repentance and acceptance of the grace of God, by which the Holy Spirit begins the transformation process, maturing us in the faith towards the day of our Lord’s return, when we will finally be perfect (Philippians 1). The Word of God Incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth saves us from our sins and delivers us to new life, while the Word of God that is preached and read continues the work of sanctification each day of our lives by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Malachi 3:1-7b – Malachi mentions a messenger, but the main emphasis of the passage is on the one the messenger will announce and prepare the way for. This is the Lord, but the Hebrew is adonai, a more generic term that does not always indicate divinity, but here, based on the verses that follow, clearly does. In context with the previous two chapters of Malachi, this Lord is going to come to clean house, so to speak (v.2). He will purge the priesthood (sons of Levi, v.3) that have been the subject of God’s complaint. He comes to purify so that the offerings will once again be pleasing to God (v.4). This judgment will then extend beyond the priesthood to all those engaged in traditionally despicable acts of covenant unfaithfulness – practitioners of witchcraft and sexual immorality, those who lie about their neighbors in order to gain advantage over them in court, those who don’t pay their workers when they should, who are inhospitable to visitors and others dependent upon their protection and kindness – all of which are examples of people who have no fear or love of God. God has not changed his mind about what He expects from his people. The covenant requirements have not been done away with or replaced by anything else. God is not capricious and unfathomable, so that we might never trust his grace or mercy. We can put our hope and trust in him precisely because what He expects never changes. But God’s people have been consistent as well – consistently disobedient. Yet God still extends his offering of grace and mercy to those who will give up their rebellious ways to receive it.

Psalm 66:1-12 – A beautiful hymn of praise to the Creator of the Universe, unparalleled in power and majesty, and therefore the most worthy of our praise for all his wondrous actions from creation down through today. The psalmist recounts God’s care for his people in leading them out of slavery in Egypt and across the Red Sea in safety. Later, they crossed over the Jordan River again by God’s miraculous provision, to take possession of the Land promised to their ancestor, Abraham. God is the provider and protector of his people. In him they have confidence and hope for each day, knowing that nothing can separate them from his watchful eye. That watch both ensures their eternal well-being, and stands as a warning to any who would exalt themselves against either God or his people. This does not mean that God’s people will never suffer. God himself disciplines his people at times, but always with their end good in mind. And as God’s people have gone through times of trial, God has been with them and ultimately delivered them, all to his glory and praise.

Philippians 1:2-11 – Paul gives thanks for the church at Philippi, and their faithfulness in working to share the Gospel with and through Paul, likely through supporting his missionary journeys financially. But while Paul appreciates who they are now, he knows that who they will one day be is even more impressive and worthy of praise to God. By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, what has started as the life of faith in them will one day result in their perfection when Jesus returns. They have been steadfast in their support and encouragement of Paul, and he longs to be with them again. But more importantly they remain in his prayers. Who they are is commendable, but there is always room for growth, for learning, for maturation, for deeper responses of faith. He prays that their love will continue to grow in discernment and knowledge, so that they might know better and better how to love better and better. All of this in preparation for the day of the Lord’s return, when they will declared pure and righteous in Jesus Christ, all to the glory and praise of God the Father (rather than the Philippians, since who they are and what they will one day be is entirely the work of God, rather than their own).

Luke 3:1-17 – We skip over the birth narrative in Luke’s Gospel in order to deal with Malachi’s messenger, John the Baptist. Luke, who is not one of Jesus’ 12 disciples but rather has compiled the accounts of Jesus’ life (1:1-4) deals with the other major religious figure of Jesus’ day. It is possible that John the Baptist remains a person with a cultic following even after his death, and despite his repeated efforts to direct his disciples to Jesus. Given John’s explicit handling of the role and identity of John the Baptist in his Gospel, written many years after Luke’s, it is reasonable to think that Luke may be attempting to clarify the situation as well in his day. John the Baptist is the messenger, not the Lord’s coming servant. His purpose is preparatory. Note Luke’s detail – dates, names, and locations all accounted for. John the Baptist becomes a popular figure due to his prophetic message, but it’s hardly a message of comfort! He demands greater piety as well as repentance from his hearers, denying any the false comfort of thinking that somehow they are already adequately pleasing or obedient to God. This naturally leads to questions about John’s authority and he quickly deflects musings that he himself is the Messiah. He is the messenger, preparing the people of God for the arrival of their savior. John baptizes with water, but the one who follows him will baptize not only with water but with the very fire of the Holy Spirit of God, likely reference to Pentecost to come.

We also today should heed the Baptist’s message. Though our salvation is in Christ, our lives are a continual maturation in the faith by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, which will lead to a growing purity and holiness of living. We are not to take sanctification lightly – it is a natural outgrowth of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, and if we do not see the fruits of his work there should be cause to question the nature of our faith. Yet we are always to ground our faith not in our works of charity or our increasing love of neighbor, but only and always in the singular work of the Good Shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep, and takes it up again (John 10). We have no reason to boast except in Christ! We must emulate the Baptist by not appropriating for ourselves a glory that does not belong to us, but to the God who created, redeemed and sanctifies us.

Reading Ramblings – December 2, 2018

November 25, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Advent, December 2, 2018

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Context: We begin a new liturgical calendar with the First Sunday in Advent. I follow the Revised Common Lectionary, LC-MS edition, which means that we are in Year C and Luke is the featured Gospel for the year. Advent begins the liturgical calendar where roughly the first half of the liturgical cycle is centered on major events in the life of the Incarnate Son of God – his birth, baptism, his passion and death and culminating in his resurrection on Easter. Advent is very similar, thematically, to the last three weeks of the liturgical calendar, focused on the anticipated arrival of the Son of God. While we have been looking forward to his return in majesty and glory, Advent transitions us in our waiting to focusing us on his first arrival. We can trust God’s promise that Jesus will return because God kept his promises to his people by sending him the first time. As such we continue to look forward at the start of Advent, gradually focusing our gaze more and more backwards on his first arrival. The readings for this morning highlight that element of promises fulfilled in the past.

Jeremiah 33:14-16 – God reminds his people of both his judgment on their sins as well as his promised salvation of a remnant who will enjoy his peace. This will not be accomplished by any mere priest or leader, but the very promised one of God. This chosen one will alone be capable of executing judgment properly because he himself is righteous. And he will be righteous specifically for his people, so that they will be identified with his name and his righteousness forever.

Psalm 25:1-10 – The psalmist, David, places his soul or spirit in God’s hands for safe keeping. This takes the form of David’s trust in God, with the corresponding prayer that God will not allow David to trust in vain. Such a hope is reasonable, for this is the common hope of all who put their hope in God. On the contrary, shame will certainly fall upon those who rely on cunning and falseness to try and achieve their ends. This leads David to pray to God in vs. 4-6 that He would teach David his ways, lest David accidentally follow a false path and suffer the corresponding shame (v.3). God alone can faithfully and truthfully guide his people and provide salvation to them. This leads David to remind God that he is indeed one of his people, and thus an appropriate recipient of the Lord’s vindication and salvation. He calls on God to act in mercy towards him and to forgive his sins, not because of any merit on his part but because this is the very nature of God, to give mercy and goodness. This is because the Lord is good and upright (v.8). Of course He will teach sinners and lead the humble, and of course God will always act in covenant love and faithfulness to his people. David expresses a hope in a similar vein to the Jeremiah text – that God will himself lead, guide, and save his people.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 – Because we are in the season of Advent we can expect that the Epistle readings will track somewhat with the Gospel and the Old Testament. We are no longer utilizing the lectio continua as we were during the long season of Ordinary Time in the previous liturgical year, but have returned to the lectio selecta practice. Paul has an unusually long introductory section in this letter. He gives thanks for the Thessalonians (Chapter 1), recalls his ministry to and among them and expresses his desire to see them again (Chapter 2), summarizes how it was that Timothy came to them and now refers to the good report Timothy brings to him concerning the congregation in Thessalonica. Unlike Corinth Paul is still held in good regard by the Thessalonians and they are standing firm in the faith Paul preached to them. Paul concludes by placing the matter of a jointly-desired reunion in God’s hands. Paul also prays that the Thessalonians would continue to grow in their love for one another and for everyone, towards the end that God the Holy Spirit would make them blameless in faith when the God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ return. Paul directs the Thessalonians to their hope – which is the return of Jesus. With that certainty in mind, their day-to-day lives will be shaped by this hope and certainty. The end of all things in this life and world is to be prepared for the day when heaven and earth are brought together again in the reign and rule of the Son of God in glory.

Luke 21:25-36 – This is one of two possible readings from Luke for this Sunday, and I chose it because it maintains the prophetic theme of the last days as we heard in Mark’s gospel the last several weeks. I don’t mind doing this because I preached on the Epistle reading last week :-) Luke has assembled certain of the words and actions of Jesus to craft his gospel (1:1-4). Here he captures Jesus’ admonitions to his followers to watch and wait. Jesus obviously thinks his followers will be able to discern clearly when the final times are upon them and the kingdom of God is imminent. It isn’t ignorance of those times signs that will be the danger for God’s people, but rather the day-in, day-out wear and tear of life. The constant bombardment with other things to think about, other things to do. Worries as well as wasted days. Rather, our focus should be constantly on our Lord’s return. We are not to be people characterized either by excessive worrying about the issues of the day or of an excessive refusal to pay any attention to these issues or the coming of our Lord. Worrying will not save us or prepare us for what will come. Neither will an intentional ignorance of these matters. Our posture is to constantly be one of prayer and watchfulness, particularly as we begin to see signs that say our Lord may be near. Given the rather general nature of some of Jesus’ prophecies regarding this, it isn’t unreasonable to say that every generation has, does, and will see things that appear to portend our Lord’s return. Therefore every generation is to be watching and waiting, ready to meet him when He comes.

Cheesy But True

November 21, 2018

Sometimes the Internet breaks with something that’s neither depressing nor complete stupidity.  Not often, but sometimes.

This is a cheesy but good reminder of how blessed we are, particularly in America or the First World.  But I suspect that there is truth here no matter where you live.  The wrapping paper may be on different things, but the grace of God is everywhere.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Reading Ramblings – November 25, 2018

November 18, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Christ the King Sunday/Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 25, 2018

Texts: Isaiah 51:4-6; Psalm 93; Rev. 1:4b-8; Mark 13:24-37

Context: The final Sunday of the Church year is traditionally celebrated as Christ the King Sunday, which concludes the liturgical year triumphantly on the note of our Lord’s present and future reign over all things. The year which began in anticipation of our Lord’s arrival 2000 years ago concludes with the reality of what that Incarnation accomplished – the defeat of sin, death, and Satan that is already a reality and will be revealed fully as such in God the Father’s perfect timing. So we begin the new liturgical looking back, but with the glorious vision of what we look forward to still very much present and forefront. Only gradually will the readings for Advent turn away from this Sunday’s reality to look back to the birth of our Lord and begin the cycle of readings and seasons that deal with his life.

Isaiah 51:4-6 – Isaiah’s suffering servant continues to speak in this chapter of Isaiah, Christ himself addressing creation 700 years prior to his birth. Here the servant assures his people of the rule He will institute, a rule based in justice. It is a rule that has not begun yet, but a rule that He can speak about with certainty. It isn’t a matter of whether or not He will reign, but rather what his reign will be like. It won’t be like the faithless kings that have ruled over God’s people, nor the violent predations of the various empires that will control her destiny after the Assyrians. The suffering servant’s reign is characterized by justice, righteousness, and salvation. Judgment will be rendered, and those that place their trust and hope in his reign will not be disappointed. It is to this promised reign that God’s people are to look. Looking to the earth – to human hope and promise – is foolishness and hopeless disappointing and insubstantial. Only this divine king can promise to rule forever, and to rule perfectly forever.

Psalm 93 – The reign of God is not a future creation but a current reality. While the enemies of God appear to have their sway and rule over creation at the moment, this is an illusion. God’s reign has never ceased, and it can never be disrupted or interrupted. This is not a God who can be imagined or described, so He is described dressed in attributes – majesty and strength. The language of his throne being established means that there is no threat to it, no doubt as to its continued existence. So sure is his reign that not even the wildness of rampaging flood waters can disturb his rule. The waters rise and roar – perhaps in praise of the God who created them? But if they raise their voice to challenge him, God’s voice is without question stronger and more powerful than the mightiest of sounds in all of creation. But when God speaks it isn’t simply meaningless noise, nor is it a rule based in might alone. Rather when the Lord speaks, what He says is true and worthy of trust, and is characteristic of his holiness. As such we need not fear our God, but rather can trust that He will do what is right for his people.

Revelation 1:4b-8 – St. John greets the recipients of his letter, the seven churches addressed in Chapters 2-3. But he addresses them as a man who has seen the glory of God in the heavenly places. He has already composed his Gospel of the life of Jesus, but now he speaks of the glory and majesty of the Godhead unveiled. What John knew from hearing and watching Jesus during his ministry and his death and his resurrection, and from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost has been bolstered by the revelation of mysteries almost too wondrous to describe. He who glimpsed Jesus in his glory on the mountain before his suffering sees him fully in his divine splendor and power. John describes God the Father, then God the Holy Spirit, and finally the visible one – God the Son, Jesus the Christ. He then focuses on Jesus as the one who frees us from our sins by his blood. His suffering and death makes possible our life. For this reason all glory and honor and power belong to him forever. And this reality will be revealed. He is coming, and there won’t be anyone who can claim that they have not witnessed his power and glory. Some will see it in fear and trembling and anger, resolute in their rebellion. Others will see it in hopefulness and joy as the final fulfillment of their lifelong desire. All of this will take place within the context of creation and God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the authors of all creation from start to finish.

Mark 13:24-37 – Many, many, many people have attempted to decipher the signs and symbols Jesus gives in this chapter with an eye towards forecasting the date of his return. Scholars argue and debate about which of his signs are related solely to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and which might be yet to be fulfilled, and much interest is shown in the words of this passage that talk about the celestial bodies. But the last few verses should temper these efforts significantly. The importance about watching is that these signs are not intended to be sufficient to alert us to something new and different, like hearing a car motor coming down the street before we see the car, or noticing a plume of dust being kicked up by an approaching vehicle. If that were the case we could relax in relative ignorance until we noticed the signs and then we could leap up and look busy!

People regularly ask if these are the end times. And of course the answer is yes. But the end times have been going on since Jesus’ ascension. We are to be waiting and watching for our Lord and King to return, for his reign to be fully revealed and completely effective. And we should be fairly confident that if we think we’ve deciphered some secret Scriptural code to triggering his return or identifying the precise timing, we’re undoubtedly wrong.

Rather, our time should be spent in watching and waiting. This doesn’t mean idleness or other odd behavior, but rather in fulfilling to the best of our abilities the summation of the Commandments – to love God and love our neighbor. Doing these things is enough to fill our time and attention so that there isn’t much time left for speculating on the return date of our Lord! Doing these things are the waiting we are to engage in. Active. Full of hope and joy and certainty, despite the situations of the day. This should fill our attention rather than endless talking heads and pundits on talk radio or television news! Our Lord reigns, and we will see that reign very soon! Come Lord Jesus, Come!

Parental Pressure to Pick Progeny

November 16, 2018

In our continuing insistence on perfecting ourselves vicariously through our children, parents in the United States may have a new set of decisions to weigh, once they’ve made the difficult initial decision to utilize in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive.

Tests are now available that can alert parents to potential future health risks in their children such as breast cancer and diabetes.  The tests also promise – based on genetic markers – to alert parents if it looks as though one of their fertilized embryos may be at risk for abnormally low intelligence levels.

Just so we’re clear here, these tests can be carried out on fertilized eggs, also known as embryos, also known as teeny tiny little human beings.  It has to be an embryo so that the complete, unique genetic/DNA material is available for analysis, something that is available once an egg is fertilized with a sperm.  It has to wait for fertilization because all the data isn’t there yet otherwise.  It only becomes a unique human being when an egg is fertilized by a sperm.

Which is  why I oppose abortion.  We’re killing human beings.  Distinct from the mother and the father.  Not fingernails or hair clippings or any of the other completely inane nonsense that is sometimes pushed to defend or justify murder.

For further clarity, IVF is expensive and difficult.  For this reason, multiple eggs are culled from the mother and fertilized externally.  Because the process is inherently unstable and risky to the teeny tiny human being, it is standard procedure to create multiple teeny tiny human beings, and then to select the one that seems most  likely to survive implantation back in the mother.

The others can be frozen, but many do not survive this process or face extermination either before  freezing or after thawing.

So we’re dealing with mass murder, but since it’s in order to gain a life in the process, it’s justified by the scientific/medical community.  (If you utilized IVF and these words are painful and convicting, I’m sorry, and I can offer you the assurance that in repentance this sin – as all others – is forgiven by the death of the Son of God, Jesus the  Christ.  I’m happy to talk further with you privately if this would be helpful, just leave me a note here.)

But now, in addition to all of these inherent risks and the lives routinely lost  in the process of conceiving via IVF, parents now are faced with determining which child to choose based on potential  health risks down the line or even based on the fact that their child may not be destined for a PhD at Harvard.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a family.  It’s a lot of pressure for doctors to face as well.  It would be an easy thing to simply cull those less-desirable teeny tiny human beings without even mentioning it to the parents, or simply saying that they were damaged or non-viable.  There’s a lot of pressure to make some very serious decisions about who lives and dies.

Every parent wants a happy and healthy child.  They want a child full of potential who can enjoy life.  But how we define things like full, potential, enjoy, life can get really tricky.

Ultimately, I argue, this is not something designed to empower parents, but designed to empower folks who believe very firmly that the weak shouldn’t survive, that the future of our species – our next evolutionary step if you will – is only possible by eliminating less desirable people.  We can do this through myraid means already, such as voluntary or involuntary sterilization  and abortion.  Tests that have been around for years can alert parents to the risk of mental retardation or physical abnormalities in their unborn child, information that might prompt a frightened couple to opt for an abortion.  But the simpler step to bypass all that queasy moral and ethical stuff about human life is to have it all done behind the scenes.  To simply implement clinical  policies that certain genetic markers should be grounds for automatic destruction of the embryo.  Murder based on possible outcomes that I would argue are still far too fuzzy to be very confident of.

All done in neat, sterile, clinical environments with virtually no evidence or trace of the lives wiped out.

Dangerous stuff, folks.  Well-intentioned at some level, I trust.   But very, very dangerous.

Cute Confusion

November 15, 2018

In the rush to normalize transgenderism, this book has come to the surface for assisting very young children (kindergarten) know how to deal with a classmate who is dealing with what traditionally was known as gender identity disorder but has been reclassified as gender dysphoria.

I appreciate the desire to help children understand how to deal with a classmate who is very different from them.  But I’ve been troubled by the approach of trying to make it seem as though it’s really not a big deal.  Troubled that kindergarten is now a time to talk about sex education and gender identity.  Gender dysphoria is a big deal.  A big deal that requires a lot of love and care, to be sure, but also a big deal that can’t be broken down into cute, easy to present sound bites without doing a lot of potential damage along the way, both to those who think they might suffer from it as well as their peers who don’t.

Here is a helpful review of the book from a medical doctor versed in this topic.  He makes a compelling case that what we don’t say can be as important (and damaging) as what we do say.  In fairness to everyone, we need a way to make sure that everything is communicated rather than dangerously oversimplifying things.

Veterans Day

November 11, 2018

Below is the address President Woodrow R. Wilson delivered to the United States public on the first Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day), November 11, 1919:

ADDRESS TO FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN 
The White House, November 11, 1919. 

A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half.

With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we remodeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. 

Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. 

To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations. 

WOODROW WILSON

(Thanks to Wikipedia)

Beautiful words which in hindsight were so very blind to the reality of sin interwoven into the deepest recesses of the hearts and minds of mankind.  I’m grateful for the resolve of men and women who do and have and will serve our country to keep us safe, striving as well to extend the blessings of peace and liberty to other people.  But I don’t trust those good intentions much farther than I can throw them and I trust the lasting results of those intentions even less.  I prefer the words of Psalm 146:

Psalm 146 English Standard Version (ESV)

Put Not Your Trust in Princes

146 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
    he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

(Thanks to Biblegateway.com)

Thank you to all who have, do, and will serve.  I’m sorry it’s necessary.  But it is, and will continue to be until the Lord reigns forever and in all places.