Archive for October, 2020

It’s Faith, Stupid

October 31, 2020

As violence continues to spiral in France, the news media seems ridiculously ill-equipped to report on it. There was the decapitation of a teacher two weeks ago that started this recent bout of violence, and interesting enough it was the only non-religious target. Subsequent targets have been Christians in churches, whether the three worshipers killed in Nice earlier this week, or the Orthodox priest shot in the stomach with a sawed off shotgun tonight. And while this latest attack hasn’t been linked to Islamic fanaticism (yet?), at the very least it’s another assault specifically on Christians, and a reminder that the secular society media is so fond of touting is not necessarily the most enlightened environment.

Headlines like this one miss the point entirely. It’s incredible that only a few decades after World War II and the utter failure of a program to appease the increasingly aggressive demands of a despot, the press still thinks the problem is an offensive cartoon. Allow me to help fill in the clueless secular or anti-religious media – this isn’t about a cartoon, it’s about religion. It’s not about secularism, it’s about faith.

The idea that succumbing to demands to not say or draw anything offensive about the prophet Mohammed will somehow restore peace and eliminate tensions with Muslim nations is ridiculous. Give in to this demand and there will be another demand. Resist that demand and there will be violence again and threats of violence. This isn’t a cycle that ends in a restoration of a peaceful secular country (if France could accurately be called that). It’s a cycle that ends with the destruction of secular France – and the rest of non-Muslim nations – under the growing intimidation of radical Muslims.

These radicals aren’t afraid of France’s secularism – they’ve exploited it by immigrating there in large numbers. They know very well secularism can’t withstand the growing pressure of a radicalized Islam. Progressive ideologies have weakened much of Western civilization to the point they are unwilling to defend themselves and will capitulate everything soas not to risk offending a class of people who insist they are offended.

The radicals don’t need to be afraid of secularism so you’ll notice their attacks are not against civil targets but rather religious ones. Christian ones. And more specifically, active Christians. Christians at worship or priests at churches. Because unlike secularists, Biblical Christians who know the Bible as well as Christian history have an actual set of beliefs they are not willing to compromise on. Islam can and will conquer secularism, but it has had quite a bit of trouble dealing with Christians through the centuries. And while modern, secular authorities seem to ignore or forget history, it seems clear that radical Muslims have not.

So these Muslims try to strike fear into the hearts of Christians. Maybe by doing so they hope to cause weaker Christians to demand their secular government side with the extremists and give in to their demands. Demand their government continue to abdicate what little moral authority it still holds from the Christian faith for the sake of tolerance or kindness or some grossly misinterpreted interpretation of the Christian command to love your enemy.

Macron’s desire to defend secular society will ultimately fail – if not in his term than down the road a few years. It will fail because it has no real inherent beliefs, and will therefore cede authority to whomever can most convincingly portray themselves as the weak or marginalized or disenfranchised. Or Muslims will simply continue to out-reproduce their materialist, secular neighbors until they can vote for a Muslim government and sharia law and all the other things the Quran commands Muslims to accomplish.

But the Christian faith is grounded in beliefs anchored in human history and geography, an empty tomb and eye-witnesses of a man who claimed to be nothing less than the Son of God and insisted his resurrection from the dead would vindicate this claim.

That faith won’t abdicate to Islam. It might be conquered by Islam geographically or politically. It might be executed by Islam, as Christians around the world continue to suffer and die simply for insisting on believing the Word of God, oftentimes at the hands of Islamic extremists. But it won’t simply give up and go away.

That’s the real threat radical Islamists rightly perceive and seek to weaken or destroy. That’s why as the attacks in France continue, the targets are worshiping Christians, priests, and others visibly living out their faith. I pray that Christians around the world will rally in solidarity of their French brothers and sisters in Christ who are currently under attack.

Book Review: The Hammer of God

October 28, 2020

My knowledge of Lutheran literature (as opposed to doctrinal or theological texts) is pretty scant. I stumbled upon Garrison Keillor in my late teens and didn’t progress much beyond that. Astute readers will realize Keillor isn’t even Lutheran, but he mentions Lutherans and seems to understand us. For lack of other options, he fit the bill of Lutheran fiction for me. Cultural references to Lutherans are a bit…scant.

Then in seminary we were asked forced to read The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz. What I didn’t know until just now is that Giertz has authored some 600 titles, but this one is his best known, at least in English-speaking circles. And Lutheran circles, probably.

This is a novel in a technical sense. It’s really doctrine in dialogue, a theological treatise with a narrative thread. As such at times it’s dense. Not as dense as Ayn Rand’s ideology as fiction by any means, but still. It’s a thinly disguised theological two by four, at best. Not an unpleasant disguise, but thin.

The book is set in three parts spaced out over perhaps 150 years or more – it’s hard to be exactly sure and frankly it doesn’t really matter. It relates the experiences of three different clerical novices assigned to a rural Swedish parish, there to be schooled in theology and pastoral ministry by various direct or indirect veteran pastors. Their important moments of growth are Christocentric, when they learn to quit focusing on themselves and their personal piety and holiness and focus rather on the atoning work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection. Coming to grips with this theological reality and how it applies in their own lives and the lives of their parishioners is the center of each of the three sections.

The thin veneer of fiction does help make the theological material both relevant and more approachable. And for those studying for pastoral ministry it helps contextualize why doctrine matters, and the sorts of surprising situations where doctrinal grounding is not only helpful but essential.

It’s not a difficult read and if you’re looking for Lutheran literature, well, Giertz isn’t really Lutheran either, but it’s a good explanation of why what you believe matters, especially if you’re going to be leading God’s people.

Movie Review: Signs

October 27, 2020

I enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense when it came out, but it never created a burning desire in me to see all of his films. And so I didn’t. This is no doubt not a reflection on his work but rather my somewhat tepid response to movies in general. So the wife and I sat down to watch a movie the other night and opted for Signs.

The movie is 18 years old now, but I don’t intend any spoilers regardless. The film is essentially a discussion of faith. Not a specific faith, though a thin veneer of Christianity is displayed but not articulated as anything more than the most gossamer of realities. It’s a typical Hollywood understanding of faith and, frankly, a typical Hollywood understanding or caricature of Biblical Christian faith.

A faith that can drive a man into ministry, (in this case, presumably the Episcopal Church since the main character was a priest but was also married and has children while people still refer to him as Father). But a faith that can be rejected and tossed aside by tragedy. A faith that can turn to bitter dust when suffering comes and steals what we value. Frankly, perhaps it is an accurate description of many people’s faith, which is sad and frightening.

Regardless, the main character when we meet him is no longer a priest, a backstory gradually brought out through the length of the film. His lack of faith – or perhaps his desire to push God away and keep him at arm’s length – runs through the entire film, surfacing occasionally in more explicit moments. He is angry with God.

Despite this very Christian context, the film is devoid of Biblical Christian faith. God is apparently here to ensure our personal happiness, and if He does not do so in the way we would like him to, He deserves our anger and rejection. Only if God redeems himself by making it up to us – and also by getting through out thick skulls and blindness so we actually see what He’s doing – does He become worthy of our love and service again.

All of this wouldn’t be so irritating if it weren’t really the fundamental story of the entire movie. The movie is an interesting character study, and it’s primarily a character study, not unlike many stories by my favorite author, Ray Bradbury, or the television series The Twilight Zone. However in a two-hour movie I hope for something a bit deeper than what a short story or a 20-minute television show can provide, and I feel Signs falls short on delivery.

Let’s talk about the life of faith and the challenges of life which can lead a Christian to despair or to anger with God. But let’s do so with more nuance and depth than a missing crucifix on a wall or a worn or unworn clerical. A bit more Job, actually. There’s a real discussion of what faith looks like and how it struggles amidst the suffering in this world. That would make the payoff of movies like this even more powerful, and more than just popcorn fare.

It’s not a bad movie, and much more qualified cinema experts agree. Perhaps that’s what drove Mel Gibson to switch sides of the camera to direct a film showing a far greater Biblical depth. Certainly in light of Gibson’s much chronicled personal demons, it’s something he’s well-qualified to enact, and a more powerful reminder of how great the love of God in Jesus Christ is.

Reading Ramblings – November 1, 2020

October 25, 2020

Date: All Saints Day – November 1, 2020

Text: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Context: All Saints Day evolved as the number of Christians martyred for their faith became too numerous to celebrate on the specific anniversary of their personal date of execution. Remembering those martyred for their faith also merged with remembering Christians who died in the faith but not because of it. Readings for today naturally focus on the eternal hope we have in the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead. Frankly, I wish the readings for this day were different for each of the three cycles of the Revised Common Lectionary. There are so many other beautiful texts we could draw from, such as Job’s profession of faith in a bodily resurrection from the dead (Job 19:23-27)!

Revelation 7:9-17 – St. John is privileged a glimpse at the gathering of all the redeemed in Christ gathered around the throne of God. Some interpret these verses as applying only to those who perish in the final cataclysmic disasters and confrontations immediately preceding Christ’s return, but I think a wider interpretation is certainly possible and perhaps even warranted. The preceding verses detailing all the Tribes of Israel and numbers of completion (12, 100, 1000) indicate an emphasis on completeness – everyone is present who should be. Nobody is forgotten or overlooked. Additional emphases in v.9 about the immense number of people also point towards an interpretation that includes not just those martyred for their faith, and not just those who die in the tribulations immediately preceding the Day of Judgment (unless such language includes all of creation history as precursor to that day!). The net effect is one of both celebration and comfort. Whether we live and die in obscurity or enjoy the prestige of wealth and celebrity, all are present. John doesn’t (or isn’t able) to specifically identify important people in this gathering. The important thing is that everyone is there.

Psalm 149 – Foreshadowing the great song that runs through the early chapters of Revelation, this psalm is beautifully appropriate on this day when we remember the author of all creation as well as the salvation of mankind. What starts out as a beautiful psalm takes a curious turn in the second half, transitioning from praising God to wielding swords, executing vengeance and punishments, binding rulers and judging them! Does this work? Is this faithful?! It is. Praise of God and the wielding of the sword for his vengeance is distinct from our own sinful inclinations to draw our swords not so much in praise of God, and to implement our own vengeance or justice rather than the Lord’s. The rulers of this world may well require this sort of deposing, unwilling to cede their authority to the one and only King of Kings. But Jesus’ promises in his empty tomb are not simply an escape from sin and the pretensions of personal and worldly power we struggle with now, but a defeat of any and all powers that do not acknowledge and welcome Christ’s rule on Christ’s terms. Kingdoms are by nature anything but neutral, and in this psalm stand for those powers that would not only resist the reign of the righteous Lord of all, but would in the process seek to enslave and imprison those who are rightly citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

1 John 3:1-3 – We are given the Father’s love. What an apt metaphor. Just as a baby does nothing to earn the love of her parents, so we receive the love of God, a love that precedes our birth and extends beyond our death. Yet those who embrace the receive and embrace the love of God will look strange to a world that does not itself know God. Here in this world the love of God – which John always links to obedience, as per Jesus (John 3:36, or 1 John 5:2) – will often be labeled as the opposite. We see that more and more in popular media, where Christians are condemned for obedience to the Word of God rather than embracing the arbitrary and constantly shifting definitions of love our culture wants to substitute. But one day the truth will no longer be hidden, and people will no longer be able to peddle their own substitutes for God’s truth and love (Romans 1:18-23). One day, we are promised that as we come into the full presence of God, we will know ourselves and one another for who we truly are in Christ – perfect, holy, righteous, children of God.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes may seem like an odd choice for the Gospel lesson on All Saints Day. Though we must admit that, more often than not, those who are publicly acknowledged the title of saint are usually the lowly and the humble, those whose lives are wrapped up in a fair deal more sorrow or mourning or hungering or thirsting than most of us would aspire to for ourselves. Perhaps the essence of sainthood lies in that tenacity of faith that has no strength or time for a snappy, snarky comeback to the putdowns of the world, but simply clings desperately to the promises of life in Christ. The essence of sainthood is the absence of nearly all other significant, personal details, attributes, or accomplishments, and therefore by worldly standards may well indeed look undesirable, pointless, or wasted. But this tenacity of faith as small as a mustard seed and perhaps silent and well outside the spotlight is who we are in Christ. Not that our identities are lost or absorbed in him, as in some Eastern philosophies and religions, but that we can only be truly and best and fully known as ourselves in and through him. Almost like the reverse of the various digital photo filters so ubiquitous these days on smart phones, everything about us that is sinful and broken is stripped away in Christ and all that remains is actually everything that never was – you and I as we were envisioned by God the Father at the dawn of all creation. There is no room for any form or shape of worldly glory or beauty, as though any such thing were even possible outside of God!

To such saints, obvious or hidden around us, the promise of Christ is the kingdom of heaven and a reward there not dependent on elections or stock performance, that can never be threatened by the uncertainties of our daily existence here and now. So it is that, with what breath we have and while we have it, we can with the psalmist rejoice in the goodness of God and be glad despite whatever struggles we bear for the time being. And for those who pass from this life through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we can mourn their passing for the way it lessens life for those who remain, while looking forward to that day when we will all be together again forever!

Lutherans & The Real Presence & Eucharistic Miracles

October 22, 2020

Lutheran theology affirms that in Holy Communion, the consecrated wine and bread are united with the real body and blood of Jesus. This union is not symbolic – we are not just pretending the bread and the wine are also body and blood. But the union is also not necessarily discernable to empirical methodologies. If you place the wafer or a drop of wine under a microscope, a Lutheran would not be surprised that no elements of human tissue or blood are detectable. We affirm Christ’s bodily presence in a unique and special way – as opposed to the immanent presence of God that infuses all of creation, creating and sustaining all things and beings moment by moment. Holy Communion is different, we maintain in distinction from many of our other post-Reformation brothers & sisters in Christ. But we draw back from the full concept of transubstantiation as taught in the Roman Catholic Church. But our theology is closer to Roman Catholic than to many other Protestant denominations (and non-denominations).

If you’re interested in discussions of how and why Lutherans affirm the unity of the incarnate Christ in Holy Communion, here’s an excellent article. It explains why we interpret Christ’s words at the Last Supper literally, with a systematic explanation of how we maintain this interpretation. If you prefer a less systematic (but only slightly so) and more artistic explanation of Lutheran theology related to this, you might enjoy this article (and this corresponding image). For a Roman Catholic evaluation of Luther’s position on transubstantiation, this is a fairly accessible read.

But I got started on this track here. I’m aware of a tradition mostly in Roman Catholicism (exclusively?) of Eucharistic miracles – events associated primarily with consecrated hosts (bread) exhibiting supernatural characteristics. But it’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to. Many of my colleagues might dismiss it as a Catholic thing. But my avoidance of this topic mostly stems from a skepticism over the circumstances of the alleged miracles. Isn’t it all just hearsay? Can any of it be proved?

But the article above references an event in 2006. That’s pretty recent. And it alleged eminent forensic experts provided expert testimony as to the nature of the miracle. But it didn’t give me names. A few clicks more brought up this article. The second of the four stories on this web site actually listed some names, and I Googled one of the experts mentioned, Professor Maria Sobaniec-Lotowska, MD. She’s a real person. A real medical researcher. And one of her many publications has to do with Eucharistic miracles. It’s written in Polish, though, and Google’s attempt to translate it into English was problematic, to say the least. It appears to be a more speculative article than a medical one, however. But at least the Eucharistic miracle allegation cites an actual medical authority.

Maybe these events – at least some of them – could be true? Certainly I’m not the only skeptic. This website has some interesting information I may follow up on in the future. I’m sure there are plenty of others. Some of these events are modern and apparently investigated and documented using not just modern scientific methods but perhaps even modern understandings of evidence integrity.

What’s the takeaway, though?

I don’t view these miracles as attestations to the Roman Catholic Church as an institution. Do I believe God could cause these miracles? Of course. Am I able to determine or decipher his purposes for such? Not necessarily. Do these miracles contradict my Lutheran theological understanding of Holy Communion? I don’t think so. Perhaps if anything they have the potential to strengthen it. It’s definitely something I’m interested in learning more about. It’s hardly a necessary expression or demonstration of the faith, but it’s potentially a fascinating insight into the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Updates to Roman Catholic Doctrine

October 21, 2020

News outlets made some brief mention of a new papal encyclical released earlier this month, but largely it was ignored. Curious, seeing Pope Francis takes this opportunity to potentially end the Roman Catholic Church’s tolerance of both capital punishment and war. A good article summarizing this can be found here.

Based on Scripture, the Roman Catholic Church has long recognized the legitimacy of both capital punishment and “just” war, even as it often encouraged world powers and leaders to carefully consider the application of both these tragic tactics. But now, Pope Francis may just have effectively overturned 2000 years of Roman Catholic understanding in a single letter. It all hinges, I suppose, on how authoritative a papal encyclical is. As near as I can tell, the answer is it depends.

Within the Church, encyclicals were historically letters from a bishop (not just the Pope) to other church leaders, either in a limited or specific area or on a larger, church-wide scale. But there is obviously some confusion or at least a lack of consistency in defining what an encyclical means today, as my Roman Catholic go-to site demonstrates. An encyclical has a particular style and form to it, particularly in both how it begins and ends. But not all encyclicals follow this form.

Popes have various distinct ways of communicating their thoughts on subjects of interest. Papal bulls and briefs are two common options, though Popes also speak through speeches as well as more specific writings. This all is interesting enough, but then we have Pope Pius XII’s statement in his encyclical Humani Generis in 1950 (section 3) basically saying once a Pope has communicated his thoughts on a controversy, the controversy is essentially ended. In other words, when a Pope speaks in an encyclical, his statements can be binding on the Church.

I’ll be reading and commenting on Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti encyclical shortly. For now, I’m just amazed at how many different forms of communication a Pope might employ, and how those various forms are known more by their physical characteristics as opposed to their level of officialness. To my mind, it would seem to make sense that if a Pope wished to issue a binding decision for the entire Church for all time on a subject, it would take one form. An opinion that was considered guiding but not necessarily mandatory would take another, etc. Maybe that’s actually the case and my Protestant ignorance and Internet research simply hasn’t made that clear to me yet, in which case I’d VERY much appreciate some pointers from some of my Roman Catholic readers on how to better understand this issue!

In the meantime, it’s fascinating to think that war and capital punishment might just have been officially condemned by the Church, despite the fact God commands in Scripture the exact opposite in various places, notably Genesis 9:6 on the issue of capital punishment along with Exodus 31:15. I can see how an argument might be made that war is one of the things Scripture describes but does not prescribe, and sections (like most of the book of Joshua) describing war commanded by God are exceptions and special circumstances rather than an acknowledgement that war is something we are free to instigate on our own as a last resort. Saints Augustine and Aquinas – some pretty heavy hitters in Roman Catholic theological tradition – both specifically write to the contrary on the topic of war, but I suppose since they weren’t Popes, their opinions or interpretations can be superceded.

Education & Family

October 20, 2020

Here’s a fantastic speech by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. I find it interesting that despite scathing attacks by critics, and by a White House characterized more often than not as an unstable regime, DeVos has remained in her post since Trump appointed her in February 2017.

As our culture grapples with the need for reform on any number of fronts, family is the first place reform take place if any other kind of reform is to be successful. Repriortizing family as the fundamental unit of all the rest of society rather than usurping it through increasing governmental intervention and substitution is crucial. This means the gradual unraveling of the Gordian Knot our culture created in the turbulent revolutions of the 60’s. It means acknowledging that a two-family income is not the best way to improve families and that public education must serve the family rather than replace it.

A tough row to hoe, without a doubt. But it’s heartening that some in positions of influence see what needs to be done. I pray they – and we the people – are able to remain steadfast in accomplishing it!

Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ?

October 19, 2020

I’m leading a study of 1 Corinthians and we were going through the opening chapter Saturday morning when a question was raised. Is there a reason St. Paul would say Jesus Christ as in v.5, and in other places Christ Jesus, as in v.30?

In one sense, the answer could simply be literary variety, so the same phrase or words don’t become too repetitive. But then thanks to Janelle, who forwarded me this article, with some further food for thought!

It’s good to remember that Christ is a title, not Jesus’ last name or family name. And as the article points out, Jesus is very specific in terms of the incarnate Son of God as the particular man Jesus of Nazareth, and may emphasize his humanity. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word messiah, and may emphasize Jesus’ divinity. Together, they hold a central Christological concept – that Jesus the Christ was both true man and true God. Depending on what Paul is saying he may want to emphasize one of these two natures a bit more than the other.

Of further note in 1 Corinthians 1, when Paul says Jesus Christ he usually doesn’t just say Jesus Christ, but rather Lord Jesus Christ (with the exception of v.9, where instead of lordship Paul emphasizes Jesus’ sonship to the Father. When Paul places Jesus’ humanity first in this chapter he reinforces Jesus’ lordship. Jesus is our human lord as well as the divine Son of God. Jesus has a role in each of our lives, that of Lord. Present, not past tense. His lordship is here and now today, not just back then during his lifetime or somewhere in the indefinite future when He returns in glory.

It’s good to pause and think about the words of Scripture, especially when they’re so familiar we almost don’t even see them any more!

Reading Ramblings – October 25, 2020

October 18, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Reformation Sunday (Observed) – October 25, 2020

Texts: Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Context: Today we observe Reformation Sunday, as near an anniversary as possible to Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, asking for a theological discussion primarily centered on the issues of indulgences. Unknown and unanticipated to Luther, this would precipitate a series of unfortunate events and missteps resulting in a split in the Roman Catholic Church, a rift which has spawned innumerable forms of the Christian faith. The Reformation changed the world not just theologically but in many other aspects as well, as Eric Metaxas’ biography of Luther admirably enumerates. But chief among them all is the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news that what we cannot do on our own to erase our sins or establish our purity is done for us by Christ, and it is on the basis of his bitter sufferings and death, and his glorious and victorious resurrection from the dead that we are assured of our forgiveness as we trust his work on our behalf. In this season of acrimony and strife in the public space, all Christians should pause to give thanks to God for Jesus Christ. And while I can’t expect our Roman Catholic brothers & sisters to celebrate the Holy Spirit’s use of Luther, I pray they might at least acknowledge his clear and insistent declarations that it is God alone who saves!

Revelation 14:6-7 – The Good News of Jesus Christ as the sole means of salvation to any who would place their faith and trust in him (John 3:16) is indeed eternal. Often obscured, often an affront to our sinful desire to justify ourselves, the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be and will be eternally proclaimed – a call to faith and trust here and now, and our victorious refrain in glory and eternity. The emphasis on the diversity of peoples to whom the Gospel will come is interesting as Luther was adamant that Scripture and worship should be in the language of the people, rather in Latin – or any other language – they couldn’t read or understand. The goal of the Gospel is that God would be rightly acknowledged and praised as the Creator as well as the sole definition of goodness and righteousness. As such, He alone is able to rightly punish evil while calling all to faithful repentance that leads not to judgment and condemnation but mercy and life in Jesus Christ eternally.

Psalm 46 – There are several Korah’s mentioned in Scripture, as far back as one of Esau’s sons in Genesis 36. But the Korah we understand this and other psalms to be related to is mentioned in Exodus and then more notably in Numbers 16. Korah was a descendant of Levi and therefore of the priestly class. However Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, objecting to Moses and Aaron’s more lofty position before God as intermediaries between God and the people of Israel. God judges Korah for his disobedience, destroying he and his household and several other leaders involved in the rebellion. But Numbers 26:11 indicates Korah’s sons did not die with him, and they become associated with the service doorkeepers to the tent of meeting (the Tabernacle). Another group of Korahites are indicated as powerful fighting men (1Chronicles 12:6), but they are Benjamanites not Levites. It is most likely that the door-keeping Korahites are the ones associated with sacred singing and with certain psalms. If they are descended from the Korah of the rebellion in Numbers 16, it is interesting this psalm refers to the earth giving way – the fate which befell Korah and those who rebelled with him!

Romans 3:19-28 – Paul has just concluded his condemnation of all peoples – Jews and gentiles alike- in their disobedience and rebellion against God and his order. What hope do we have if not even the Chosen people of God who knew his laws and sought to keep them could be saved by them? Paul points clearly and plainly to our hope, hope based not in ourselves but in the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. Just as all have fallen short of God’s expectations because of sin, so all may be saved through the righteousness of the incarnate Son of God and his death not for his own sins but for ours. All sin stands condemned before God, and in Jesus all sin has been atoned for – past, present and future. We are saved through Christ’s blood as demonstrated in his resurrection from the dead. The debt of sin to death has been paid by him in full. Therefore we have hope. Death does not own us in our sinfulness, but our sin that would lead to eternal death has been paid for already in Christ’s death. In faith, we are set free from eternal death. Not because of ourselves but only and completely because of Christ!

John 8:31-36 – We are slaves to sin. As Americans just as surely as the Jews of Jesus day and everyone in between. We are not free on our own. We are not morally neutral, able to determine whether we are in need of God’s love in Christ or not. Rather, we are slaves and must be freed from the death which is our sinful due. The Word of God clearly tells us this and points us to look towards a solution, a solution not in ourselves but from God, though one of us (Genesis 3:15). We learn in this exchange that you can be a master of God’s Word, knowing it forwards and backwards and yet blind to what it’s telling you. The Jews believed their freedom was earned by their obedience to the Law and through the sacrificial system. But Jesus makes it clear that salvation comes through him alone. Only if the Son sets a slave free is that slave truly free. The slave cannot determine for themselves that the terms of their service entitle them to freedom. The Law and the sacrificial system were intended not to erase sin but to drive God’s people to reliance on him for forgiveness and grace – on his terms, not theirs.

How far are the religious leaders and experts in the Word of God from what the Word actually says? They are so far off the path they not alone fail to see Jesus for who and what He is, they believe they are justified in plotting his murder, that somehow breaking the Fifth Commandment will actually please God, the same God who commanded his people not to murder! Likewise, whenever we feel justified in acting against the Word of God we would do well to set aside our arrogance and return in repentance to the one who died that we might be set free.

Parents as Teachers

October 12, 2020

COVID has forced many parents to become teachers to their children. Our society in the last half decade has worked hard to convince parents this is a job better left to experts. But parents are their child’s first and best teacher. Not sure you agree? Here’s a great essay that defends that notion not just with Scripture but with a lot of data.

How could congregations better resource future and current parents to take on this task? How could congregations become the place where cultural assumptions – such as that both parents must work – begin to be challenged? How might congregations begin to insist that the well-being of children is not necessarily served best by economic advancement of the family unit at the expense of time for children and parents to be together?

Important questions for the future, not just in a time of pandemic.