Monthly Archives: May 2014

Thank You God I Am not Like the Unchurched

There is a certain protection in reading the Bible as a set of maxims for all times and places. Generic stories back then, mean generic applications today and we are off the hook.  It’s easy to be good in general, but the particulars are much more sticky.  It is a form of ear tickling, but a more subtle form than, say, the TV evangel.  There are generic characteristics to sin, but the number one such characteristic is the subtle way it twists and turns and disguises itself, virtue is just a few shades away from sin and yesterdays virtue is almost always an idol, just like the bronze serpent in the wilderness.

Christ Instructing Nicodemus, Jacob Jordaens. C.17th

Christ Instructing Nicodemus, Jacob Jordaens. C.17th

The story of Nicodemus in John 3 begins thus, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”  This is not just extra material put in for the fun of it, between the bumper sticker maxims.  This is key information to understanding the story that is to follow.  The message that Jesus gives is a specific tailored response to this man.  It was included in the gospel in this context.  If you don’t know who the Pharisees were and read these verses without that in mind, what you come up with is simply heresy, which is what heresy often is, an oversimplification of truth.  There are a lot of misconceptions these days surrounding who the Pharisees were.  We have been told they were only legalists, each trying to individually out perform the others and earn his salvation.  But this is reading American individualism back into these events.  They didn’t rely on their works, they relied on their identity as a Jew.  This man didn’t come to Jesus with questions about his soul, he came to Jesus with questions about defeating the non-Jews of the world, questions of the Kingdom.  Jesus answered him according to his soul, because that is the point of Jesus’ ministry as it was the point of the law.  Jesus is in a sense talking past this man to his disciples, which is why they recorded this event for us.  Jesus tells us he does this, talks in parables, for those who have ears to hear (Matthew 13:11).  But he is also talking directly to this man and all Jews.  If we want to understand him we need to have ears of the Spirit as well as some historical knowledge.

The Jews were to be a people set apart from other nations.  But not set apart to look down on the world but to save them.  This is what Jesus means when he says “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  This ruler of the Jews, and all the Jews for that matter, were looking for a conquering Messiah who would march out against the world and free the Jews from their oppression under Rome.  They wanted to condemn the world.  But Jesus came to save the world, as a Jew, as the Jew, he fulfilled the original purpose of the Jews.  Which was as a priestly nation to sanctify all of humanity.

We easily do the same thing today.  We don’t pray thanking God that we are better than the world because we are Jews in the covenant(Matthew 18:1-8), but we have our groups.  Thank you I am not like the Catholics who worship Mary.  Thank you I am not like the homosexuals who can’t even figure out sex.  Thank you I am not like the prosperity gospel crowd.  Thank you I am not like whatever group.  Instead of realizing that these people are in the dark because the Church, our group, has not done it’s job.  We have not shined our light into these dark places.  We have not been the salt of preservation.  We have not been priests on behalf of the people around us.  Instead we just sit around feeling good about our church club and waiting for God to come and wipe out the unchurched, like Rambo breaking his friends out of a jungle prison.  He just barely grabs onto that rope ladder dangling from the chopper before the whole thing burns up in fake, special effects napalm.

So Jesus gives the man parables, that is earthly things which express heavenly truths.  Actually most earthly things speak of heavenly truths and all heavenly truths are expressed by earthly things (Psalm 19).  He speaks of birth by water and wind(spirit).  Nicodemus doesn’t really get it because he is still thinking of earthly things and so Jesus jabs him “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  Interesting that Jesus speaks of himself as living by testimony, bearing witness to what he has seen, almost as if Jesus surprises himself.  Nicodemus must have already believed some earthly testimony, that’s why he came to Jesus in the first place.  But he is stuck on the earthly, he is stuck on earth.  Jesus tells him he must descend below, he must die.  There are lots of subtle hints at this, to be born again we must die.  Being born again implies new life from something that was not life, that is death.

Erection of the Bronze Snake. Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto. C. 1575

Erection of the Bronze Snake. Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto. C. 1575

Then Jesus brings in the story of the bronze serpent raised up by Moses.  And says after the Son of Man descends he will be raised up.  This invokes the act of baptism as well as the reality of humility leading to exaltation.  The story of the serpent is found in Numbers 21.  Again the people of Israel are complaining of hardships in the wilderness, much like the hardship of being under Rome.  So God sends snakes to punish them.  Then the people repent and plead to God. God has compassion, and he tells Moses to make a bronze serpent.  Now a bronze serpent raised up in the bright sun of the desert is hard to miss.  All the people had to do was look at it and they would be cured of their snake bites, of course they would look.  Jesus walking on this earth is that obvious.  This is why Nicodemus came, this is why everyone came.  There is something special about this Jesus person.  But they recognized the image without submitting themselves to it.  Like many good things, the serpent became an idol and it had to be destroyed by Hezekiah (II Kings 18:4).

Then Jesus takes the comparison further.  The Jews and religious leaders are so dumb they rejected this brilliant bronze serpent shining in the desert.  They didn’t want the light to shine on their little club, because they were afraid it would all be shown to be a fake.  So they preferred darkness.  How sad but how common.  We are faced with the same choice, clinging to our safe little club doctrine, the church as it is today, or throwing it out for the brilliant truth shining in the desert.  Now I am not saying we should reject the Church or the meeting together of ourselves.  But we need to be aware that we are here to shine and not to exclude.  We are here to come down from heaven to the world and baptize them with water and the Spirit, to testify of what we have seen and only then be raised up with Christ in heaven.

John 19:39 tells us that Nicodemus was there when Christ descended from the cross.  And we can assume that he was there when he was raised to the right hand of the father in heaven.

The Descent from the Cross. Peter Paul Rubens. C. 1614.

The Descent from the Cross. Peter Paul Rubens. C. 1614.  Two servants, Joseph of Arimathaea, Nicodemus, Mary the Mother of Jesus, St. John, Mary wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene.  (Jesus groupies were all named Mary. MFJs  Marys For Jesus.  I bet they had t-shirts and everything.)


Wear Your Bikinis to Sodom

Do you remember where you were the first time you saw adultery gloriously portrayed on the screen in front of you?  Probably not.  Do you remember the first time you saw two sodomites making out on the screen in front of you?  Probably. I remember both, the first actually happened while I was with a group of Christians.  It’s interesting how sin becomes normal to us.  Our concious makes grand protest the first time we are introduced to something evil, but after repeated attacks we are no longer as sensitive.  Satan knows this well, which is why he has cleverly disguised social decay as progress.  He literally has an army of people slowly introducing more and more evil into our daily lives until we are numb to it and ready for the next evil.  They bought adultery and became adulterers, now let’s try sodomy.  What’s next child sacrifice on TV?  Oh wait sorry, that already happened.

The Bikini Atoll is a small ring of islands, part of the Marshall Islands, that is somewhere far to the west of Hawaii.  Shortly after World War II the US began testing nuclear weapons at the atoll so they could study the effects on various types of ships and document the results.  Shortly after this, one Louis Réard got the brilliant idea to pass off ladies underwear as a legitimate swimsuit. He wanted a name that would express the explosive nature of this swimwear, so he called it the ‘bikini’.  They were thought to be so risqué, even in France, that no models were willing to model them for Réard, so he had to hire a stripper.  Today it a common household word and no one thinks twice about sending their little daughters out in public wearing them.  Interesting that we are still afraid of nuclear power to this day, but our fear of the bikini is almost gone.  Even as we read about another coal mining accident, nuclear power has proven the most safe form of power on the planet. Whereas the bikini has not been so benign.  Studies have shown that men who see a woman in a bikini begin to think of her as merely an object to be acquired, he does not see her as a person.  But we really don’t need a study, this should be obvious.  The collective consciences that initially rejected the bikini is all we really needed.  Today sex is out of control, yet having children in actual families is more and more rare.  This is not progress.

Satan likes to confuse the rejection of novelty with the rejection of the immoral.  If you stand with all of humanity from the past in rejecting something that has always been seen as immoral, you are just an old fuddy-duddy stuck in the past.  Just because something is old does not make it right but just because something is new does not make it right either.  And the fact that something is old at least means it has been tested and found successful.  But today we think anything new must be better.  It works for electronics, so it must work for morality. So we have been brainwashed into viewing looser and looser morality as progress.

The power of story to the human mind is profound and fundamental.  We are creatures of story, which is why the Bible is mostly stories.  We become like the stories we read.  The impact of stories in video form are magnified incredibly, as story is put into our head with almost no thinking.  It happens slow.  We are introduced to the sin a few times and we are shocked. We see it in a movie, someone else is engaged in the behavior as part of the story.  We justify it because this was the only movie available, and it was only a few minutes, and the rest of the movie was ok.  The next few times the shock is mostly gone and there is just a little thrill of evil. But these moving stories become our muse for life.  We begin to copy the behavior we have seen acted out.  The pattern has been set in our minds and we follow it.  The next thing we know we are saying and doing things that would have appalled an earlier version of ourselves, and God.  Evil men are well aware of this.  There was literally a conspiracy to push more and more immorality in Hollywood.  They undermined every sacred establishment; the church, the family, gender identity, country living, Christian values, and the value of hard work.  Instead Marxist ideas were inserted advocating big government, adultery, single life, city living, and freedom as doing whatever you want.  And they have been successful.  The average college student is religiously agnostic, politically marxist, and socially of Sodom.  The rejection of the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s law is seen as a virtue.

The men of old were well aware of the power of story too, which is why they spent so much time writing and telling moral stories.  They worked hard to preserve morality and to convey it to their children in stories.  They built walls of protection to ensure that the next generation honored God more than the previous.  This is the oft repeated command of the Old Testament, remember the faithfulness of God, when it seems to have faded.  Tell it to your children because they might not yet have experienced it.  Write it down.  Testify of his faithfulness. I was once quoted a common line from the Psalms such as 98:1, as a justification of throwing out old music for new.  ”Oh sing to the Lord a new song”  But the real meaning isn’t about worshiping what is new, it is about telling of God’s faithfulness.  It’s not about worship music, it’s about testimony. Put into words the real events in which God has been faithful and sing them from the mountain tops!  This is why the story of Amazing Grace is so powerful.  This is truly a new song.  But, I don’t hear songs like this anymore and only in some churches do they sing the old songs–Psalms.  I love this one but its hard to keep up with.

I was recently blown away, again, by the quality of old black and white movies.  I had seen quite a few of the most popular ones, and even their morality is shockingly Christian, but I was still surprised.  In the Maltese Falcon I was struck by the complex plot, and the way plot points were alluded to instead of spelled out as if we were idiots, the way that movies now do.  The dialogue was so much more complex, it contains long speeches each with more words than an entire movie these days.  And they have a sense of justice, correct justice.  Not Obama’s ‘fairness’ but evil is punished and it makes for a happy ending.  The Postman Always Rings Twice was a grand example of this.  And even the message of the title, God’s world does make sense, in the grand scheme, you might not hear the first ring but you always hear the second ring.  And love is never an excuse for adultery, or anything else.  And when it is used as an excuse everything falls apart, very much like reality.  But quite the opposite of all movies and TV these days.  Speaking of TV, did you see the sick new Oprah reality show mixing sodomy, politics and the NFL?



Federalism of Joshua 7

We breezed through Joshua 7 during last weeks sermon, discussing Achan’s sin.  It was briefly pointed out that sin is communal but there was much more in the passage.   I was struck by the way God reveals the sin.  He didn’t send a prophet or a special message, he allowed the arrogance of the people to defeat them in battle.  They had assumed that the Lord was with them because he had been before, so they carelessly paired down their army.  But there was unaddressed sin in their midst, so they were defeated.  Rather than putting a pillar of fire over Achan’s tent, telling them who was at fault, God takes them through a process which included the whole camp, every tribe of the people.  I don’t think this is just a passing fact.  God is connecting all of the people of Israel together.  Sin is not individual and revealing and dealing with sin is not individual either.  He goes backwards through the levels of oversight that should have caught Achan’s sin, those who should have held him accountable.  You can see the fear and then shame in the people as their tribe is chosen, Judah.  Then the family of Zerahites, as the drama plays out, no doubt the other families were relieved but not completely, they were all there, they were all connected, they had all shared in the defeat and shame.  Then the household of Zabdi was chosen.  They had to all be red faced, here in front of the whole nation their family was guilty. Then Achan was chosen.

This is a similar structure to the one laid out in Matthew 18, which we usually think of as church discipline.  These are levels of oversight because we are so evil, taking evil seriously requires people near us watching out for us.  When you sin your close family members are supposed to point it out, when it is small, before it gets out of hand.  If that doesn’t work take it to a few other families.  If that does not work take it to a few elders in the church.  If that doesn’t work take it to the whole church.

federal 1828This layered accountability is known as federalism, though the word originally meant covenant. The covenant or Constitution between the thirteen colonies was layerd so the word took on the character of our system. It is a political term, and it was applied here similar to the structure in Ancient Israel.  Authority and therefore accountability is kept as local as possible.  Realizing that people are the most free and the most accountable when they are dealing with people who know them and their situation.  This also acknowledges the reality that groups of people need some sort of structure when relating to one another.  Families form political or church bodies that come together to form larger groups like counties, states and countries.  This is the genius of our country and the wisdom of the founding fathers, who of course, borrowed their idea of federalism from scriptures like these.  They spoke often of the three realms of government; family, church, and state.  State also being a layered entity of towns, townships, counties, states and then the United States.  In our Constitution there are only a few things listed that are the duty of the United States Government, everything else is to be handled by each State.  The idea was, that this is also true of States.  The families reserving the right to handle the majority of issues themselves.

This used to be a common theme, in literature.  Victorian novels all contain court scenes of various types.  Little boys called up before the master of the house.  Men having their cases finally heard after years of injustice detailed in the novel.  Our pastor joked that the story of Achan didn’t have a happy ending.  But like those victorian novels, justice was done, everything was sorted out, that is a good ending in my book.  That is in fact the ending of the good book.  Jesus will judge all things, the secret things will be brought to light.  Justice will be done.  How much better could it get?

But today we have gotten away from Federalism.  No it’s not because those evil people in Washington D.C. did it to us.  It is that very thinking, blaming Washington for everything, that is the problem.  We like to keep government at an arms length, that way we can conveniently blame them for everything while not actually being accountable for our own sin.  If it’s all their fault what is one man to do?  You can see the pattern in the church today.  We rarely use the ‘go to your brother’ portions of Matthew 18 these days.  We don’t stop sins while they are little, we wait until they are huge and then get the whole church to deal with them.  Is it any wonder we do the same thing politically?  We don’t want the responsibility so the people in Washington are happy to fill in the void. Someone has to take responsibility, that’s just how it works here on this earth.  And if you don’t want the responsibility you don’t get the freedom or the glory that goes along with it.  If you want sanctification without following Christ in his death to self, you are a rebel.  When whole nations rebel, God sends a dictator, that’s just how it works.

federalWe do the same thing with the way we raise Children.  We don’t address sins when they are small we wait until they are out of control.  Then we want someone else to fix little Johnny.  We overlook the little sins in the pre-teen years and then when those sins grow out of control in the teen years, we lament that “he used to be such a good kid”.  We don’t teach them to be disciplined with their eating habits and then lament that they can’t handle sex. We don’t point out flaws in the way they mishandle small amounts of time or money and then we lament that they can’t handle all their time and money when they are older.  These problems have become so pervasive that we have begun to think this cycle is normal.  We treat it as a fact outside of our control instead of a failure.

We need to get back to a proper understanding of the serious nature of sin.  Our ancestors were not just prudes and we are liberated.  They put safeguards in place for a reason.  They were aware of the dangers of sin and they seriously wanted to stop it.  They didn’t just play at it like we do, as we follow the world and wonder why things keep getting worse in government and in our homes.  They placed blame where it was due and fixed the problem, we blame God under any number of pseudonyms.  ”That’s just the way it is.”  ”It’s just how I am.” “it’s a disease.” and on and on.  If the Church does not lead who will?  We have the very words of God.  We need to start acting like it.

NDO Commission Meeting Report

I attended the City Commission meeting last week on the topic of a ‘Non-Discrimination Ordinance’. And, I was shocked by all of the hatred that was allowed to be promulgated.  There was a string of people who had been holding onto life-long grudges and they were looking for blood. I think they thought they were advocating fairness or possibly justice.  They seemed to think they had a strong argument by summing up the teachings of Jesus as ‘love everybody’.  I wonder if this includes pedophiles?  Of course the greatest heresy of our day is equating Jesus with ‘love’ and equating ‘love’ with “I can do whatever I want and you can’t even hint that I might be wrong”. It was no surprise that none of them quoted Jesus on the topic of, say, forgiveness.  Such as, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”.  No this might make a lifelong grudge against your parents for being disappointed that you had a chopadickoffamy, look petty.   It might make your laments about a high school bully 30 years ago, sound a lot like Uncle Rico. It might make your active repetitive campaigning to pass a law to force people to conform to your views look spiteful.

Interesting that there was no one there appealing to the Koran.  No, everyone seemed to appeal to the Bible or to Jesus  Though it seemed that most of this was 3rd hand, since it didn’t have much to do with what 2000 years of Christendom agreed was what Jesus taught, as recorded in Holy Scripture.  There were a few people who appealed to the god of PhD and one guy seemed to think he wrote Leviticus, but basically it was all about ‘Jesus’.  So, it was ‘Christians’ vs. Christians.  Which is an interesting dichotomy.  You have one group of new ‘Christians’ taking a matter of theology before a City Commission, claiming that old Christians were wrong in rejecting LTBTXYZ and that Jesus really meant to allow everything, because it is loving.  Who is mixing the realms of Church and State again?  Surely this is a matter for the Church.  Im sure all of these people took their cases to their home Church authorities.  Of course that didn’t happen.  And in addition, none of them have taken  their cases before any civil magistrate.  And it’s not because we don’t have enough laws or ordinances.  It’s because they don’t have a case.  All they have are hurt feelings that have been cultivated into grudges that now seek revenge.  They come with emotional appeals, and manufactured hardships because that’s all they have.

Past generations overcame their hardships.  One person went on with a litany of all the persecuted peoples in this country the Irish, Chinese, Jews etc, which is all true.  The only difference is that none of them ever asked for special treatment, they overcame. The poured their blood, sweat and tears into proving those who looked down on them wrong.  They turned hardships into success by perseverance. But this new group proves that they don’t deserve our respect by the fact that they don’t even try to earn it, instead they want to turn failure into litigation. Rather than proving the ‘evil’ Christians who discriminated against them wrong, they come wining to the government.  And apparently this single ordinance is going to stop all school bullies, all parents who make their kids feel bad, and all those evil bigoted Christians who dare to think there is such a thing as wrong.  Utopia is only a few pen strokes away. I can’t believe in 2000 years no one ever thought of this!

But there is real hate popping up in our town.  Just down the street the Catholics built a beautiful addition onto their 100 year old building and some vandals came along and painted obscenities all over it and one of our Christian schools was set on fire.  The supporters of this NDO don’t use paint and fire but they want to use lawyers and litigation instead.  Shall we allow them to paint graffiti on a Christian culture that they could not build?  Shall we allow them to set fire to a cultural success story they did not read?  I don’t think so.

Liturgical Absence

Interesting how a senior pastor being away can reveal the reality of your Church’s liturgy.  We Evangelicals don’t like liturgy ever since Martin Luther said it was all about the individual( that’s not at all what he said. modern all-I-need-is-my-Bible thinking would have been a joke to him).  And we have been making every attempt to distance ourselves from them ever since.   But the reality is the every church has a liturgy.  We have liturgies for our family, our friendships and even our day.  We get up, brush our teeth, shower eat breakfast, whatever.  The question is not between liturgy or no liturgy but between good and bad liturgy.  Pretending you don’t have a liturgy is bad liturgy by definition.  It is ensuring that you have not thought out how to use your liturgy to glorify God.


Something's missing.

Something’s missing.

It’s typical of rebellion that it throws out the content and unknowingly keeps the trappings as if they were not constructs, as if they were neutral.  We see it in our rebellious university system, which was once strictly based on a long tradition of classical education put under the Lordship of Jesus.  Today we cram all those core classes into the curriculum, but we don’t really know why.  People always complain about having to learn math, or science or English when that is not their degree.  But we threw out the content and filled it with fluff and we can’t talk about why, because that is too Christian.

The same is true of our Winter Celebrations in the schools which are blatantly devoid of any mention of Christmas, but don’t really offer anything more in it’s place.  I was struck by the moment of silence at our City Commission meetings, where the prayer used to be.  It’s like the emperor has no clothes moment.  Hello? the meeting has no content and it certainly does not have the blessing of God.  Who are the Deists again?  Benjamin Franklin called for prayer, famously at the Constitutional convention when the delegates found themselves in a tough spot, as well as before every meeting.

I think we have a similar practice at Grace, when we have a moment of silence, or a moment to quite our hearts before worship. Don’t think about what you did this week.  Go ahead try it.  Of course you can think of nothing else.  Negative thoughts don’t work to well, it’s like that story of the demon who was cast out but never replaced. This is where the other denominations, the ones who admit their liturgy, put in confession.  We aren’t really into that much anymore.  I guess we don’t like to beforgiven.  Confession is important,  ”Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Glad to see Pastor Jeremy leading by example.  What is this clearing your mind stuff? Are we on a mountain in Tibet?  We don’t need to clear our mind we need to clear our accounts sheet, we need to keep short accounts.  When we sin, God and whomever we sinned against hold our debt, until we make it right.  But hey American’s don’t pay their monetary debts why should they pay these?

So, back to the order of liturgy,  of course there is the possibility that you arrange your liturgy based on the personal preferences of one person or another, traditional hymns or modern praise songs.  Even that is better than arranging it based on what is not-Catholic.  But there is another option, that you all work together to build a liturgy that glorifies God the best way you know how.  And to press for further and further knowledge and understanding as in this and all areas of our Christianity.  There is also a vast wealth left to us by previous Christians.  But again, in an attempt distance ourselves from he Catholics, we cut off all the riches that previous generation can give to us.

The Father of English Hymnoty, Issac Watts was in love with the Psalms, but he thought it was regrettable that they didn’t explicitly refer to Jesus. So, he sought to rewrite the Psalms to do just that.  This is progress, this is using human creativity and your mind to glorify a precise God.  But then a huge wave of Enlightenment swept in and started throwing out tradition for the sake of throwing it out. Emphasis became on personal salvation, getting butts in the seats and dramatic conversions, the emphasis became man.  Individual men began doing everything to make himself feel good, to express himself. He used to dress out of respect for his community, now he dresses to feel good and express himself.  He started tattooing and cutting himself to distinguish his individuality and then demanding that people accept him.  He started writing music the same way.  He threw out the Psalms and even the Hymns, and pretty soon he couldn’t write hymns anymore.  His children had heard of hymns but their music was even more simple. It amounted to little more than sappy love ditties with Jesus inserted instead of their beau, sung to 4 guitar chords repeated over and over.  They didn’t write music  they discovered it.

So yeah, It is certainly not about us.  But it is also not just ‘about God’.  It is about conforming ourselves to the objective standard, to God’s standard.  We were placed on this earth for a reason, we have real tasks that we can accomplish, we are the body of Christ.   But if the church is a self-serving, simplistic, mess what good can it be to the world?  It is time we started taking liturgy seriously.