Sunday, June 29, 2014

Joe Biden and Civilized Nations

Matthew 5:11–12 (NKJV)
11 “Blessed are you when [men] revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Vice President Joe Biden declared this last Tuesday that “protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.” He warned other nations that there is a price to pay for failing to do so.

We shouldn't misunderstand what this means. In one fell swoop, Biden has identified all traditional Christians – as well as Jews and Muslims for that matter – as enemies of civilization. Of course, Biden is using this rhetoric to justify intervention and regime change in Africa, the Middle East, and Russia. But such a statement must necessarily relegate us to barbaric status as well. Should this policy prevail, we will find ourselves the object of discrimination and persecution, labeled as “those who turn the world upside down.”

It is fitting for us to remember, therefore, how we are to respond to such persecution. It is ever easy to take opposition personally and forget that in defending the cause of Christ we’re not defending ourselves but the truth. And because we’re defending the truth, we can rest in the knowledge that God is His own best Defender. He will vindicate His Name and demonstrate to all nations that He is Yahweh.

In the meantime, our calling as individuals is to imitate His grace and mercy by showing kindness to those who persecute us or say all kinds of evil against us. While standing courageously for the truth and speaking it frankly, we are to look for ways to bless and extend grace to our persecutors. Why? Because this is the way God acts toward his enemies day by day. And if God extends grace, ought not we?

We must always beware the lure of moralism and defensiveness; we must ever remember the grace and mercy that God has extended to us and so extend it to others. As we do so, we can rest in God’s promise that no gracious word, no good deed, no turning of the other cheek will go unnoticed. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And this type of faith manifesting itself in love is precisely what the Apostles modeled for us when they were persecuted by the Jerusalem authorities for preaching Christ – they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name (Acts 5:41b).

But often we respond to the criticisms and slanders of others not by giving a blessing but by giving an insult instead. Rather than returning good for evil, we return evil for evil. But this is not the way of our Lord Christ, nor is it the way that God will work to bring the nations to bow before Christ and acknowledge Him to be Lord of all. So let us confess our sin to the Lord and pray that He would enable us to give a blessing instead.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sin in our Context

"Only 17 percent of Americans define sin in relation to God, so for the overwhelming majority sin has become a trivial matter, no more serious than having violated some church rule about something quite inconsequential... [But] Sin is all about taking issue with God, defying him, refusing to submit to him, and displacing him from the center of our existence... We imagine that within ourselves we have power enough, wisdom enough, and strength enough to live in security, in the fullness of happiness, as we want to live, amidst all the conflicts and opportunities of life... But all expressions of sin break apart what God has put together. Sin began by breaking apart our relation to God, and from this followed every other breach that has left life in pain, confusion, and disarray."

David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, pp. 102-104.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Lord of Glory

"When the Apostle says of the Jews that they crucified the Lord of Glory, and when the Son of man being on earth affirms that the Son of man was in heaven at the same instant, there is in these two speeches that mutual [sharing] before mentioned. In the one, there is attributed to God or the Lord of Glory death, whereof Divine nature is not capable; in the other ubiquity unto man which human nature admitteth not. Therefore by the Lord of Glory we must needs understand the whole person of Christ, who being Lord of Glory, was indeed crucified, but not in that nature for which he is termed the Lord of Glory. In like manner by the Son of man the whole person of Christ must necessarily be meant, who being man upon earth, filled heaven with his glorious presence, but not according to that nature for which the title of man is given Him."

Hooker as quoted footnote 3 of Cassian's Seven Books in NPNF, p. 577.

Eternal Father, Eternal Son

"Tell me then, before the Lord Jesus Christ was born of His mother Mary, had God a Son or had He not? You cannot deny that He had, for never yet was there either a son without a father, or a father without a son: because as a son is so called with reference to a father, so is a father so named with reference to a son." 

John Cassian (c. 360-485), The Seven Books of John Cassian on the Incarnation of our Lord, Against Nestorius, NPNF, p. 574.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Worship and Posture

Psalm 95:6–7 (NKJV)
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. 7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand.

One of the most frequent questions visitors have about our service of worship, one of the questions that you may also have, is this: What’s with all the different postures? We sit, we stand, we kneel, we bow heads, we lift hands – why all the variety?

The answer to these questions is threefold: first, God did not create us as mere spirits but as creatures with body and soul. As those who have bodies, God expects us to use them for His honor. Paul writes, “…you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Our bodies belong to God and so what we do with them is important. Our actions should should reflect our reverence for Him and our knowledge that one day Christ will return in glory and raise these very bodies from the grave. Our bodies matter.

So this leads us to the second answer to our question: why all the variety? The answer is that in worship there are a variety of things we do. We praise and thank the Lord; we confess our sins; we hear the assurance of forgiveness; we listen to the reading of God’s Word; we confess the creeds; we present our tithes and offerings; we pray; we learn from the Scriptures; we feast with God at His Table. This wonderful variety demands a variety of responses – both verbally and bodily. There is no “one size fits all” bodily posture.

And this is why, third, the Scriptures invite us to worship God with a variety of postures – standing, kneeling, sitting, lifting hands, etc. So notice our text today from Psalm 95 - Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. This is but one example of the types of bodily invitations given in the context of worship.

But let us beware that we not merely go through the motions. For the ultimate reason that our posture changes is that we worship in God’s very presence. He is here with us and we dare not treat Him lightly. He calls us to worship; we respond by standing to praise Him. He thunders at our sin; we respond by kneeling to confess it. He assures us of pardon; we stand to listen and enter boldly into His presence through the blood of Christ. He instructs us from His Word; we stand to give our attention to its reading. This is the drama of the Divine Service – but it’s a drama that is meaningful only when accompanied by hearts that love and cherish Him.

So what of you? Why do you stand? Why do you kneel? Why do you sit? Do you do it just because that’s what you’re being told to do? Do you kneel so you won’t appear out of place? Do you sit so you can take a nap? Or do you do all these things because you recognize with awe and wonder that the God we worship this Day has invited you into His very presence to worship?

So today as we have entered into God’s presence He has thundered at our sin – let us confess that we have often just gone through the motions of worship; and let us kneel as we confess together.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pastors and Politics

Well it seems the editor of the Coeur d'Alene Press is upset that a number of local pastors have expressed "political" opinions and may very well have influenced the last election. There was an article in the press expressing Representative Ed Morse's exasperation at his and others' defeat in the recent election. In the article he is quoted as claiming that he is going to bring these actions to the attention of the IRS. More disturbing than Representative Morse's exasperation was the editorial piece of the same day. Yikes!

I debated writing a letter in response but couldn't get myself sufficiently motivated. Fortunately, a number of folks have written some excellent responses. Scott Grunsted offered a compelling critique of the editorial and corrected many of the misrepresentations of the Founding Fathers found therein. Unfortunately, the Editor missed Grunsted's point and entitled his article, "Church, State are inseparable." This is not the point Grunsted was making and very few Christians would defend it.

We must distinguish between the issue of church/state and relgion/state. Church and State are separate in Scripture - kings were not priests and priests were not kings. Consider that King Uzziah was struck with leprosy when he tried to assume priestly duties for himself. While Church and State are separate, religion and state are not. Every state, ancient and modern, is built upon some religious foundation. The reason is that states impose morality - they penalize certain behaviors and reward others. So how does a state decide which actions to penalize and which to reward? Religion. Historically the religious foundation animating our public policy has been Christian. We are now in the process of apostatizing and abandoning this foundation - and the ease with which this is being accomplished is due, in part, to the failure of our Founding Fathers to articulate in our founding documents the necessity of this Christian foundation. While they did make the point in their private correspondence and public letters and speeches, they did not make this explicit in our Constitutional documents and this was a tragic error. It seems unlikely that our great republic will be able to persist as a result. Hopefully, the next time such an experiment as America takes place, their founders will repudiate the heretical notion of the secular state and recognize that every state is built upon some religious foundation. And the religious foundation that provides for personal liberty, liberty of conscience, and constitutional limits on political power is the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Another excellent letter responding to the editorial was written today by Kim Cooper. She demonstrates the absurdity of the editorial's attempt to compartmentalize portions of people's lives. She gives a great example of worldview thinking! Excellent work.

Let us just note in passing the inconsistency of the editorial as well. The press has campaigned rather clearly for numerous moral principles lately. They've opposed bullying, advocated the homosexual agenda, and portrayed the transgendered agenda sympathetically - and on each of these issues prominently featured within the articles is the Human Rights Education Institute and Mr. Tony Stewart. Is bullying wrong? Let's ask Mr. Stewart and find out. Should homosexuality have public sanction? Let's ask Mr. Stewart, he'll tell us. But has anyone cried foul? After all, I think that the HREI is a 501c3 entity. How dare they dabble in politics? Sheesh! Haven't they read those regulations? But of course it's ok for them to express opinions, teach at the local government schools, nurture our children in the evils of discrimination because - well, because they agree with us! But those pastors - shut them up! Wisdom is justified by her children.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cleave unto your Wife

"The sum of the whole is, that among the offices pertaining to human society, this is the principal, and as it were the most sacred, that a man should cleave unto his wife. And he amplifies this by a superadded comparison, that the husband ought to prefer his wife to his father. But the father is said to be left not because marriage severs sons from their fathers, or dispenses with other ties of nature, for in this way God would be acting contrary to himself. While, however, the piety of the son towards his father is to be most assiduously cultivated, and ought in itself to be deemed inviolable and sacred, yet Moses so speaks of marriage as to show that it is less lawful to desert a wife than parents. Therefore, they who, for slight causes, rashly allow of divorces, violate, in one single particular, all the laws of nature, and reduce them to nothing. If we should make it a point of conscience not to separate a father from his son, it is a still greater wickedness to dissolve the bond which God has preferred to all others." 

John Calvin, Commentary upon the Book of Genesis.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday and The Covenant of Redemption

John 17:1–6 (NKJV)
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday the Church has set aside to remind the people of God that the God we worship is Triune – three Persons in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later in worship we will recite the Athanasian Creed, one creedal attempt to give expression to God’s Triune nature.

In our Scripture today Jesus prays to the Father and in so doing illustrates the interpersonal dynamic that has existed for all eternity among the Persons of the Trinity. First, we note that the Father and the Son – together with the Spirit, we might add – share glory. Jesus prays, And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. Jesus asks the Father – the Father who declared through Isaiah, “My glory I will not give to another…” – Jesus says to this Father, glorify Me together with Yourself… And note that it is a particular type of glory, the glory which I had with You before the world was. Prior to His incarnation, Jesus existed in the form of God and, though His deity was veiled during His time on earth, now that He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, that glory has been restored to Him. Jesus was and is God Himself in human flesh.

Second, our text reveals that in eternity past, before the world was, when the Father and Son shared glory, they communed with one another, lived in a relationship of love with one another. Jesus alludes to this eternal communion and communication a couple times. Recall Jesus’ words: I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. The Father gave Jesus a task to accomplish, a work to perform. So when did the Father give Him that work? The Scriptures answer: in eternity past, before the world was, when the Father and Son communed together. But there’s more. Not only did the Father give the Son a task to do, He also gave Him a people to call His own. Jesus prays, I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me So when did the Father give these people to the Son? Before the world was. As Paul writes in Ephesians, the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.

This interaction between the Father and the Son prior to the foundation of the world is sometimes called the Covenant of Redemption or the pactum salutis. Louis Berkhof explains: Now we find that in the [plan] of redemption there is, in a sense, a division of labor: the Father is the originator, the Son the executor, and the Holy Spirit the applier. This can only be the result of a voluntary agreement among the persons of the Trinity, so that their internal relations assume the form of…covenant life. In fact, it is exactly in the trinitarian life that we find the archetype of [pattern for] the historical covenants…(266) God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have dwelt in covenantal life for all eternity and so the way that God interacts with us is by covenant as well, as we will see later today.

As we consider this Covenant of Redemption, that before the foundation of the world God thought of us, loved us, and gave us to be Christ’s own people – apart from any merit of our own; indeed despite the demerit which He knew we would deserve – ought we not to be humbled and awed that the Creator of all took notice of us? As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so reminded of the great love which the Father has bestowed upon us, and that He loved us before the foundation of the world and loves us despite our unloveliness, let us confess that we are unworthy His love. Let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Existentialism and the Transgendered Movement

Below are notes from my sermon on Sunday endeavoring to highlight the connection between Existentialism and the transgendered movement and the way in which this deviates from the special creation described in Genesis 1-2; we might also add how demeaning the transgendered movement is to folks caught in its snare. May God have mercy upon us.

In the 20th century there emerged an incredibly influential philosophical movement known as Existentialism. This movement is the driving force behind much of the political and moral disarray occurring today – though most people are unaware of these philosophical underpinnings. Existentialism grew out of the teachings of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre explains existentialism thus:
Atheistic existentialism, which I represent…states that if god does not exist, there is at least one being [man] in whom existence precedes essence… This means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence. Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.      Jean-Paul Sartre

And, Sartre would go on to declare, you can make of yourself whatever you want – the important thing is to do, to will, to make of yourself something, anything. You define; you decide; existence precedes essence. Existentialism! You popped on the scene and now you have to figure out who you are and what you are going to be.

Notice the way this philosophy drives our current cultural debates – even in our local government school system and the push to make the schools endorse transgenderedism: Are you born male? It matters not – you can choose to be female. Are you born female? It matters not – you can choose to be male. Choose. It’s all in the choosing. There is no god who defines us; no higher standard that bounds us. You exist – you were born this way. But that doesn’t define who you are. Your essence is something you choose – and all that matters is the choosing.

But let me suggest that this is the very thing symbolized by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sartre is the serpent of the 20th century. He has tempted us to be “like god” – to define good and evil for ourselves; to say what is and what is not good and noble and right; to live autonomously as a law unto ourselves. But in the end, this will lead to death – indeed it already has: the deaths of millions of children still in the womb.

You see, Sartre and Peter Singer (Utilitarian Philosopher at Princeton) are of a piece. “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself,” Sartre pronounces. Or as Singer would have it: “Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term “human” has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal members of our species as possessing greater capacities of rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and so on, than members of any other species; but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be.” For they must be able to choose; they must be able to make something of themselves.

So what are we to think of a human being who cannot articulate that choice? What are we to think of those who are suffering from dementia or cerebral palsy or madness – or perhaps even religious mumbo-jumbo? After all the Soviets determined that religious belief was a mental abnormality that needed to be cured; and Richard Dawkins has said much the same. So what are we to think of such human beings? They are expendable – for they lack the features that we (the elite like Peter Singer) have determined are meaningful for life.

But this is absolutely foreign to the Word of God. God defines us. We enter into the world pre-defined. Essence precedes existence. We have some form of essentialism not existentialism! God defines you – you are a human being, made in God’s image, invested with dignity and honor not because of what you have done but because of what you are. God has made you and crafted you and breathed into you the breath of life.

If you are male, God made you male and gives you a distinct calling to be a man. If you are female, God made you female and gives you a distinct calling to be a woman. You cannot redefine these things. The definition has already been established. So receive who you are; receive it as a gift from God and rejoice in it. God made you a man; made you a woman. Rejoice, give thanks, and sing! You bear the very image of God, an image that cannot be taken away.

You can’t redefine but you can rebel like Adam and Eve. But the result of rebellion is death, destruction, judgment. There is no third option.