Sunday, December 27, 2015

Allah is an Idol

2 John 9–11 (NKJV)
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

Today is the first Sunday of Christmas – a glorious opportunity to continue celebrating the Incarnation of Jesus. John’s words today remind us that the Incarnation of Jesus is not just an interesting fact of history that is relatively unimportant; rather it is the reality that shapes the very meaning of the name “Christian.”

Truth matters. Hence, to reject the “doctrine of Christ” – by which John means the reality of the Incarnation, that the Word of God, He who was in the beginning with God and was God, took on human flesh and dwelt among us – is to reject God Himself. Those who profess faith in “God” but who reject God’s Son do not worship God but an idol. They may be sincere; they may be kind; they may be gracious; but they are not worshipers of the true and living God.

John insists on the inseparability of the Father and the Son. We cannot have the Father without the Son; nor can we have the Son without the Father. Jesus Himself declared, He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (Jn 5:22-23). Consequently, John forbids us from recognizing as brethren those who deny Jesus. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

As you may know, Wheaton College was in the news a couple weeks ago for indefinitely suspending a professor for declaring that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. This action by Wheaton’s president Philip Ryken was encouraging. Like the Docetists whom John is addressing, Muslims worship an idol, they do not worship the Living God. Sura 4.171 in the Koran declares,
O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Marium and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His apostles, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector.

According to Islam, therefore, Jesus is not God. How then is it possible to confess in any meaningful way that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? One can only do so by repudiating the "doctrine of Christ" and ceasing to be a Christian in any meaningful sense. Allah is an idol; Yahweh is the Living God.

John’s words again remind us that we are called upon to worship the Jesus who has revealed Himself in history; we are to worship and serve the Jesus of revelation not the Jesus of our imagination. And this means drawing lines, making distinctions, and saying – what you are teaching is false.

As we come into the presence of God this day, therefore, we are summoned to come into His presence only in the Name of His Son Jesus, for there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. And reminded that truth matters, let us confess that we are often afraid to stand for truth and against error. And let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Homily 2015

The passages before us today from the prophets and from the Gospel of Luke share a common theme – the arrival of the Branch of the Line of David. Isaiah first heard God’s promise of the Branch – a king who would rule and reign in righteousness. The Branch would not be like the false shepherds in Isaiah’s day – kings who looked out only for their personal interests, pursuing personal gain at the expense of the sheep. Rather, He would be filled with the Spirit of God, filled with wisdom, knowledge, and discretion – modeling the character of God Himself. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of kings like Manasseh and Amon.

Over a hundred years later, Jeremiah picked up on this same promise. Disgusted like Isaiah with the selfishness and folly of the kings of Israel he reminded his readers of God’s promise through Isaiah. One day God would raise up to David a Branch of righteousness. This king would reign and prosper, saving and protecting His people, upholding righteousness and purity in His person. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of kings like Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.

Another hundred years later, Zechariah returned to the same promise. Though Israel then lacked a king and was subject to foreign rule, God told Zechariah to set a kingly crown upon the head of the High Priest Jeshua. For the Branch would be not only Israel’s king but also her high priest. “He shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne” and, “The counsel of peace shall be between the two offices.” This priestly king would not abuse the authority granted to Him but would rule and reign in righteousness and justice, bringing light to all the world. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of Persia, Greece, and Rome.

But then, over four hundred years later, an angel spoke to some shepherds. The long-promised Branch of righteousness, the Shepherd of Israel, the One who would rule and reign in justice was to be born. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this would be good news not just for Israel but also for all people, for all the nations of the earth, for all the families of the earth. The light is coming, the world will change. Then glory filled the sky, the light and life of the Messiah’s rule reflected itself in the voices and faces of the angelic host as they declared that the prophecies of Isaiah and of Jeremiah and of Zechariah were coming to fruition. Praise filled the sky as the angels marveled that the mercies of God would now extend to all the peoples of the earth. Light had come!

So what do these words mean for us? Just this: the darkness of the Judaic Age has come to an end. The Judaic Age – when God’s presence was by and large limited to the land of Israel, closeted behind the veil in the Holy of Holies – the Judaic Age has passed. Now the Age of the Messiah has come – all nations have been given to Him and so the Word of Truth, the light of life, is going forth to all the nations of the earth. The Spirit of God has been poured out on the Church and is now pouring forth from her into the world bringing life and salvation in His wake. God has begun to fulfill the promises He made long ago through the prophets. He has given a King to rule and reign in Justice; He has given a High Priest to minister in the Temple. And this King, this High Priest is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Branch from the Stem of Jesse.

It is this transition from darkness to light that we sung of just a moment ago. In the darkness of the ancient world, amidst the rot and decay of paganism, amidst the folly of apostate Judaism, came the Root and Branch of David.

Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half-spent was the night.

And from this Root, this Branch, planted by the hand of God, a great tree has grown which shall one day fill the entire earth.

“This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.”

It is the planting of this Branch, the Branch of Righteousness, which we celebrate today. The light has come – let us feast! Our King sits upon His throne – let us rejoice! Our High Priest has offered up a perfect sacrifice on our behalf and offers up prayers and petitions for us continually – let us give thanks! And let us start even now. Let us pray together:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Isn't that a bit harsh?

2 John 7–8 (NKJV)
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.

For the last several weeks we have seen that John has emphasized the integral nature of truth and love. Truth and love are not competitors but companions. Last week we saw that love, in particular, has substance. This is love, John told us, that we walk according to God’s commandments. Love is not primarily an emotion but an action – keeping God’s commandments from the heart.

Today John reminds us again that truth matters. There were teachers in John’s day called Docetists who claimed to be Christians; they professed faith in “Jesus.” But the Docetist “Jesus” was a fiction of their own imagination not the Jesus who actually revealed Himself in history. The Docetists claimed that Jesus had only seemed or appeared to be an actual human being. In point of fact, however, he had been a spirit guide, come to teach us how to escape the prison house of our flesh and reunite with the Eternal Spirit. Jesus had not come in the flesh.

John’s evaluation of the Docetists is blunt. He labels them “deceivers” who had gone out into the world and who had no love for the truth. But John goes further. He writes that such a teacher is not only a deceiver but an antichrist. These teachers, John insists, are enemies of Christ notwithstanding all their fair words and profession of faith in him.

Judged by many today, John’s words are incredibly unloving. “How can he be so judgmental? Deceiver? Antichrist? Isn’t that a bit harsh?” But John’s words are merciful and gracious, a reflection of his deep love for his readers. How so? Because what the Docetists were teaching was damning. A Jesus who did not take on human flesh and offer Himself a sacrifice on our behalf is no Savior. Were these professing Christians to embrace such a “Jesus”, they would be damned and lose the reward, eternal life, for which they had been aiming. So John was being most loving, warning them that the liquid they were being urged to drink was not medicine for the healing of their souls but poison that would damn them to hell.

Once again, therefore, we see how imperative it is for us to take our notions of truth and love from Scripture. Love warns those who are in danger of the danger they are in. Love warns the people of God against the Jesus of Mormonism and Unitarianism and Liberalism and sentimental Americanism and Islam and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The “Jesuses” they teach and embrace cannot save you; they are no more powerful than an imaginary friend. But the Jesus revealed in Scripture, God Himself in human flesh, can indeed save for He actually lived, died, and rose again.

So reminded that merely invoking the name “Jesus” is not sufficient but that the Jesus we invoke must be the Jesus who has revealed Himself in Sacred Scripture, let us kneel and confess that we often prefer our own thoughts of Jesus to the Jesus revealed in the pages of Scripture.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Shouldn't you have more compassion?

I've received diverse feedback on my recent My Turn piece in the Coeur d'Alene Press (here). On the negative side, the most frequent critique is that I need to have more compassion, need to be more loving, and need to consider what Jesus would say or do. Below is a response I wrote to this critique.

Thank you for responding to my letter and for taking an interest in these matters. Like you I think that these issues are very important and I do consider the difficulties faced by individuals who identify as transgender as tragic. I often look in the mirror and ask what Jesus would do and am often convicted of my own lack of courage, conviction, and compassion. I am thankful that He is my Savior even as He is the Savior of all those who turn from their sin and turn in faith to God the Father, our Creator and Redeemer. I daily thank God for His mercy in sending Jesus to rescue and redeem me. Apart from His grace I would be as lost and adrift as anyone.
You take issue with my parallels of bestiality and I certainly understand that comparison is uncomfortable. However, what you seem to be articulating does, it seems to me, leave you open to these types of comparisons. One of my professors used to refer it as the "hobgoblin of consistency." You say that the transgendered individual is "no different than someone born with a genetic abnormality" but your only foundation for that claim is the assertion by the transgendered person that they feel like they should have been born a different gender. There are no genetic markers otherwise; just psychological ones. So how can you avoid giving credence to the person who says that they feel that they shouldn't have been born as a human; that they really self-identify as a dog or cat and that they want to associate with those of their own self-identified kind? Then, once technology develops how will you escape supporting the surgeon who offers to begin a transspecies transformation? I do think that this is where your position inevitably leads.
I would fully agree with you that a person struggling with gender identity needs help, counsel, prayer, and compassion. They need those who are willing to help them see that biology trumps psychology; to help them know that God has created them male or female for a reason and that that reason is good. The basic types of struggles and temptations that they are facing are no different from the struggles and temptations that others face: e.g., the child who feels she has been born into the wrong home, the man who believes he should have been born into a more wealthy family, the woman who thinks she should have been born with more physical beauty, etc. These are all struggles that people deal with in varying degrees of intensity and each needs true compassion.
The parallel I typically draw is with drug abuse. The one who truly loves the addict won't celebrate their addiction but help them to fight it and, Lord willing, escape it. True compassion, compassion that is informed by God's commandments, will endeavor to help a "gender confused" person give thanks that God has created him or her as He has, to rest in that identity, and to look forward to the renewal of all creation when they will not be so conflicted. It is false compassion to fuel their confusion in the name of being loving. The one who truly loves them will endeavor to help them embrace God's biological design. And, glory be to God, Jesus has risen from the dead to empower us to do that very thing. Through faith in Christ we can find peace - peace with God, peace with our gender.

Again, thank you for writing. This is probably a longer response than you wanted or expected. My apologies if so. I do sincerely hope that you will continue to think about these issues carefully.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Walk in the Truth and Rejoice in the Truth

2 John 4–6 (NKJV)
4 I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. 5 And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. 6 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.

Last week we emphasized that though it is common for people, including Christians, to pit truth and love against one another, the Scriptures do no such thing. In Scripture, truth and love are not competitors but companions. John continues this theme today – rejoicing that the believers walked in truth and calling the church to love one another. Truth and love go together.

So when we see truth and love united together and both being implemented by a group of people; when we see believers who are eager to understand the Word of God and, simultaneously, eager to put it into practice and sacrifice on behalf of one another, what should be our response? John tells us. He writes in verse 4 – I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.

As children of our heavenly Father, we are to rejoice greatly when we see others walking in God’s truth. Nothing should give us a greater delight than to see folks growing and maturing in the faith. That, John tells us, is something worth celebrating.

So consider a couple implications of John’s words. First, walk in the truth. John forces you to ask, “Am I delighting in the Word of God and so striving to bring delight to others who fear God?” We all know how demoralizing it is when those we thought were on our side suddenly start compromising with the enemy: when Judas betrays the Master with a kiss; when Benedict Arnold sells the colonies out of personal spite; when fellow Christians turn away from you in time of trial or hardship. Betrayal stings. So the first admonition is to treasure the truth – don’t betray the Father and so demoralize the brethren. Instead walk in the truth and so bring delight to those who fear and reverence God. Be a cause of joy to God’s people and a cause of grief to His enemies.

Second, rejoice in those who walk in the truth. The national media, our President, many of our elected officials including some of our local city officials, want you to rejoice in wickedness, to rejoice in those who despise God and show contempt for His Word. They want to shape your celebrations, to shape your delights. Don’t let them. Rejoice in what is good and true and beautiful. In other words, celebrate Christmas with gusto. Rejoice with the wise men, rejoice with Joseph and Mary and Zacharias and Elizabeth and Simeon and Anna. And call Herod, Herod the Tyrant rather than Herod the Great.

So this morning, reminded that we are to walk in the truth and to delight in those who do the same, let us confess that we are often prone to weakness, that we often cower in the face of criticism, and that we are tempted to rejoice in wickedness rather than in righteousness. And as we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able.