Christ has Risen! He has risen indeed; praise be to God! We joyfully shouted those words out on Easter morning as we gathered for our sunrise service, and again as we gathered for our morning worship service, and truthfully and rightly so. For Jesus Christ has indeed risen from the grave, death could not keep Him in that tomb. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important (f)act that every single Christian, everywhere, for all time, finds as the foundation for our faith and our beliefs.
The Apostle Paul actually had some very strong words about the resurrection, note in his letter to the Corinthian church; “now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are misrepresenting God…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:12-20) (Bold mine)
It is an unfortunate reality however, that there are many, self-proclaimed Christians, who deny this reality. Just this week in a post from the NY Times, protestant minister and president of Union Theological Seminary, Serene Jones was interviewed for an Easter Sunday edition. This was her response to a question about the validity of the resurrection; “There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves.” When pressed by the interviewer about no resurrection she added these pearls; “the message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death. That’s a much more awesome claim that they put Jesus in the tomb and three days later he wasn’t there…what if tomorrow they found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie?”
Ummm, yes Ms. Jones, that would indeed mean that Christianity was a lie. And I am pretty sure that Peter, John, James, Thomas, Paul and the rest of the Disciples who ultimately experienced a martyr’s death for the sake of their Lord Jesus, were not, as you so eloquently put it, “kidding themselves”. Jesus warned His listeners at the Sermon on the Mount to “beware false prophets, who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” John warned the early churches in his 1st letter that there would be those who “went out from us, but were not of us; for if they would have been of us, they would have continued with us.”
We exclaim Christ is Risen because He truly has. There is no symbolism, allegory, literary manipulation or whatever you might want it to be. No other option exists that has any credibility or viability. As C.S. Lewis once stated; “Christ was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was who He said He was.” Lewis’ was in essence summing up a brilliant argument that had actually been set forth a century earlier by Scotch Christian “Rabbi” John Duncan who formulated what he called a “trilemma.”
Duncan’s argument in its basic form went like this;
Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.
In 1936, Watchman Nee mad a similar argument in his book, Normal Christian Faith. He exclaimed this trilemma in this way;
First, if he claims to be God and yet in fact is not, he has to be a madman or a lunatic.
Second, if he is neither God nor a lunatic, he has to be a liar, deceiving others by his lie.
Third, if he is neither of these, he must be God.
If you do not believe that he is God, you have to consider him a madman.
If you cannot take him for either of the two, you have to take him for a liar.
There is no reason for us to prove if Jesus of Nazareth is God or not. All we have to do is find out if He is a lunatic or a liar. If He is neither, He must be the Son of God.
It is not enough that Satan continues his attempts to silence Christians, all one has to do is turn on the news on any given day, note the senseless bombings on Easter morning in Sri Lanka which targeted churches with practicing Christians. No, that is not enough for him, he must also infiltrate Christianity at its very core with false doctrines being spewed from mouths of false teachers. In the case of Serene Jones, she is influencing countless future Pastors, Missionaries, and church leaders.
It is for this very reason that my job is one that involves a great responsibility to build all of you up in your faith. In this rapidly declining society, perhaps now more than ever should we give careful consideration to Paul’s instruction to Timothy; “preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths”. (2 Tim. 4:1-4)
Let us not just exclaim that He has risen on Easter Sunday, instead let it be your cry of salvation every morning when you get up out of bed! Without the resurrection, we are of all people most to be pitied!
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them…For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claim to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:18-23
With a troubled spirit and a great deal of sorrow on my heart I am compelled by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and my call and responsibility as a minister of the Gospel to openly and without hesitation call for the repentance of those who orchestrated the bill that expanded what was already the most liberal abortion laws in the country. Not only were laws set that allowed for the termination of the baby in the womb at any time during the pregnancy, but puppet masters of the evil one celebrated the passage of this bill. New York governor Andrew Cuomo praised the passage of legislation, by calling it “a giant step forward. Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion.”
If he means a giant step forward with the license to sin openly and without provocation, then I suppose his remarks are correct, as this is how I see it, He is however, not. He brazenly walks in accord with a post-modern world which proudly proclaims ‘my truth is what I want it to be, whatever that may be’. Those who embrace this ideology take residence in their ivory towers and look down on those who don’t embrace their freedom of thought, they call them such derogatory terms such as racists, hate-mongers, old fashioned, out of touch/date, religious freaks, etc. All the while they smugly pat each other on the back and lay claim to this so-called new age thought process. ‘How smart we are, what is truth’, they proudly proclaim, as if they are the first to ever utter this provocative phrase.
It seems to me those words sound a little bit too familiar. Pontius Pilate uttered this very same phrase to Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate was a post-modern long before anyone even knew what post-modernism represented. When we read this exchange between Jesus and Pilate, the defendant (Jesus) has in fact become the witness. Pilate wasn’t responding with a genuine question to Jesus’ preceding statement (for this reason I have come into the world, to testify to the truth, everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me; John 18:38). Instead he was dismissing truth, he was in fact dismissing Jesus. Let that sink in for a minute!
Everyone who dismisses truth, who says that there is no truth, that truth is a figment of whatever I want it to be, does indeed not know the truth. This is set in stark contrast to those who know and who follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Jesus bore witness to this fact, everyone who is of the truth hears His voice and knows Him. I don’t seek after the truth or lay claim to some new (or old) fanciful
version of ‘whatever your truth is, is good for you.’ I already know the truth, and it is revealed in Jesus Christ. I only seek to understand the truth better, so that my thoughts, deeds and character are defined by how I love and apply the truth in a very sinful world.
Governor Cuomo, and every single person who has endorsed abortion, has indeed “heaped coals upon their own head” and has incurred a wrath that they will never be able to account for in the sight of a Holy God. But the good news is aptly stated, repentance and forgiveness are available and offered to all by the only one who has the authority to do so, the Lord Jesus, but it is a temporal offer. When your time is up, that’s it, the finish line is crossed, the time for repentance and forgiveness is lost.
For those who know the Good Shepherd, who know His voice, the time for silence is certainly not now! Scripture calls us to be submissive to the machinations of the government we reside in, except when that government oversteps Godly decreed boundaries. The state is never a voice that takes precedent over the voice of the Lord Jesus!
Sunday, December 2nd begins the Advent season. A frenetic month of shopping, decorating, baking, gift wrapping and let’s not forget traveling, visiting, and did I mention shopping. Despite all of the trappings of consumeristic Christmas, I happen to love this season, always have, and despite the many differing beliefs in our national landscape, it seems to me that people are generally filled with more ‘joy’ than usual in the month of December. I can’t help but wonder, do I, as a Christian have a naïve outlook on this particular holiday season? In spite of my rather unscientific claim of “it seems that people are generally filled with more ‘joy’ than usual”, the reality for many is one of extreme hardship during this (or any) Christmas season.
Regardless of the nature of the hardship, many people will view the Christmas season not as a season of joy, but rather a season of increased anxiety, despair or depression. The normal burdens of life when working in concerto with the increased anxieties of a holiday season can and often do exasperate a person who is emotionally and mentally healthy, how much worse is it for the friend, family member or co-worker who is battling daily just trying to ‘get by’? As I consider this very real situation in contrast to the birth narrative of the baby Jesus, I see a cast of characters who dealt with more anxiety and despair than they did of the emotion of joy.
Joseph, the father of Jesus, was conspiring to divorce Mary privately. Mary gave birth in an animal’s pen to baby Jesus and had to lay him in a food trough. The three Magi only wanted to pay honor to the birth of the ‘king of the Jews’ but had to deal with wicked King Herod who openly practiced murder on his own family members and would shortly attempt genocide by killing all Jewish boys under the age of two, which also made Joseph flee his homeland with Mary and Jesus with no job or connections in Egypt. The shepherds, who were working the 3rd shift (midnights) receive a visit from an angel of the Lord, and it fills them initially with fear! After being reassured by the angel to ‘fear not’ they travel to Bethlehem and visit Joseph and Mary, telling them all that had happened. And they glorified and praised God for all that they had seen and heard, as they returned to their 3rd shift of watching sheep.
When we view the birth of Jesus in this manner, we see that mostly it was without joy, that the burdens of every day living probably were even greater than what many of us experience today. But yet, here we are, spreading Christmas cheer as if it is some mythical force which suddenly makes all things better, if only for a few weeks.
But is it really mythical? I suppose if we view Christmas from a secular world view, then indeed this “joy” is temporal, or not at all. But when we celebrate Christmas in that we are honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, then suddenly our perspective changes. When we read the Gospels, only Matthew and Mark record the narrative of the birth of baby Jesus. It is in those narratives where thy mysteries uttered by the prophets so long ago are finally revealed. The Messiah, that every God-fearing Hebrew had long anticipated bursts into the world in a most unusual and unexpected way. But it is in the Gospel of John where we read of the significance of this event; “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be save through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18)
It is this event that I celebrate every year during December. The food, fellowship, gifts and laughter are by-products of this event, in and of themselves they provide little and represent even less (not that I am suggesting that fellowship and laughter are not needed and welcome), but it is because of the birth of Jesus Christ that making merry has any real significance at all. And yes, after the holiday season a cynical, hurting, sinful world does return to what they were doing. The 3rd shifts still calls many to the midnight routines, the sick are still sick, the depressed still depressed and the despaired still despairing. But it doesn’t need to be this way, (except for maybe that 3rd shift thing);
The birth of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords is my rock, placed a long time ago on the bank of the river Jordan. It is from this grand event that I draw a plum line all the way through history straight into my walk of faith today. it is this starting point that gives me hope, fills me with joy, and makes my paths straight, in spite of my own efforts to veer left or right. It doesn’t mean that I still don’t struggle daily, that I don’t battle with anxiety, or sickness or the ever-imminent threat of losing loved ones. This is the world that we live in, the sinful nature of all of us is the very reason that we do have a daily struggle (but that’s another topic for another day).
This Christmas season, like every Christmas season, I celebrate with joy! Joy because God sent Christ Jesus down for me, joy because He set me free, joy because He will come again, joy because He calls me His friend!
We don’t hear the term “playing second fiddle” used to often anymore. I suppose it’s probably not “hip” enough to warrant the usage of this terminology by anyone who considers themselves a “progressive thinker” or even a post-modernist. Such idioms have long since lost their attraction to an ever-changing people while they, at the same time, create and implement new ones.
In case you were wondering, the meaning of this particular idiom is to place yourself in submission to someone. Its origin can be found in the orchestra world where violinists would be classified by 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so forth, with 1st being the most accomplished chair. During the heyday of its popularity, this expression was used not only for individual submission, but also for prioritizing events, tasks and functions. One would say for example; I like going to football games but it will always play second fiddle to baseball.
I am for all practical purposes not a “progressive thinker”, I largely have a fondness for many traits, characteristics and especially idioms of years gone by. I bring this to bear because of the startling exodus that has been occurring for many years now by those who would identify as a “millennial” (born from 1981-1996) from any organized religion (most notably, Christianity). Alarmingly this trend appears to be carrying over to the “post-millennial” generation as well. Perhaps the most startling revelation however is that the millennials cannot lay claim to the origins of this departure. That prize can actually be awarded to the “baby boomers”, whose slow but steady departure paved the way for “generation Xers” and so on and so forth.
I used the idiom “second fiddle” because it seems to me that many in our churches today (regardless of their generational identification) are operating with a spirit of malaise. In the western hemisphere the church as a whole is dancing dangerously close to stagnation and paralysis, an “I’ll go to church, or serve, or worship this Sunday, or whatever, at my local church…unless something better comes along”.
Do a Google search and you will find countless authors giving countless reasons with countless amounts of remedies to this trending predicament. I don’t presuppose to have an answer to the alarming exodus from church, nor do I fully understand a person’s desire to place self interest over a God who redeemed them from their sins. But what I can speak to is the “playing second fiddle” and despite its negative connotation, it is actually more desirable than one might think.
If we carefully consider the definition of said idiom, we cannot ignore the “placing yourself in submission to someone”. Is it not our Lord Jesus who came down from His heavenly abode and placed Himself in complete submission to the will of His Father? Did God ask Abraham to offer up his son Isaac on the altar to see if he would place his son above his God? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding “yes”, and in both examples, there were certainly great opportunities for submission to be set aside in lieu of self-interest.
As mentioned previously, there is no shortage of self-help programs available, but it seems to me that if we truly want to make any attempt whatsoever to stem this tide of complacency, it needs to start with each one of us individually. If we truly are concerned about the growing exodus from our local churches, we first need to place a premium on our own investment into our local churches.
We must demonstrate a reliance upon our fellow body of believers and more importantly a reliance on Jesus Christ. The exact opposite is all too often happening, when we are placing self-interests first we establish patterns of behavior that are mimicked and put into practice by a watchful audience. That audience can be your neighbor, your spouse, your children or your grandchildren.
The call of the church right now needs to be one of us playing “second fiddle” to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and not our Lord playing “second fiddle” to our desires. The manifestation of us submitting to the Lord establishes the standard and daily practice of submitting to each other, collectively, under His Holy name. It will be through and by this mutual submission that the body of believers will then be able to effectively join to the mission of our Lord. As he said to his disciples, “peace be with you. As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21).
There is an old saying that Christians are the only group that “shoots its own wounded” (metaphorically speaking). I cannot speak to the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of this particular statement, but the reality of the origin of this statement lends itself to, at the very basic level, a general statement which contains some elements of truth.
There certainly are no shortage of pundits who gleefully express their musings about this particular subject (Google this statement and prepare to be amazed), and to be clear, let us not enter into a matter of semantics with regards to the context. At the heart of the matter is the very real act of Christian brothers and sisters who are, on any given day, dishing out or receiving hateful criticism within their very own. The unfortunate reality of such incidents usually results in broken friendships, distrust, alienation, splits from congregations, and in some instances, unabashed hatred. The real question isn’t “does this really happen” but rather “why this happens?”
If I wanted to be short and concise I could simply state that Christians, while having a new nature/heart indwelt by the Holy Spirit, still face battles with the flesh. Battles that lead us down roads that we don’t want to go down, into arenas of life that we thought might have been left behind in our old sinful state. It is in these battles where our old sinful self tries to make a revival. Paul speaks of these personal battles in Romans 7:15-21. Within the confines of these battles Christians can, and do bring pain and hurt to other Christians.
It is on this point that it must be said; Christians can and will offend you and hurt your feelings! To ignore that fact, or to paint a picture in your mind of a Christian who can’t offend is quite unrealistic. You may say; “that is how a Christian should be, or they should be a reflection of Christ” and you wouldn’t be wrong. But friends, short of this side of heaven, this ideal that a Christian is perfect, is simply that, an ideal! Yes, as Christians we strive to be in the image of our Lord, that is what the theologian would call ‘sanctification’. But this is a life-long process where completion occurs only when we are called to be with the Lord, or He comes back first, either way, we don’t realize a completion of it, only our Lord Jesus does.
At this point the question turns on a hinge, it’s not a matter anymore of “why”, instead the absolute question then is “what we do with this hurt that our fellow brother or sister has given us?” Let me offer up just a few conclusions;
I find it interesting that Jesus puts the onus on the one who has been grieved to seek reconciliation with those who have doled out the grief. Matthew 5:22-25 leaves no room for lingering anger, and just in case you thought that may be a one off, please do not forget Jesus’ response to Peter in Matthew 18:22. Peter thought he might have been playing it smart when he suggested that to forgive his brother seven times far outweighed the ancient Judaism custom of offering forgiveness just three times. Instead Jesus’ reply is not seven, but seventy times seven.
In the final analysis, we live in a world that specializes in division and hostility, but yet, the Christian man and woman still tries to reach into this world, to befriend it, to bring it to the altar of our Lord Jesus, to find peace and healing. Let us stop attacking our own, we are not called to be imitators of the world, we are called to be imitators of Jesus Christ!
Several weeks have passed since the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 lives were taken in a senseless act of violence. In the subsequent weeks that have followed there have been over 600 reported “copycat” threats on school grounds in the country, with 41 of those in Western Pa. alone.
In the immediate days following this event, students from Marjory Stoneman and many from the Hollywood arena began what has become a rally cry; “we don’t want your thoughts and prayers’, we want action.” Most notably this has become a rally cry for stricter gun control measures. It is not my wish within the parameters of this blog to delve into the merits of the 2nd Amendment, rather I wish to directly address the premise of the rally cry; “we don’t want your thoughts and prays’.”
My first inclination when I heard this was to think, ‘how ironic, the world didn’t want Christ Jesus in school in 1962 and they still don’t want him!’ As a Christian, I will never fully understand a secular worldview that doesn’t want Christ Jesus. Instead of seeking out and embracing a God who sent His one and only Son to draw us into a personal, salvific relationship with Him, secular man instead looks to himself. Instead of looking up to God, mankind looks down to each other, and declares; ‘I fully expect broken mankind to fix broken mankind.’
Friends, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. That just isn’t going to happen! Simply put, broken man, doesn’t have the ability to fix broken man. In Scripture we read that “we are dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), that “there is no one who does good” (Ps. 14:3), and “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In conjunction with these verses that incriminate us and declare us guilty, secular man responds with defiance and defense, after all, no one wants to be charged with a guilty verdict. Instead, secular man agrees with Scripture (of course unknowingly) and cries out “there is no God”. Only when crying this out, they fail to realize that they are instead “a fool” (Ps. 14:1).
I must conclude that the only way I can overcome the evil and sin that is inherently part of my DNA is to run as fast as I can into the arms of the Savior Jesus Christ, who painstakingly incurred the sum total of all my sin and in turn gave unto me a righteousness that declares in me a ‘not guilty’ verdict. This my friends is the good news of the Gospel! God showed that He is just and that He is the justifier. He declared that I am free from the bondage of sin, that I am justified in His sight and I am therefore in a ‘right relationship’ with Him. This is the heart of the Christian faith, and it is available for all who put their trust in Jesus to be their Lord and Savior.
For those who do not want my prayers’; I am truly sorry, but that is what I have to offer. Even if God had granted me the wisdom of Solomon, I am afraid that I still would not possess the “action” needed to resolve the infection of sin and evil. Instead, what has already been offered, Jesus Christ, is more than enough, He is everything and while you worry about the here and now, about your flesh and bones, He worries about your soul. One is temporary, the other forever. Which one say you is more important?
For those who don’t think that prayers are enough, hear now the Word of God, as given to Paul when he wrote to the Philippian church back when being a Christian was to do so under penalty of death;
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6,7)
Genesis 3:1 states that the ‘serpent’ said to the woman (Eve), “did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden’?” It is this passage in our Old Testament where we are exposed to the original sin. In this particular case it is a sin of deceit, lying and disobedience.
As we live in a post-modern world it is interesting to note that the very first sin had its origin in the arena of subjectivity, in other words, it was a direct challenge to an absolute. One may not give absolutes versus subjectivity much thought, but I would challenge that it is this exact warfare that is going on in our culture that threatens the very fabric of our Christian identity.
Without going into every nut and bolt of the definition of ‘post-modernism’, let me just state that the basic premise of post-modernism is that truth, relativism, individualism and logic are radicalized and applied to all spheres of knowledge. Truth and reality are individually shaped by one’s own personal experience and viewpoint, and this applies to all facets of life, i.e. History, religion, science, social class, gender and so on. It was the post-modern movement that gripped our country following the 2nd World War and then really gained tracking during the sixties movements. Generationally speaking, the post-modern ideals were matriculated in Gen. Xers and then came full term in the Millennial generation.
The central tenet of our Christian faith is an absolute. Jesus taught in John 14:6 that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Earlier in the Gospel of John we read of His instruction to Nicodemus; “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16,17) There is no subjectivity to these statements, there is no super-secret handshake or password that affords some another way to salvation. Salvation is offered up by the Lord Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection on the cross, that’s it, no other way.
Fast forward about 2000 years and where are we as a nation? Here is but one example of the strange winds that have permeated the land. Bill Gates (whom most would agree is a brilliant man) recently admitted that ‘common core’ math was a failure. (Sadly, at the expense of our children who were unwittingly chosen to be the subjects of said experiment). But while the experiment in mathematics did fail, the overarching goal was wildly successful. What this taught our children to do was to question even the most basic absolute that there is; 1+1 equal 2. The result is that the child will also have difficulty then in comprehending truth versus lies.
If I were to take this a step further, and I will, this “social experiment” has not been the only one that permeates our landscape. The idea of ‘transgenderism’ is one in which our society is getting bombarded with. Scientifically and biologically men are born with an XY chromosome and women are born with an XX chromosome. No amount of surgery or hormone treatments can alter this ‘absolute’ truth. Yet society is attempting to indoctrinate the masses into believing that sexual gender is subjective, that it is based upon feelings and personal opinions, and sadly this is being bought into by many. This lie is contrary to our Creator, to our God, who created ‘male and female’, as we read about in Genesis 1:27 and then validates in Matthew 19:4.
God’s word tells us that He has not given us over to the spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). But that does not mean that we are to ignore what is attempted to be forced upon us. We need to be aware of Satan’s devices so that we are able to defend the truth that is found only in the Word of God. We need to listen for that voice that say’s; “did God actually say?”
We need to hear that voice and we need to respond to that voice with an authoritative “YES”, God Did Say!!” We do so with love however, not with disparaging remarks or comments. We share the Gospel in spite of the name calling and the mocking that we may receive. And even if it seems like no one is listening, we know that God’s word does not return void (Isa. 55:11).
Volume 1, Edition 3
It is my prayer and my hope that the tragedies that continue to fall upon our nation bring about a season of reflection, a season of prayer, a season of revival, yet I cannot help but think that just the opposite may be occurring.
It is with all too much frequency that on the heels of so many acts of senseless evil, as well as natural phenomena which has appeared almost apocalyptic in nature, that the loudest outcry I am hearing is “where is God in all of this, why would he even allow such calamity to befall us?” In a rhetorical sense, the answer is already pursed on their lips and that answer is simply this; “there is no God!”
But if there is no God or if God is not predisposed to our current state of affliction can we adequately address or even solve the problems of evil and suffering? Without a God where can anyone find the hope of redemption, or the meaning and cause of human tragedy and suffering?
Brian McLaren writes; “suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable. It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort. Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?”
The premise of McLaren’s statement finds roots in the writings of Augustine and Aquinas, in which they argue that evil has no independent being. It is always defined as an action which fails to comply with a pre-supposed standard of goodness. The very definition of evil then depends upon an understanding of good. Augustine argued that evil is parasitic, in other words, it must depend upon the good to have any definition at all. He would further argue that although a Christian faces the difficult task of explaining the presence of evil in the world, the pagan has a problem that is twice as difficult. Before the problem of evil can exist, one must have a basic theology of the existence of good. It is one thing entirely to try to explain the problem of evil, but now the pagan has twice the dilemma in that they also need to define the existence of good. Here is the conundrum then for those who deride the Christian God; without Him (God) there is no absolute standard for everything that is right and good.
Are we then as flag bearers of God faced with the problematic task of assigning evil? If God indeed exists (and He does), and if God is sovereign (which He is), then is God to blame for all our moral failures, not to mention the natural catastrophes?
This is where great care must be exercised in response to a vexing question. Scripture must be our guide. We dare not deny passages from Genesis that recount the story of Joseph and his brothers or Exodus which affirm that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, which do reveal that God did cause evil to come about, but we must exercise great restraint in attributing the evil actions to God. Nowhere in Scripture is God ever to be blamed for evil or more importantly for taking pleasure in evil. Humankind is never excused for the wrong that we do in Scripture and we also take note that we are never excused from our responsibility in the evil that we do just because we proclaim God to be sovereign.
It must also be noted that we find the ultimate outpouring of love from God the Father to us, in the personhood of His Only Son, Jesus Christ who was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-25).
Within these verses God the Father is clearly revealed as the architect of the plan for our salvation, knowing full well that this would be the only way to release humankind from the bondage of sin. Yet while He is the architect of this plan, He is in no way attributed with performing the “lawless act”, rather it is the evil act of lawless men.
Instead of chasing down every lead to find cause and reason, or where to assign blame, we should develop a deep assurance from the providence of God in that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28.) It was with this strong conviction that Joseph was able to tell his brothers, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
At the end of the day for those who are grieving due to unspeakable acts of evil in this world, assigning blame or forming a doctrine to understand evil does nothing to assuage them of their pain, grief and loss. Instead Christians would do well to pay attention to the Word of God as recorded by the Apostle Paul;
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)
 McLaren, Brian: Finding Faith; A Self Discovery Guide for your Spiritual Quest. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 1999. pp. 86-97
 Sproul, R.C.: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/mystery-iniquity/
 Grudem, Wayne: Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 1994. Pg. 323
 Ibid., pg. 327
Volume 1, Edition 2
The ideology of racism has once again reared its ugly head in our country. The events in Charlottesville Virginia during this past weekend bear witness to the fact that racism, bigotry, segregation, and hate filled ideologies are alive and flourishing. As I watched the media coverage of the venom that was spewed forth both verbally and physically, I was never more reminded of the complete and total depravity of humankind.
If that was not enough, on the heels of these heinous and demon inspired events, I then started to see Christian inspired responses to these acts. (Now I am not against the Christians public response to any form of evil, quite contrary to that, I believe that more Christians, and especially Christian leaders, need to be more vocal.) But what grieves me concerning many of these responses is the subject matter that is being put forth from Christian leaders. In several instances, some writers are just seeking to place blame on a group, or shift blame from one side to the other. Another writer placed the blame squarely on the Presbyterian Church going back to the turn of the 20th Century proclaiming that it was the Presbyterians who failed to properly address slavery and racism when hate groups such as the KKK were brandishing out judgment under the guise of Christian principles. Still other Christian leaders blamed it on the” religion of politics”, setting their sights squarely on the leaders of this country, past and present, to properly address and eliminate racism.
Why is it that as Christians living in a fallen world we are so hesitant to address the root of the problem? How come it is so unusual and rare to hear someone boldly state, “we have a sin problem”?
As a newly called Christian Pastor, I believe that I am not in a position that affords me the opportunity to sit idly by on the sidelines while the nations rage. Matthew 5:13,14 tells us that “you are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?...You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” So, this begs the question then; if we are called to be “the salt of the earth, the light of the world and the city on the hill”, how do we respond to evil that would see the ruination of God’s creation if it could?
As an Evangelical I am not going to present what “I” believe is right, there are certainly enough well intentioned but misinformed people who are doing a fine job in filling that vacancy. Instead I am, (as should all who call Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior), going to let the Word of God lead me into all truths.
The Apostle Paul took the afore mentioned teachings of Jesus Christ and expounded upon them in Ephesians 5:6-9; “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them, for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” And then to further expand our horizons and to bring us into a full and complete understanding of what it means to be the light of the world, John records these instructions in 1st John 2:9-11; Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
The message could not be any clearer, the lesson given by Jesus Christ in Matthew are a small part of a much bigger sermon, perhaps you have heard of it; The Sermon on the Mount. If you call yourself a Christian, then you are called to love, but more than that, you are called to do so even to your enemy, even unto death.
The evil theology of Nazism, racism, bigotry, superiority because of skin color, education level, financial level or any level that you want to name, is antithetical to the Word of God, and antithetical to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because these issues go against the very Word of God, it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to denounce this evil agenda. But we need to go one step further as well, we also must denounce any action of evil and malicious intent that any other group would see by way of retaliation.
I cannot be quiet because to do so would be to deny the fact that the saving grace afforded to me, from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, regardless of my own worthlessness, would be for naught. I would, in a sense, be declaring that this very same saving grace, was not life changing.
I cannot be quiet because I cannot (and will not) try to keep one foot securely planted in the secular world and at the same time keep the other foot in a Christian world.
I cannot be quiet because although I may not be able to “change the world” through my Christian witness, if the Holy Spirit is able to change just one person through my witness, then that is okay with me.
I cannot be quiet!
Volume 1, Edition 1
I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, my sins I have placed at the foot of the Cross and my heart has begged for the forgiveness of those same sins. I know recognize what He has done for me, and through my faith in His act of sacrificial lamb, I am now given freely grace and salvation from the Lord Jesus Christ. So now what?
The preceding statement could be your, your spouses, your child’s, and your neighbor. Most likely, this statement has been uttered or thought by every Christian, including the very first ones. But unlike the first Christians, we do not have the prophets or Apostles to teach us and build us up; instead what we have is the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the Word of God. The question of “so now what” is a fair one, and what I would want you to know is why the spiritual formation of every Christian citizen is of paramount importance.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). This simple instruction (and warning), conveys a very basic truth, one which demands to be applied in the context of the life of a Christian. Since we are all “children of God” (Rom 8:16), we are all responsible for our spiritual development as well as those around us, so where do we begin? Catechesis needs to be taught by “teachers whose special task is to ground worshipers of every age in the truths Christians live by and in the ways Christians are to live by those truths”. As Parrett explains, the necessity of proper catechesis in these truths is to both establish a “full initial grounding” and a “regular revisiting and deepened exploration of them”.
So the question that needs to be answered is simply; what are these “truths”? A mature Christian recognizes that these truths are realized in the Word of God. But they are not only recognizable, they are also readily accepted. They are not taken for granted nor are they picked apart with only some application being accepted as the Word of God. No, the whole Scripture is presented as the complete Word of God. As 2 Timothy 3:16,17 declares’ “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Now many who would question this passage in Scripture as being composed by man, and therefore subject to criticism, do so because they either do not have, or possess very little faith. Faith is the single most important ingredient to the Christians life. Without faith, there can be no hope. There can be no belief in God, no belief that He sent His Son, no belief that Jesus died on the cross and rose again for our sins, no belief that in His Son is our eternal salvation, and no hope that He will come again for all of us who call Him Lord and Savior.
Many will laugh, mock or ridicule whenever the principle of faith is exercised or promoted by Christians, but even to a non-believer there exists a degree of faith, for example, when a person awakes from the night’s sleep, they have faith that the air to breathe exists, they cannot see it, touch it or taste it, but yet they never doubt that it will be readily available for breathing. I could also argue that everyone believes that the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar existed, yet no one alive today ever saw him or talked to him. Granted, faith in the life of the Christian is much more relevant, in fact, it is a matter of life and death. As John Calvin stated; “faith is the firm conviction of the grace of God, secured by a sense of repose enabled by this conviction, a firm confidence of the heart by which we securely acquiesce in the mercy of God promised to us through the Gospel”. In a similar vein of thought Thomas Oden declares faith to be “the means by which salvation is appropriated through personal trust in the Son as Savior”. And ultimately the Apostle Paul had something to say concerning the matter of faith in Ephesians 2:8, 9; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
In light of the emphasis that I am placing on the importance of building up the believer’s faith system, it is important to have a proper understanding of how this is relative to the catechetical life of the congregation. I would echo Thomas Groome’s sentiments whereas he declares catechesis to be “the activity of reechoing or retelling the story of Christian faith that has been handed down. Catechesis is thus situated as a specifically instructional activity within the broader enterprise of Christian religious education.” The Apostle Paul tells us that “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of god, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love”(Eph. 4:13-15). As you can see I do not propose that without catechism we cannot have faith, but rather because of catechism we, as a congregation, are able to bring our faith in Christ to maturity.
 Packer & Parrett
 Ibid, pg. 17.
 (Calvin, CR XXXIII.333; SHD II 402; cf. Inst. 3.1.1-7).
 Oden, Thomas, Life in the Spirit, Systematic Theology; Volume 3(Mass. Hendrickson Publishers, 2008) pg. 129.
 Groome, pg. 27.