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.