Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What I Believe About Evil



And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -- Romans 8:28


I believe God is in control,
And that He created us in His image and likeness,
With creative imaginations,
Free will and agency,
Able to choose to misuse our gifts and grace,
With limited knowledge and understanding,
So that we have tragedies of ignorance as well as tragedies of wickedness;

Therefore much happens in the world that is not God’s will.

And yet

God does not lament but continues to take the elements of our events,
The broken pieces and spoiled vessels,
Remake and remold them
Into masterpieces of balance, hope, and beauty.

I believe God is in control, and what will be,
I do not know,
But I trust and I hope, and I know
It will be beautiful.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Power and Authority

And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. -- Matthew 28:18
Our citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven.  I am, however, subject to the government that has been established for the land where I was born here on earth.  The relationship between my natural citizenship and my spiritual citizenship can get complicated.  

First, let's do a refresher on the difference between power and authority.  There are two distinct Greek words in the New Testament for these two concepts.  The first is tranliterated as dunamis -- i.e., power.  The second is exousia, which can almost always be translated as authority.  

If you are driving a Suburban and a cop on a bicycle wants you to pull over, you do not obey that policeman because his bicycle can overtake and force your vehicle off the road.  You have the power,  but he has the authority.  It is his legitimacy as an officer of the law that causes you to respond and submit to his demand.  

God has indeed established earthly governments -- just as Paul says in Romans 13.  Otherwise there would be chaos, lawlessness and utter anarchy.  While I am for a certain amount of anarchy, too much makes it nearly impossible to function effectively in carrying out God's will upon the planet.  Therefore, God has established, in general, the principle of government authority.

Back to our example of the policeman, we stopped because we respect the principle of a law enforcement officer in general.  We recognize, however, that an individual policeman or a local police department can become corrupt.  So, too, a government can become corrupted and deviant.  Governments can cause lawless to increase rather than decrease.  They can become tyrannical and use their power in place of their authority.

When a government is corrupt, it loses its authority, but it retains its power.  Governments have the means of enforcing laws through compulsion, i.e., power, whether or not they make legitimate use of that power.  

Too many Christians have been beaten with the words of Romans 13 to the point that we often think we must submit to any abuse by any earthly government, no matter how corrupt, no matter how it has deviated from the law of God.  A government can lose God's mandate.  

A government that blatantly and officially rejects the law of God, that has no concern for the rule of law upon itself, that legislates evil and calls it 'good' has no authority.  We are not obligated to obey such a government, and we may, in fact, be obligated to disobey unrighteous laws that run counter to the law of God.  I can hardly imagine that it would be sinful to overthrow a tyrant any more that it would be to prosecute a police officer who abused his power.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Conquerors



The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. -- Revelation 3:21

Most Christians don’t seem interested in conquest these days.  To conquer has become equivalent in our minds to oppression, to a subduing of the natural nobility.  Armies of the West no longer go forth to vanquish the enemy but to win his heart and his mind, to build his nation, to honor and conserve his culture, which is judged superior to our own.  Not to be political or secular, but there are only two options in war.  One is to conquer; the other is to be conquered. 

The modern Christian thinks he lives in a peaceful, tolerant world.  He doesn’t so much as see the blood that was shed to give him his breakfast, let alone the blood shed to forgive his sins.  His worldview is shattered by every act of senseless violence.  He asks God why there must be evil in the world.  He has forgotten or refuses to believe that it is a fallen world we inhabit, that it was created good, and that we are the party that introduced sin and suffering into it.  The miracle is that good remains in it despite the efforts of the vast majority of the world’s population to eradicate it. 

Do we think we can retreat to our church buildings and be left alone?  I tell you, darkness is threatened by a single candle burning in the night and will not be at ease until it is extinguished. 

We are at war.  Light wins in the end, but we will not overcome unless we fight.  We have retreated.  We have appeased.  We have tolerated.  We have been inoffensive – not even defensive lest we should make some heathen uncomfortable.

It’s going to be uncomfortable.  Conflict is unpleasant.  It is also inevitable.  We might as well get ready.  I don’t want to be a conquistador or a crusader.  Combat, though, calls us out:  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rights



He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins -- Colossians 1:13-14

The kingdom, as we know, is where the King reigns.  Whatever our physical location, if we live under the rule of the King, we are citizens of the kingdom. 

This seems to be missed in the law versus grace argument.  I don’t have a side in that discussion.  Grace and forgiveness are the privileges, we might say, of citizenship in the kingdom of the Son.  Those of us who have the rights of the children of God need not have too much concern about the rights of Englishmen or even what is enumerated in the Bill of Rights.  I live under grace because I have transferred my allegiance and my obedience to the Lord and His kingdom. 

To live in the kingdom is to live by a higher law than any man-made legislative body can craft.  If I am condemned by the Supreme Court it means little compared to the verdict of the righteous Judge of heaven and earth.  He calls me to live by faith in Him.  He says to love others as He loves me, to forgive as I have been forgiven, to behave with care and avoid offense where possible, to protect and guard the souls of His little ones as I would my own. 

I understand the aged Paul better than I used to, I think:  I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Philippians 1:22-23).  There are people yet in this world that I love, and I want to remain with them to do my part to look out for them and make them happy, but this world is a troubled and troubling place.  I don't think I'll miss it all that much when it’s my turn to leave. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Salty Language



Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. -- Ephesians 4:29


This is not, I don’t believe, so much an admonition against foul or profane language as it is about speaking honestly and thoughtfully to one another.  We ought to be careful how we speak to others because we can corrupt someone if we are too harsh and condemning, or not condemning enough. 

Our words should fit the occasion and the circumstances of our hearer.  Many of the world’s problems can be laid at the feet of those who refuse to offend when a reprimand is appropriate.  Speaking the simple truth is now considered by many to be “hate speech”. 

At the other extreme, we used to exercise some restraint on what could be expressed in the various venues of popular culture.  Having labeled all restrictions as “puritanical”, we see that our society becomes daily more immoral, licentious, and depraved.  What a surprise this is.

We need to face the truth about ourselves.  We do not need to be told that we are all right and that every impulse we might have is “natural” and should be followed if we are be authentically ourselves.  The authentic natural man is debased, debauched, and perverse – and the authentic natural woman is probably worse.  If this were not true, Christ would not have had to come into this world and die on a cross for our sins.  We are dead apart from Christ, and all the perfume in the world won’t make a corpse’s prospects any less unpleasant.

To switch to the political for a moment, I wonder if the people who call themselves “progressive” have ever thought about the progress of a dead body.  That is what the “progressive” agenda amounts to.  They would do better by taking up taxidermy like the conservatives.

I am neither progressive nor conservative in that sense.  I believe Christ alone can make the dead live, and this is the hope of humanity.  Those who offer political or economic solutions to spiritual problems are most guilty of corrupting society. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Wrong Question



When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, Are you for us, or for our adversaries?  And he said, No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come. … -- Joshua 5:13-14

God is on our side.  In the Second World War, this was said by German soldiers as well as American and British servicemen.  In the American Civil War, it was said by both North and South.  Today it is said by the Israeli, by the Muslim, by the policeman, and by the one who shot the policeman down. 

Our political leaders speak of being on the right or wrong side of history.  That is the agnostic, pop-culture, materialist way of saying it.  Marx didn’t like God telling him what to do, so he substituted history in God’s place.  The names change, but the error remains the same.

I am either working with God or I am opposing Him.  Jesus points it out to us from both sides: 

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matthew 12:30).
For the one who is not against us is for us (Mark 9:40).


The right side is God’s side, by definition.  God alone is good.  I can’t do good and be opposed to God; I can’t be opposed to God and do good. 

The problem we face today is that the world, by and large, rejects this simple and obvious reality.  The largely reactionary political left has come to believe that good is doing whatever God says is wrong.  Meanwhile the socially conservative believe that we can get God on our side by passing laws and using the force of government to make people behave correctly.  I am sympathetic to the latter approach.  It makes a lot more sense than sowing chaos then wondering why we’re reaping such bloody and violent pandemonium. 

As a Christian, I am for good behavior.  I hope that goes without saying.  But being on God’s side doesn’t always mean be nice.  God can be disruptive.  In fact, in this world, at this time, we need some divine disruption.  People who are deceived by sin do not need to be pacified or placated. 

A long period of relative peace and prosperity has led us onto a comfortable path, but one that increasing diverges from the truth.  A course correction is about to take place.  If I try to stay on the wrong road or to help others do so -- regardless of how “nice” my words and actions are perceived as being, I will find that I am opposing God.