Friday, December 2, 2011

Black Friday Materialism and True Contentment

I found myself thinking at times this week, I'm so glad I'm not working retail anymore. Ministry can be hard. But i think there was something about retail at Christmas, that gives you some unique insights into greed and materialism. Working Black Friday was always hellish. It was profitable as a commission salesman, but it was hellish. It was materialism on display, and people treated you like a tool to give them the "stuff" they wanted. Usually the ones that got there the earliest were the most obnoxious. It never failed.

But it didn't stop at black friday. It went on all Christmas season. At Christmas, we get some of the worst displays of obnoxious, materialistic behavior. So often we miss the reason for the season, because we are seeking stuff. But why is that? Why are we on a stuff hunt? In part, because we are looking to stuff, to provide what only God can give you. We look at stuff to stuff to get an identity, and standing, and acceptance. We give stuff to get an identity, and standing, and acceptance, as people say how wonderful you are and how much they love you, and we look to stuff, and think, how will this make me feel, and look, and if i get this, it will make me content. Consequently, we go crazy to get and give stuff.  And we become ungrateful, and materialistic. I remember one year when i was young, i looked at my Nana, who had just given me all kinds of wonderful gifts, and i turned to her and said, is that all? To my everlasting shame. I get tormented with this story at least once a Christmas season. Just so i wont forget (or something).

Unfortunatly, it doesn't do what we want it do. Stuff doesn't make us happy, or content. It wont fill the void that we are looking to fill with stuff, with materialism. What will? The only thing that will fill the void is to find the acceptance of God in Christ. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6:6 that "godliness with contentment is great gain". It's only when we see that Christ gave up everything, he gave up the contentment, love, and acceptance of the Father, He gave up the throneroom of heaven, so that we might gain the riches of heaven, the love and acceptace of the faither, that we will find that the center of our being that we are trying to fill with stuff, is filled. When we turn to Christ, and hold to Christ, we find that that fills us at the center of our being,  and it makes us truly contentment, frees us from materialism, changes how we approach Christmas, changes how we approach gift giving and receiving, and fills us with true hope and joy at Christmas (and it means you can be nice to the cashiers at Christmas to).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful worship for God’s benevolent blessings


Thanksgiving is here again, and like so many of you, I enjoyed gathering with friends and family, and thanking our God for all that he has done this year in our lives, and in First Baptist. 
 
 As I look back at this year, we have much to be thankful for.  God has provided for us through another year. He has blessed us with a church family that loves one another with the love of Christ, and God is bringing new life into our church in a way that I hope and pray continues. We’ve seen God care for those that have struggled with their health; we’ve seen his provision in the midst of some extremely weird weather. We’ve seen projects completed, and began a few more. What’s more, I look around First Baptist, and I feel like life is slowly beginning to bloom again. In the last year, God has brought several families into the life of the church, and we’ve seen what feels like an explosion of kids around the church. When I arrived, there were few kids. Now, I go to coffee hour, and I feel like there are kids running all around. Children are a blessing of God. This is a huge joy. On top of that, there has been birth. Both natural, and people being born again, to borrow John 3 language. As a pastor, I have found the new births in the kingdom of God to be a particular source of joy in the last few months. Scripture tells us that there is more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than 99 righteous people who need no repenting (Luke 15:6-7), and I rejoice greatly for new births in Christ. Here in 2011, we have much to be thankful for.

And yet, this year has been a weird, hard year for many. It’s been another year of economic downturn. It’s been a year marked by protest, and strange weather. I’ve watched people struggle with the pain of being out of work, or in jobs that don’t quite make the bills, and battle for their health, fighting sickness or surgery. Personally, I will always remember this as a hard year. First, because of Irene, and the damage it brought to Vermont. I remember looking at Facebook, seeing my hometown underwater, and standing in the muck at my grandfather’s house, looking at a place that I used to play wrecked beyond belief by Irene.  It’s one thing to see a tragedy on TV, it’s another to see your hometown underwater and your grandfathers’ home destroyed. But Irene pales in comparison to the pain Veronique and I felt at losing our child. While still in the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, life begins at conception, and Veronique and I felt that pain deeply.  And I am not alone. The tragedy of death has touched many in the family of First Baptist. Parents have been lost. Siblings passed. I’ve prayed at the bedside of a close friend and watched her try to be brave for her father as he faced a surgery he did not survive. I’ve seen a heart-wrenching moment, where a young boy sought to flee the crowd, and just get away from his mother’s funeral. As a family of faith, we’ve been touched by sadness and hardship in this past year.

            This week, as I reflected back on the year, I found a greater appreciation for the great statements of thanksgiving. I am always amazed at the fact that the greatest statements of thanksgiving came in dark moments, but this week, they came home in a new and deeper way this week. Think about the pilgrims. They buried over half of their original band of 110. They dug 7 times more graves than they built homes, and yet at the same time, the set aside a day thank the Lord for His blessings. One o-f their leaders, Edward Winslow, wrote of that first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621: "And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." What’s more, Lincoln’s famous thanksgiving proclamation came in the middle of the suffering of The Civil war, and yet He said the country's blessings were due to the "ever watchful providence of Almighty God... No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy." And he then asked for the "Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it." 

What can motivate that kind of thanksgiving in them, and what can drive us to give thanks in this way? First, I would encourage you to give thanks because the promise of scripture is that God is faithful, and His love endures forever. Time and again, scripture reminds us, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; His love endures forever.” It’s all over the place. His love endures forever. And when life is hard, we can cling to this. His love endures forever. It just does. It does not cease. It endures forever, and in the end, he is working all things on the behalf of those who love him and have been called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28), and He plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). He will restore the years that the locust have eaten. He will. Even when you can’t believe that this is true, it is, and you can rejoice in this truth, He is Good, and His love endures forever. 

 But there is more,  God pours out his grace on his children in times of hardship, and gives us the tools to deal with it. His grace is sufficient, Paul writes. He discovered that when he found himself facing hardship, God’s grace was sufficient. This is true for us to. When we find ourselves facing hardship, he shows a grace that is sufficient even when we can’t understand it.  Church father Augustine wrote, There is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this it is, and there is no other. He provides his grace, he really does. I’ve found this to be true. One way that I have found his grace this year is reflecting on the wonderful truth that we do not have a savior who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. He knows what it is to suffer. This year, as I have struggled with the pain of losing our child, I’ve found his grace most fully as I have reflected on the suffering of Christ. It’s been said that in the gospel, we find a significant tool to face hardship. This is my experience to. This is no longer an academics statement; it’s mine. I have found comfort time and again in this truth. I do not have a savior who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. My savior was tempted. My savior suffered. My savior did not stand far off, above my pain. My savior came near and knew it, completely. The end of Hebrews 4 reminds me and you of this, and then it tells us something wonderful. Because he suffered, “we can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence draw, knowing that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. I can draw near, you can draw near. Because of his love, because of His graces shown to us in the cross, we can draw near, knowing that he has not left us alone. SO while our weeping lasts for a night, joy will comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5) because of what he has done

So, as you look back on the year here at Thanksgiving, my encouragement to you is simple. Give thanks to the LORD. Give thanks, because our Lord’s love endures forever, give thanks because He knows our suffering, and because He does, we can draw near and find grace to help in time of need. So give rejoice and give thanks. Whether this has been a banner year, or a terrible year, rejoice in these great truths. Give thanks and worship Him. Psalm 100 tells us, Come before him with shouts of joy, Worship Him with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD, He is God. It is He who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. When troubles come, he will show us mercy and grace. So  “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Schools out, Christ isn't

We all get incredibly busy over the summers. We head off on vacations. We have family get together, Barbeques with friends, Sports, this and that, time outdoors, and it’s all allot of fun. But as we come into summer, I want to note a concern. There is a tendency around here to check out when it comes to our faith. Christian Ed (both adult and Childrens) stops for the summer, the service moves to 9:30, and we seem to take that as a sign that we should act like kids let out of school. Historically, summers lags in terms of attendance, and in terms of our personal walk. The first summer I was here, we had a Sunday under ten people (I think it was 8).

With this in mind I want to say. Keep working on your walk with God, even in the summer. Hebrews 10 says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful”. This doesn’t stop being true just because its summer. (Hebrews 10:22-23).

So, here’s my plea to you this summer:

Be in church. Continue to gather with other believers and worship throughout the summer. If you are away on vacation, find a bible believing church to worship at. Hebrews 10 continues by saying, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25) Don’t stop gathering in corporate worship, just because it’s summer and you’re busy.

Be in the Word. As your schedules fill up, be intentional about making sure you carve out a time to be in the Word of God. Remember the words of the Psalms “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path, (Psalms 119:105) and “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

Be reading. Find some time to read a good book that helps you grow as a follower of Christ. Read a book that engages your mind. If you’re looking for a recommendation, here are 5. “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller (or any of his other books). “When sinners say I do”, by Dave Harvey. “Radical, taking back your faith from the American dream” by David Platt. “Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by J.I. Packer and Gary Parret (one of my seminary Profs)”. And finally, an old Classic, “Desiring God” by John Piper.

Finally, start thinking about your fall schedule. It was pointed out to me that on Education Sunday, we didn’t take time to speak to the need for adult Christian education. Let me say a few words about that now. Christian Education isn’t just for Kids. It’s for you too. Each one of us needs to be seeking to grow as a follower of Christ. This fall, plan on getting involved in Adult Christian Education. Most American Christians act like we should teach our kids, but we don’t take time to learn ourselves. Your relationship with God is the most important relationship in your life. God, marriage (if married) family, work, etc. Plan on getting involved in a class or small group this fall, as you seek to grow as a follower of Christ.

This summer, as you seek to grow as a disciple of Jesus, my prayer as a pastor is that you will continue to seek God and stay focused on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

From the Pastor . . . The end of the world and how you should live today

I got my fair share of laughs from the Harold camping end of the world predictions, but for the most part, I felt annoyance and sadness about the whole thing. For those of you that missed it (and I doubt many of you did), 89 year old radio preacher Harold Camping predicted the end of the world at 6 p.m. on the 21st, put up billboards all across the nation, and generally made him-self, and to a certain degree Christians in general, look like dopes.

But here’s the thing. While everyone who takes scripture seriously knew this guy is just a false teacher and kook with no credibility, the church has fallen prey to this kind of false teaching before. William Miller and his Adventist followers is the
most classic example. Miller created a nationwide stir when he predicted that Jesus would return and the world would end before March 21, 1844. In the 1970s, several popular preachers and writers predicted that Christ would return on various dates. This month we had Harold Camping; again (he tried his hand at this before, predicting the end of the world in 1994). 6 pm on the 21st passed peacefully.

Given the public controversy and the amount of media attention that this end of the world prediction generated, how should we react to these kinds of claims as Christians who do believe that the day will come when Christ will return?
First, we should remember (and remind others), that Christ specifically cautions his disciples not to claim that we know when He’ll return. In Acts 1:7, Jesus said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority". In Matthew 24:36 He said "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only". IF Jesus didn’t know when he was coming back, everyone else should just shut up, lest you make a fool of yourself and slander the name of your Lord. The bible makes clear that we have no basis to claim to know the time and date of His return.

Second, we should understand that the Bible does not contain hidden codes that we’re supposed to find and decipher. It doesn’t have a locked secret knowledge that only a few can figure out. The Bible has been given to us so that we might know the truth, and that truth is clearly revealed . Yes, it has a depth that can keep the brightest scholars busy all their life, but there’s a simplicity to it that even a child can understand. The message is plain. Understanding it does not require mathematical computations that are, "more complex than Google".

Third, we should be looking forward to his return with eagerness. Hebrews 9:28 teaches that Christ, "having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him". We should not be arrogantly setting dates, but we should be looking forward to that great and glorious day when Christ returns to "judge the living and the dead".

Finally, we should wrestle with the question, how then shall we live? Today. Right now. It’s a serious question. The day is coming when Christ will return "like a thief in the night". He will come when we’re absolutely not expecting it. My answer, the historic answer of the church, the answer of scripture is, we should be living like he will return tomorrow. Someone wisely said, "we should live each day as if Christ is coming back tomorrow and live each day as if he's not coming back for a thousand years". That’s what the parable of the lamps is about in Matthew 25. We should be seeking to be found faithful. We should be about the fathers business. We should be sharing the gospel, seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, using what he’s given us to further his kingdom purposes. Today, now, not tomorrow, not down the road; because we don’t know what tomorrow holds. We should not be predicting the end, we should not be sitting around waiting for Christ to return; we should be busy doing what Christ has commanded us to do today.

In Christ
Pastor Jonathan

Worldview

Since I was in college, I have been hearing the word Worldview. When I was a freshman in college, we had a whole class on thinking through our worldview, examining it, thinking about it, pondering it. Worldview has been a popular word in many Christian circles, and as we went through Who Stole My Church, I was surprised to find out how few in the room where familiar with it.

So what is a worldview? A worldview is a framework through which we view reality and make sense of life and the world. It’s the glasses that you look at life through. For example (and this is not original to me), a 2-year-old believes he's the center of his world, a secular humanist believes that the material world is all that exists, and a Buddhist believes he can be liberated from suffering by self-purification.

Everyone has a worldview, whether we realize it or not. We all have certain presuppositions and biases that affect the way we view all of life and reality. Where does it come from? Where do we get our worldview? Everywhere. Our parents and family, our culture, our family class, our education, the music we listen to, the books we read, the things we watch, the websites we look at, and much, much more. Most people don’t think through their worldview. It’s something we have absorbed by osmosis from the surrounding cultural influences, and they haven’t thought strategically about what they believe, and may not even be able to give a rational defense of their beliefs to others.

Why is all this important? Because a persons worldview is their personal theology of life, it is the foundation for everything they think and do and say. A persons worldview serves as their decision-making filter, enabling them to make sense of the complex and huge amount of information, experiences, relationships and opportunities they face in life. By helping to clarify what they believe to be important, true and desirable, a worldview has a dramatic influence on a person’s choices in any given situation.

Here’s the problem (or the one I will mention). Most American Christians don’t have a biblical worldview (Only one percent of Mosaics have a biblical worldview and 9 percent of all Americans have a biblical worldview). Only 20 percent of those who call themselves born again have a biblical worldview. How is a biblical worldview defined? For a survey two years ago, the Barna group asked people to answer several questions, based on claims found in the Bible: Do absolute moral truths exist? Is absolute truth defined by the Bible? Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life? Is God the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and does He still rule it today? Is salvation a gift from God that cannot be earned? Is Satan real? Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people? Is the Bible accurate in all of its teachings? (http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years).

What they found was that less than half of the born again adults (46%) believe in absolute moral truth, and while only one-quarter of adults (28%) believe that it is impossible for someone to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior, they also found that only 47% of born again Christians strongly reject the notion of earning salvation through their deeds  (i.e. -53 percent of all born again Christians think you can earn it – for a rebuttal to this position, please read Ephesians 2).

Worse, they found some troubling patterns as well. They found that although most Americans consider themselves to be Christian and say they know the content of the Bible, less than one out of ten Americans demonstrate such knowledge through their actions. There’s a story from the White Horse Inn (a Christian radio program), that when they  started to do a series examining Galatians last year, they went to a conservative, evangelical Bible college (a place you would expect high biblical knowledge) and asked, “What is the book of Galatians about?” The result was not good, wrote the blogger who told the story, He said, “It was almost jaw dropping to hear some of these responses and how completely wrong they were.” Here’s some of the other answers they got “Community in the church. I’m not familiar with it. Strengthening others in Christ. I haven’t read it all the way through. I don’t remember.” Let me help here. Galatians is about freedom in Christ (5:1)

In addition, they found that , the generational pattern suggests that parents are not focused on guiding their children to have a biblical worldview. One of the challenges for parents, though, is that you cannot give what you do not have, and most parents do not possess such a perspective on life” (ibid). This week, a Barna pole noted two more disturbing facts. Twenty-five percent of those who claim to be born-again Christians said that “all people are eventually saved or accepted by God”. A similar proportion, 26 percent, said a person’s religion does not matter because all faiths teach the same lessons. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/many-born-again-christians-hold-universalist-views-barna-finds-49883)

Why do we care that many American Christians don’t have a biblical worldview? Because if we don’t hold a biblical worldview,, it damages our ability to glorify God with our lives, and it destroys our witness. If we don't really believe the truth of God’s word, if it doesn’t shape our thinking and our actions, then our lives will not consistently honor and glorify God. It may sometimes, but not consistently. Furthermore, our witness will be confusing and misleading. We may want to have a good witness, but we will struggle with being influenced more by the philosophy and thinking of our post-Christian culture than by scripture. Colossians warns us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Col 2:8 NIV). Many American Christians are completely taken by the philosophy of our culture, and while we say that we believe the Bible, our words, actions, tell us that our worldviews are often being shaped by other things.

So how do we develop a biblical worldview? First, and most importantly, we get in the word. We read, read, read. I can’t begin to tell you how important this is. Time and again, the Psalms tell us the value of scripture; Psalm 119 says that Gods word “is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105 NIV). Psalm 1 tells us, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2 NIV).  “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple”. Psalm19 tells us “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.(Psalm 19:7-11). As you read scripture, it will change you, because it proclaims the message of God’s saving work, warns us, directs us, guides us, and does more than we can ask or imagine.

Second, Be Bereans. Acts tells us “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Act 17:11) When you come across ideas, examine them, don’t just let them flow in and sit. This goes for everything I say too. Hold it to the light of Scripture, and see if it matches.

Third, really start to think through what you believe, and why you believe it. In Romans 12, Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:1-2 NIV) To not conform, you have to examine what you believe, and how that shapes your life.

 Fourth, read books that help you wrestle with big questions. Read like crazy. I would recommend four books to start with: Tim Keller’s “A Reason for God” (I highly recommend “A reason for God” if you are trying to engage postmoderns), John Stott’s “Basic Christianity”, Lee Strobel’s “A Case for Christ”, and C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”. Start with Keller, his book is worth it.

Finally and most importantly, constantly preach the gospel to yourself, remind yourself every day of all that God has done. Remind yourself that Christ died for you, He lost his life, so that you might have life in him. He died as a sinner, so that you might be righteous. He died, to make you God’s child in his image. He died a terrible death, so that you might know “the all surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”(Phil.3:8). If you seek to build a biblical worldview and live a life that glorifies God without understanding this, you will fail, because the efforts will be either based on guilt, or emotions; and both eventually both power sources run dry. But if you remember the cross, if your remember that Christ became weak, so you might be strong, it will give you the right motivation, not on your actions earning Gods grace, but based on a joyful response to all that Christ has done for you.

In Christ,
Pastor Jonathan

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden

Yesterday, I was asked what I thought about Bin Laden's death.A member of the church wrote.

"I'd love to know your thoughts on Bin Laden's death.  I am struggling with it today - celebrating in my mind, but feeling guilty at the same time.  This was, after all, a man, whom God loved, and we (USA) have now taken away any possibility there might have been (slim possibility I know) that at some point in the future he might have felt remorse for his actions and turned to God.  Is there a point where the needs or interests of the many truly do outweigh the needs of the one?  Or is that just a myth?"

Wow, what a great, loaded question. Here is a short, imperfect answer.


Let me start by saying this. I think that celebrating is a natural reaction. But as I look at this, I wonder, are we celebrating his death per se, or all that is wrapped up with that? I think that from my perspective, what we are celebrating is that a major threat has been eliminated, and that justice has taken place. This is a just execution.

What makes it a just execution? Is there such a thing? I think so.

Genesis 9:3-6 teaches that if you take a life, your life is forfeit. Now the Law makes this principle more explicit, differentiating between manslaughter, and murder (Numbers 35 makes a distinctions between - malice aforethought and accidental death without hostility). The bible never condemns capital punishment. Christ never condemned capital punishment. He had ample opportunity to say something on the topic, and he didn’t. In fact, in Luke 23:41, we see that the dying thief says to the other, “we are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong”. Jesus does not say, “no, it doesn’t matter what you did, capital punishment is wrong”. He could have, but he doesn’t.

A passage that may be used by some to say that Jesus is against capital punishment is John 8:1-11. There, a woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus, and while the Law said she should be stoned, Jesus says, let the person who is without guilt cast the first stone. This whole scene is a setup. The Pharisees are trying to Get Jesus to reject the law of God. He doesn’t do it. Instead, he invites anyone who is sinless to take the first crack. This is not a rejection of capital punishment; just trap avoidance.

When we look at Romans, we see that Human government is ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7). They have the power to tax (6-7), the power to enforce laws (2-3), and the power to punish evil. Romans 13:4 tells us that “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. In other words, the sword is placed in the hands of the state to administer Justice. Peter adds to this, when he says “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” (1Peter 2:13-14)

Now, let’s put all that in the context of killing of Bin Laden's death. Did he take part in murder? The case is pretty clear that he masterminded 9-11, which means he was involved in committing murder. Should we celebrate the death? I don’t think so. I don’t think we should ever celebrate when someone dies. Might he have repented? Might, might, might he have felt remorse for his actions and turned to God? Maybe. I’m not going to pretend that this is not the case. And, while I don’t know that I want to say that there a point where the needs or interests of the many truly do outweigh the needs of the one (although that may well be the case), I think that at a point, the interest of justice does need to be served.

With Bin Laden’s death, justice has been served, and a major threat has been eliminated. It is fair to celebrate that reality: and I think that allot of what is going on is a celebration of the fact that justice was served. It’s like a whole nation is finally getting to celebrate outside the courthouse of justice like a family who lost a son or daughter to murder might celebrate finally feeling the relief of relief knowing that the murderer of their child met justice ten years later. A wrong is not righted, but justice has finally been served.

That’s my thoughts after chewing on them for a bit. In the end, what I feel most of all is sadness. Sadness for the loss of life that’s been caused already. Sadness that we will most likely see more violence. Many Muslims are mouning Bin Laden’s death (ironic- given that somewhere around 90 percent of all Al-Qaeda fatalities have been Muslims (stat from- http://www.congress.org/news/2011/05/02/obama_no_war_against_islam). There is no good end. Just an end. But at least, for a day, we can celebrate justice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Serious sin, and a Serious solution


Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matthew 27:45-46 

This year, we suffered the never ending winter. It seemed like every time I turned around, it was grey and snowy. But as I think about the never ending winter, and the beauty of spring, I can’t help but think about the grimness of the cross, and the bright joy of the resurrection.

The day of the crucifixion seems like the grimmest of moments. On the face of it, this day is the darkest moment in history. Jesus is beaten, tried and found innocent, then condemned to die. He is forced to carry his own cross, and then he is nailed to that cross. When He is lifted up, the religious leaders and crowds stood and mocked Him, and even one of the criminals mocked Him. It was so dark and grim, that God the Father turned away, from this awful scene.
It was a grim day, a day that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, went to the cross. He went to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, your sin, and my sin. All too often, we see sin as a joke, live comfortably with it, and condone it. But the reality is that sin is nothing to joke about. It is, to quote R.C. Sproul, ‘cosmic treason’. It is “treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself”, and it leads to separation from God, because God can have nothing to do with sin. In the Levitical sin-offering (which only atoned for unintentional sin, and did not cover willful disobedience or sin was punishable by death), this was symbolized by the burning of the flesh of the bull outside of the camp.
Sin is serious, it’s no laughing matter, because it offends a holy, righteous, and just God, and leads to death, both physically and spiritually. Sin required a serious solution. Jesus was that serious solution, He was, for all times, the perfect, sinless substitute. He was the perfect sin-offering for His people, the perfect sacrifice that was dealt with Sin in the only way possible, by shedding his blood. The writer of Hebrews tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). When Jesus was on that cross, he bore in His own body the full weight of the penalty of sin as he shed his blood. He bore it alone. He was forsaken by God, bearing our sins as the perfect sin offering, taking God’s just wrath on himself. In doing so, He provided the serious solution that we need, in His mercy and love, and as the sun darkened, as He experienced the separation from the Father that comes from sin, He paid the penalty for all time, providing a new and living way for us to enter into the presence of the Father.

As we celebrate Holy week, as we gather together in the Tilden Library on Maundy Thursday, as we gather at 6:30 on Easter morning at the Wheelock field for Sunrise Service, and as we gather for Resurrection Sunday worship in the sanctuary, think of all that happened throughout this week, think of the cross, think of how serious sin is, and how serious the solution was for our sins. At the same time, rejoice. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27: 51). We can go before the Father with boldness. Rejoice, the sun has broken forth! Jesus rose, and His resurrection is a proof that he made a full atonement for our sins! It is proof that His sacrifice was accepted as a satisfaction to divine justice, and that His blood was the ransom for sinners! Rejoice, because the resurrection of Christ is also a pledge and an earnest of the resurrection of all believers (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:47-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). As He lives, we also shall live. Rejoice! Your sins are paid for! ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’ (Isaiah 1:18). In Christ, they are washed as white as snow! Rejoice, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins, and the resurrection gives proof of that fact. Rejoice! He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

    In Christ