Once a month, members of the church come to do work on the church grounds, ranging from washing windows and vacuuming, mowing, raking, picking up trash, spreading beauty bark, and anything else that needs doing.
It’s been an unusually mild winter, and as a result, the mold has grown almost exponentially. It has taken over large patches of the lawn, and parts of the parking lot and driveway. Since the grass still isn’t quite high enough to cut, I planned to take on the mold. I wasn’t quite sure which tool would be best, so I took my flat shovel and my “zombie” tool. One side is shaped like a narrow, tapered hoe, and the other side has two pointed edges like flat hooks.
When I arrived, I put on my work gloves, and my wide-brimmed Tilley, so I could keep the drizzle out of my eyes. I grabbed the shovel, and started attacking the mold that was building up on the asphalt parking lot next to the sidewalk. The steel of the shovel made a lovely kind of ringing sound as I hunched over and scraped the mold like I was shoveling snow. It seemed to be scraping up a great deal of the low green substance, made even more like a slimy muck by the slow precipitation that had vacillated between drizzle and mist for the last 12 hours. However, I didn’t get too far before I realized that the shovel was leaving behind swaths of the mold that had started to scale up the side of the sidewalk, since I could only scrape the flat surface of the parking lot, and not the edge of the sidewalk where it met the parking lot. I went back to the car and got my zombie tool. The tapered edge worked well to remove the side mold, and even appeared to be doing better on the surface mold as well. I also didn’t need to hunch over as far, as the handle was longer.
As I made my way along the sidewalk, then out to the driveway curbing, I found myself surprised at how much mold had really taken root, especially along the entrance to the church property. I realized that it was no accident that the further I got from the church, and the closer I got to the edges of the property, the thicker the moss had become. Before long, my mind was examining the symbolic nature of what I was doing, and thinking about the lesson that this should have been teaching. In many ways, I think that we in the church fail to clean up ourselves like we clean up the property, or perhaps more appropriately, not enough of us do this work, like not enough of us show up on Saturday to do the work of maintaining and cleaning the grounds.
We all know someone who stands outside, and offers a criticism of the church in order to justify their separation from it. Sometimes, this excuse is rooted in a hubris that places them squarely at the center of creation, and is a dim, echoey place where the throne room of their heart is a place where they try hard to occupy a space never meant for them, suffering a loneliness that few can recognize, let alone address. Just as frequently, it is someone who unflinchingly comments about the hypocrisy they believe they see, rooted in an incomplete understanding of the Jesus we serve, and what he stands for. And some are correct in this diagnosis, without understanding the planks obscuring their own vision, or how much they don’t know.
I get to start this part with a confession of my own. I don’t spend nearly enough time doing the maintenance on my own spirit. Just like I need to spend time scraping at decay that grows at the edges of the parking lot and driveway, I need to do the same spending time reading and studying the Bible, and then considering what I read, and applying it to how I think and what I do. It can be difficult, in a world of distractions and competing priorities to make this part of a regular routine, let alone a daily one. And without doing it, we don’t think enough about the nature of sin, or how much we still commit it. The Word can’t work the changes in us that it was meant to, or at least not to the degree that it can or should, and as a result, the grace that saves us, and the one who died to give it both become cheap in our lives, as we fail to see the decay we ourselves carry, even as we see the decay surrounding us so clearly.
We cannot and should not ever lose sight of the fact that we ALL sin. Sometimes, the sin is obvious and open to those who surround us. Some sins are hidden, and no less pernicious, but require humility and self-examination to see, before we can ever think about changing them, and it is far too easy to acknowledge the obvious sins of others first. These become the hypocrisies that excuse others from even making the attempt to come to Christ, even if they fail to understand that it is grace that saves, because sin is inevitable. And sometimes, even if they understand the inevitability of sin, they don’t differentiate between the reflection that examines it and the repentance for it, and the fact that this is different from living in an unbroken state of it, without the growth and change that come from recognition, repentance, and a sincere attempt to change. The latter fosters humility and appreciation for grace; the former becomes a justification to do what is right in that person’s own eyes, and to find a fault in the faith which doesn’t exist. And because we don’t spend enough time in the Word, we are not able to exercise the discernment spoken of in Jude, or to find the right answer to such criticisms.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the rhythm of the rain is calling me to do some spiritual scraping.
I’ve written before on other blogs about my annoyance with politicians who occasionally abandon their otherwise ubiquitous disdain for religion, specifically Christianity, for infrequent attempts to cite it as a reason for foisting their [leftist] views upon the rest of us.
Whether it was Obama talking about a “partnership with God” in a phone call with rabbis, stumping for Obamacare, Al Gore mangling scripture in a clumsy attempt to shill indulgences for his Church of Gaia Carbon credits, or Chief Lizzie Warren quoting scripture to justify government strengthening and expanding reliance on government, in the name of love and compassion, of course, there seems to be a stunning lack of self-awareness from “the smartest people in the room”, who can barely conceal their resentment for something they have been largely unable to successfully co-opt.
I found myself pondering this last Sunday, as my mind chewed on it, rather than the sermon. “Collective Salvation” has been a term that has been like sand in my shorts from the first minute I heard it, primarily because I think it is a perfect illustration of everything they get wrong about Christianity. My conversations with those who show the most enthusiasm about the concept have done nothing to convince me otherwise.
Salvation is an individual concept. A walk through the concordance of any Bible should make this plain to anyone with an attention span longer than that of a gnat. One of the clearest points of scripture on this is found in Psalm 27:1.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
I can understand that this is a difficult point for non-Christians to fully grasp. They hear about a Savior that gave his life to save the world, and it would be very easy to view it in the frame that the peddlers of collective salvation want to confine it to. But the fact is that while it was a gift that was freely given…the greatest gift ever given, it must be accepted for it to be fulfilled, and that acceptance is an individual decision. This is distinguishable from what politicians are trying to sell when they speak of “collective salvation”, for three important reasons.
First, because what Christ gave belonged to him, and him alone. He didn’t collect it from others, with the force of the state available to compel what wasn’t freely given to him so he could give it to others. Contrast this with the “collective salvation” promised by those who freely utter the term.
Secondly, he didn’t make any distinction about who could receive his gift, or how much of it a particular person could have. Salvation wasn’t for those most favored in God’s eyes; indeed, one of the great tragedies is that God’s chosen people to this day, with some exceptions, largely reject the notion that Christ was the Savior at all. He himself noted that he brought it for all the world. Income wasn’t a factor. He dined with Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector. He cured the blind, and lepers. He brought his news to a harlot. He died in the company of thieves. The “collective salvation” promised by politicians does the opposite. It decides that some people should have more of government’s “help” than others, but this decision is based on the idea that some people are incapable of succeeding on their own, and then structures its “help” in a way to make sure that the recipients come to think the same way. He brought his salvation because he could see that everyone had the same need for what he had, and because he loved everyone equally. Politicians will certainly make sure to bring the ‘help” they promise, but they don’t want to spend any more time than they have to with those they “help”.
Third, the choice to make this gift belonged to him. When politicians bring “collective salvation”, they cast their benevolence as a “moral imperative”, regardless of the lack of accountability for how it is expended, or an expectation that the recipients will make any effort to change themselves or their behavior. As the benefactors of this “collective salvation”, our participation and assent to this squandering of resources to create dependence is presumed, and our character is questioned, and ruthlessly besmirched if we deign to question this benevolence practiced in our name. That would be insulting, but bearable if that were the extent of it. However, these servants then claim the mitre as well as the sceptre, and will adopt their most studious pose as they read a scripture verse or two, and pretend that these selective readings exist in a vacuum, without any understanding of context, support what we know better than to meekly accept. It isn’t the ignorance that is insulting; it’s the lecture on it that is tough to take.
The trends since the Everson decision, and its repugnant misreading of Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state” hasn’t just warped the anti-theist’s views on the roles of religion and government; I’ve come to understand that it has warped those views of many religious people as well. The anti-theists believe that religion has no role in government; the religious believe that it should play a much greater role. The more I read the private papers of the Founders, and the Bible itself, the more I come to the conclusion that religion needs to be part of the lives of the individuals in government. There is a difference between the state as church, and church members participating in the governance of the state, just as there is a difference between individually accepting and acknowledging the Savior, and corporate worship and service of that same Savior with others. Those who are working out their own salvation with fear and trembling will not be obsessed with forcing others to change the minutia of their lives to conform with their own ideas of what is “nice”, but they will consider their actions through a prism of right and wrong, and the effect they will have on society. I don’t believe that this nuance is beyond the understanding of those who wish to employ “collective salvation”; I believe that acting in accordance with understanding would interfere with their agenda and their own power.
My Father-in-law gave an excellent sermon this morning.
One of the reasons I try to take notes is not because I want to copy everything from the sermon, but because a really good sermon sparks a much different, but still “Eureka!” type moment in which I suddenly recognize something that was always there in a different light. Today was one of those days, but instead of one new contemplation, I got a two-fer.
The focus of the sermon was one of Jesus’ parables, but one that was unique because he didn’t leave it to us to discern his meaning, because he plainly explained the point of the story himself.
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
18 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
I took some time to ponder that. It isn’t that much of a stretch to say that some of our Judges today fall into that category. I wrote about how that dual disregard is blinding many of them to the truth in a different essay yesterday, but the parable underscored the fact that it is not a new problem, and that when man’s law is administered by those who respect neither people nor God, the result is that justice becomes both a fluid concept, subject to the preferences and whims of some, and a commodity that is subjectively conferred on those who can offer advantages to the deciders in exchange for this preference. This is what happens when a society denies its origins. This is what happens when truth becomes relative.
The other takeaway for me was born out from the other point Pastor Marty was making…Jesus’ and the Apostles’ focus on prayer. Whether it was Jesus’ point here, or the instruction from Paul to pray without ceasing, prayer is central to the individual’s Christian experience. This I already knew, but what occurred to me, other than my utter failure to follow the instructions in this area, was that those who are much better than I am when it comes to prayer really are the foot soldiers of God.
They pray when they are asked to do so. They pray for those who make the request because their own understanding and abilities have failed, and they have nothing left. They do it without judgement. They’ll do it in the middle of the night, and they will do it in the middle of the day. They will do it with a quiet and simple faith that whatever the answer is, it will be the right answer, regardless of when it comes, or when that understanding dawns on those meant to benefit from it. And they do it with the calm patience that understands that the work is in the sowing and the eventual harvest is for God’s glory…no matter who does that part.
Once again, I am humbled by my own blatant inadequacy.
Last week, the Boy Scouts of America bowed to public pressure and made the mistaken decision to allow openly gay scouts to join, while keeping in place the ban on gay scoutmasters, atheists, and agnostics.
One of my Facebook friends, a person I respect, took the position that this was a good thing. His explanation, if I took it correctly, is (1) The BSA is and always has been a secular organization, (2) Excluding gay scouts is “judgemental”, and “Judging isn’t for us”, and (3) These boys deserve the opportunity to become the young men that scouting can help mold them into.
I’ll take these points, in order, as I explain why this decision is a mistake.
1. The BSA is and always has been a secular organization.
Given the fact that the Boy Scout Oath itself requires the affiant to do his “duty to God and his country”, this is a remarkable proposition. It becomes more remarkable when you open a dictionary and start reading.
Secular. Adj.1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion ( opposed to sacred ): secular music.
3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.
4. (of members of the clergy) not belonging to a religious order; not bound by monastic vows ( opposed to regular ).
5. occurring or celebrated once in an age or century: the secular games of Rome.
6. going on from age to age; continuing through long ages.
Secularism. Noun.1. secular spirit or tendency, especially a system of political or social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship.
2. the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element.
Secularize. Verb.1. to make secular; separate from religious or spiritual connection or influences; make worldly or unspiritual; imbue with secularism.
2. to change (clergy) from regular to secular.
3. to transfer (property) from ecclesiastical to civil possession or use.
These definitions hardly comport with the Scout Oath, or The Scout Law.
The Scout Oath:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
The Scout Law:
A Scout is:
Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean,and Reverent.
Nor do they comport with the institution’s past, as demonstrated in the following pages from the 1942 printing of the Handbook for Scoutmasters.
I think that’s enough on this point for now, but I’ll return to it at the end.
2. Excluding gay scouts is “judgemental”, and “judging isn’t for us”.
This is where things have gotten out of hand with too much of Christendom today, because of a conscious decision to embrace the ignorance of non-believers. We let those who do not walk in the faith and who are not filled with the Holy Spirit selectively read our scripture, and stop before they reach the part that changes the meaning of the point they want to make. Consequently, when we dare to call sin by its name and mark it for what it is, we often have Matthew 7:1-5 tossed back in our faces.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
But this leaves off the final verse of the passage, verse 6.
6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
It doesn’t exactly square with the idea that Christians aren’t supposed to judge, does it? But it does imply that there is an expectation of judgement. Still, occasionally I encounter such a person with the presence of mind to avoid this and instead quote Luke 6:37-42.
37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
39 And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. 41 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
At first blush, it also apparently forbids judging. But, as with the previous verses, the last one is key, as it clearly contemplates judgment…you couldn’t remove the plank from your brother’s eye without it. But, if you read both passages carefully, what is required is that the judge must first look upon themselves with honest reflection, and address their own foibles before looking upon those of others and addressing them. This is borne out in John 7:24.
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
This was Christ addressing the Pharisees who were condemning him for being about his Father’s work on the sabbath. He didn’t tell them not to judge; he told them to judge with a discerning judgement. This either escapes the notice of, or is purposely omitted by those who believe themselves worthy to preach to us. And either out of ignorance, or fear of not being “liked”, we let them. Because of this failure in ourselves, we fail to meet our calling to be salt, which is both an irritant, and a preservative, and we fail in our calling to be light, because our desire to not offend means that we will not speak the truth to those in bondage to sin, instead opting to let them believe that they are not in an immortal peril, allowing their chains to drag them to a second death when they leave this world.
Like it or not, if we believe that we have to do our duty to God, then we need to come to grips with the fact that this was an occaision that called for judgement, and that the wrong judgement was made.
3. These boys deserve the opportunity to become the young men that scouting can help mold them into.
Certainly, this is the point of strongest emotional appeal, not just to those on the outside of the faith, but to many within. It calls to mind the parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:1-7.
12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
So why isn’t this a compelling reason to allow them in? Isn’t it a core tenent of Christianity that we are all sinners? Isn’t this the reason that we need the salvation that Christ brought? Isn’t this why we needed him to pay a price we can never afford? And wasn’t payment of that price what ended the separation between God and his people? Yes, this is all true, but the distinction is that it isn’t about a sinner struggling with his sin, and trying to better himself by drawing closer to God; it is about a sinner who is unrepentant in his sin, and continuing to blatantly and openly remain in a state of sin. This distinction is best demonstrated in John 5:10-14.
10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”
11 He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’”
12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” [Emphasis Added.]
Homosexuality isn’t like other sins. It is a sin against the self, and as such, is unique. It is named very clearly in the Old Testament and in the New Testament as a sin. The NIV calls it “detestible”. The NKJV calls it an “abomination”. These aren’t categorizations; they are bywords. They are warnings. In the New Testament, it is seen as a sin for which the consequence is separation from God. Romans 1:18-32 puts this into a select group of people who are given over to a debased mind. Possessing a debased mind, they cannot, by their nature, know God, let alone do their “duty to God” any more than I could chose to sprout wings and fly.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 also describes homosexuality as being separated from God, as they are once again listed in the select group who will not receive the Kingdom of God.
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
So why does it matter? Why wouldn’t we admit them so they can know the truth and be saved? Certainly no believer wants to see someone suffer in bondage, without even the knowledge that they are in bondage, right? And clearly, Paul is acknowledging that some of whom to which he was writing were once among these. Once, but not anymore. This is the hope for deliverance in the salvation that we each have to come to accept in order to receive. In the case of these Corinthians in the early church, that salvation didn’t happen because they were welcomed and encouraged to remain in their state of sin. And those who felt entitled to do so were those Paul warned us to keep separate from in 1 Corinthians 5:9-12.
9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.
12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
Once again, we are told in the Bible to judge (with discernment), this time, in chosing the company we keep. And it isn’t the only place you find such warnings in the Bible. Paul expounds on the reason in 1 Corinthians 15:33-34.
33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
This is in addition to other verses and passages such as the wisdom in Proverbs, and “knowing them by their fruit.”
If we extrapolate this, then we see that the danger isn’t that the lost boy will stay lost; it is that the lost boy will confuse and mislead others until they too are lost. This, more than anything, is why this decision is wrong, and why it creates a conundrum which cannot be resolved. Either “duty to God” means something, or it means nothing, and is simply a vestigial appendage that is no different from the “ceremonial deism” described by the Supreme Court in decisions where they impose a “freedom” from religion, rather than recognizing the sovereign invoked in the Nation’s Charter, while it justifies maintaining such occurrences as prayers to open Congress, by a Congressional Chaplin, or the plea “God Save This Honorable Court!” which opens its own proceedings.
If we say a homosexual scout can fulfill a “Duty to God”, then we ignore what is set forth in the scriptures of the three major religions of the world; if we say it is “ceremonial deism”, then we are asking them to violate the points of the Scout Law requiring them to be trustworthy, as they are swearing an oath that they do not believe, nor are they being honest, as they swear to an obligation that they have no intention of understanding or fulfilling. Either way, we are setting them up to fail, as we remove one of the last institutions that once instilled its members with virtues and integrity, and sought to instill succeeding generations with the same, and either way, it does not bode well for the future of an organization that failed to heed the instruction in Romans 12:2
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
and instead chose to conform to that which is inconsistent with its own stated first duty.
Great quote about scripture! “The community formed scripture so that scripture could form the community” – Dale Luffman
The words of my cousin’s Facebook status hung on the screen.
He may as well have written “We ARE the ones we’ve been waiting for!”
I would like to believe that isn’t really the flavor of what he meant, but it is a common thread in the world today. I’ve been watching as people have been assailing the Catholic Church with the idea that it should make a number of changes to accommodate their desires.
It is always wise to retain a healthy skepticism about religion, but balancing practice with scripture is a worthy endeavor. This is something that the Apostle Peter understood, and spoke of in 2 Peter 3:14-16:
14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
This brings us to the question, “What’s wrong with the idea that the community formed the scripture?”
First, it isn’t a belief that the authors displayed. One such example can also be found in 2 Peter, at 1:19-21:
19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed,[a] which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,[b] 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God[c] spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
And in 2 Timothy, at 3:16:
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
But there is also the fact that when man decided for himself what was holy and what was not, it didn’t usually turn out well, and it certainly wasn’t of God. Such as in Exodus 32:1-4
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.
Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
Following the Law was difficult in Old Testament times, but it was preferrable to the life that the “community” would chose for itself. A great example is found in Judges, and the root cause is found in the last verse of the book, 21:25:
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
And doing what was right in their own eyes almost caused an entire tribe of Israel to be wiped out, because of what that community choose to form in Chapter 19. Knowing this, it seems wise to let God form the scripture that will be used to form the community, because it lets God change you, rather than you attempting to change God.
And yet, there are those who want to be part of the community, and yet think it is for them to define that community without regard to what God is and what he requires, or in spite of those things. And this assault is probably most visible with regard to the Catholic Church, but it is by no means the only place where it is occurring. And the disappointment that these same people are registering with the new Pope is encouraging. I confess to being somewhat mystified by their expectation that someone who has been in the clergy and considered more than once for the head of the church would somehow turn all of that on its ear and reject the Word in favor of what these aspirants would have it be. It is a symptom of the times that such expectations would be expressed in this manner. It was stated in 2 Timothy 3:1-9:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.
I appreciate those who will not compromise the Word to gain an audience of itching ears. I appreciate a willingness to stand on the Word, and to challenge the challengers with God’s Answer to Job in Chapter 38:2:
“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?[“]
Because to pretend that the scripture you don’t like either doesn’t mean what it clearly states, or that it wasn’t really what God intended does just that. And yeah, that is difficult for believers who do the reading, too.
With eyes wide open to the differences
The God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His
Or are we caught in the middle?
Are we caught in the middle?
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
When the Catholic Church got a new Pope this week, the news was filtered through the disappointment of the media when they learned of the prospect that he likely actually believes in the precepts and understandings set forth in the Bible. Pundits and various advocates who were hoping against hope that the cardinals entrusted with such a momentous decision would somehow come to the decision to elect someone with sympathetic inclinations to the superior morals and understandings of “modern” beliefs…someone who could look upon their petty rebellions and sicknesses, and instead of telling them that the most wonderful aspect of the gift of life was in mortal and eternal jeopardy, choose to sanction their decisions, and tell them that they can continue to live the way that they do, and that everything will be fine.
I confess that I used to despair at such expectations; now I find them as predictable as the sun rising in the East. Humanity dwells under the shadow of deception. We live in a world where the truth, or things that are true, are regarded with suspicion, and derision. Truth, by its very nature implies that some things can be false. Falsity implies consequences for bad choices. So as a result, we have come to a place where we reject truth, and for those who cannot avoid the consequences of their choices, we have victimhood. We embrace the idea that nothing is ever our fault, and we actively seek ways to avoid consequences. We seek privilege, and eschew responsibility. We take for granted the idea that for everything that is real, we can impose our will, and recreate it as we would have it. It doesn’t matter if it is diet soda, or friends with benefits, we presume that we can divorce temporary pleasure from permanent consequence, despite the fact that our own creation is never really everything that we thought it would be, whether it is the ingestion of carcinogens because we want to drink something sweet, but we don’t want the calories, or the sobering discovery that no matter how hard we try, emotions end up entwined with sex, making what was supposed to be harmless fun a very real and raw situation.
And when the still small voice finds a very real representative in our life that confronts the lies that we want to live, rebellion is an almost instinctual result. For whatever reason, the same humanity that couldn’t hide the knowledge of its nakedness in the garden from the one who made it still stubbornly clings to the belief that it knows better. And it manifests itself in the most interesting ways. Whether it is the vain belief that if the search continues, it will find “the missing link” between humans and apes, even though mathematicians and molecular biologists understand that the sheer number of cellular changes that would have to occur to make the jump from one species to another are a near statistical impossibility. And when these representatives have the nerve to stand up for their RIGHT to speak the truth, they are actually told by the government that has no right to interfere with them at all that they need to listen to “more enlightened voices”. But the enlightenment is an illusion. Its moral underpinning is a vague warm and fuzzy feeling that offers up a gospel of inoffensiveness, and a faux righteous indignation at any suggestion that a choice made could be wrong, and that the consequence of that choice is an indication of the truth of the assertion. And so the rebellion grows, and the truth is increasingly rejected in favor of the lie that makes us feel better. It translates into so many aspects of life, and so many things that simply are must be recast into what the heart of man would pretend them to be.
The good news is that we aren’t the first to see this. The issue of deception comes up a lot in the Bible. It tells us who conceives it. It tells us that entire nations have fallen prey to it. It tells us to be wary of it, and it tells us that it will grow.
Paul warned Timothy of it in 1 Timothy 6:20
20 O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—
We were told were it dwells in Proverbs 12:20
Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil,
But counselors of peace have joy.
Jeremiah 8:5 tells us that entire nations have fallen prey to it
5 Why has this people slidden back,
Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit,
They refuse to return.
Paul made a perfect response to current critics in Acts 13:10
10 and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?
Jeremiah 17:9 explained why we cannot get away from it
9 “The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
Ephesians 5:6 warned us about the consequences of it
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
2 Timothy 3:13 described the exponential nature of deceit
13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.
And 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 tells us that at some point, there will be a reckoning
11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Deception surrounds us. Whether it is the “immutable truths” of science (which are anything but, as the history of science clearly demonstrates) or “the modern views and customs” which aren’t modern at all, but simply the presumption that if it is what the human heart desires, it must be good. We ingest it, drink it in, and profess it, and suffer from the inanition that it brings, but rarely wonder why it is that no matter how much we feed it, it is never satisfied. Maybe it’s because we live in a world with so little opportunity for reflection on it, and when we aren’t distracted, we are too busy chasing the next fix.
A friend on Facebook posted a picture from a vigil in Newtown, CT last Friday night.
The church in the background looked so small, and the crowd in front looked too large.
And true to form, my thoughts on viewing weren’t like those of others.
I wrote “I hope that some of them find comfort in the shelter of the wings there, but at the same time, I wonder how many of them are visiting for the very first time, or the first time in a very long time?”
And of course, the reaction was swift.
” Does it matter? They are there.”
“I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic school with real nuns as teachers and went to Mass every single day of the week! I found as I entered my teens that God could also be found on lake bluff, below in the park lakeside or in my own backyard. Being in a building doesn’t bring you closer to God.”
I didn’t respond. Not because I didn’t have a response, but because it was not time for the response. But as I readied for church this morning, my mind came back to this question, and the response it received. As I shaved in the shower, I wondered if Jesus would have also felt sorrow at that image. Then I wondered what prompted that thought. I paused as I considered a savior that became human, and that experienced the human condition, including sorrow. The shortest verse in the Bible was about Jesus’ sorrow. John 11:35…. “Jesus Wept.” And why was Jesus weeping? He was weeping over the grave of a friend, Lazarus. He was weeping because he shared the sorrow of Lazarus’ family at his passing.
And that wasn’t the only time he wept. He also wept when he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, because he knew that the people didn’t understand, and that some of them never would understand the deeper meaning of what was about to unfold.
“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it.” Luke 19:41.
And so my mind came back to the response to my question on the Facebook thread, and how I hear it too often. And the answer is that you might find God in the quiet places, but we need each other to grow in Christ, to receive the understanding that we are not capable of, and to become more than just babies in the faith. It isn’t about religion, as much as it is about knowing we are the body of Christ, and, to use a bad metaphor, we can’t all be a foot, or a hand. Paul talks about this in more than one place in the Bible.
3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
And then again in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into[a] one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best[b] gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
It matters. It matters because we need the gifts that others have. It matters because they need the gifts that we have. It matters, because it is in that fellowship where we can find the face of Christ and see it reflected back at us. It matters because it is there where our deficiencies are also our strengths. If your place of worship is too much church and not enough family, if it is a cause of stress, and not a place of rest, if it is a place where no growth is possible, then maybe you need to find a new one.