The Great Christian Metanarrative

The-Adoration-of-the-Lamb

The Essence of the Faith and Why it Matters

Christianity is grounded in history.  While some might think of the Bible as a disjointed collection of ancient writings, the events recorded in the Bible really happened, and there is an overarching, central theme and message.  It is in understanding this theme, this metanarrative, that we find God’s purpose for humanity, and by extension for each of us as we seek to make sense of the world and find meaning for our lives. 

The writers of the biblical texts never attempt to show any beginning for God; they simply posit that He exists.  “In the beginning, God.”  He preexists creation.  (“He” because the Bible uses male pronouns.  “He” although God of course does not have a human body, incarnate God – Jesus – was a man.)  As God, the eternally existing God, the One by whom and through whom and for whom all things exist, God’s great design in all His works is the manifestation of His own glory.  Properly so; God is God.  

The Introduction – Creation

The Bible teaches us that we were created “in God’s image,” in some limited sense corresponding to Him and resembling Him, able to reason, able to choose, able to and meant to live in relationship with Him as well as with each other.  God created mankind out of His love and goodness in a condition of communication with Him and knowing Him.  It is here that we find the introduction to the grand story of human existence.

It is easy for those of us who accept creation as fact to get caught up in debates about details (and the details are not unimportant) and miss the point that ultimately cannot and must not be missed.  Eternal God, for His own purposes and in great display of ability, power, knowledge, and wisdom, created by fiat what we know as creation.  He created the physical universe substantially as it is, the celestial bodies, the earth, all designed and created as part of His plan.  He created the earth substantially as it is (great geological changes have occurred).  He created life on the earth, plants as plants, animals as animals.  All of this creation was designed as a home for humanity.  And he created humans – as humans.  Innocent of evil, in the image of God, mentally, morally, socially able to interact with Him, created for His divine purpose.  The Bible says in Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.   And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”  This truth is both assumed and restated throughout scripture.

The Conflict – The Fall

Everywhere around us we see the manifestation of God in creation.  The world as we know it, humanity as we know it, all that we can perceive, is simply unimaginable without a Creator far beyond anything we can contemplate, far beyond anything of the natural world, far beyond chance development from eternal space-plus-time-plus-energy/matter.  Simultaneously, all around us we see disaster and destruction.  We sense the obvious, that something is not at all right.  The Genesis story of the creation of man is quickly followed by the story of man’s rebellion against God.  Made in God’s image, Adam had the capacity to make free choices.  Fully in relationship with their Creator, Adam and Eve made the disastrous choice to rebel against their Creator.  Life in obedience and harmony with God was an existence of enjoyment, life, knowledge, and achievement, but sin – disobedience to the Creator – brought disaster, loss of life, eternal death. 

The aftermath and consequences of that rebellion against God is the story of human history.  The earth itself became tainted, a punishment to mankind for sin, becoming less hospitable to humankind, with famines, plagues, pestilence, earthquakes, floods, droughts and disasters and hardships throughout time.  Disease, various maladies, and physical death became the fate of all.  Genesis chapter 6 records the great Flood, a dramatic act of divine destruction against an ancient world deeply in sin.  Untold millions have died in wars.  Persecution against perceived enemies, greed, selfishness, pride, murder, human sacrifice, and slavery, have characterized human history. 

Humanity exists amid this Fall, the great rebellion against the Creator.  The divine nature demands justice and judgement against that rebellion; God’s nature as God demands that He doesn’t merely tolerate rebellion.  Humans are not somehow merely flawed yet perfectible.  We are rebels against God.     

None of this came as a surprise to God.  The scriptures help us to understand that God is not the cause of sin, but for His own divine purposes allowed sin.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful, who exists outside of creation, outside of time.  As difficult as it might be at first to accept, God knew when He created man “in His own image” that man would sin and rebel against Him.  That rebellion, and more importantly the solution to that rebellion, is the heart of the great metanarrative. 

The Resolution – Redemption

God in His grace provided the way that we can be forgiven and restored.  The apostle Paul wrote of Christ in Colossians 1:19-21, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.   And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled . . .”  This was the plan of God, for His own glory, before creation, before time began.  Ephesians 1:4 reminds that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  It is here we find the culmination of history, the grand purpose of God, the reason for human existence. 

Jesus is God incarnate, born into humanity for the express purpose of dying for us, to demonstrate the consequences of sin and to pay the penalty for our sins.  After His death on the cross, Jesus rose again from the dead in triumph over death that came with human sin.  All who trust Him for salvation will be forgiven and made new, as Jesus’ death was the payment and full atonement on behalf of the people of all nations and of all history who turn from their sins and embrace Christ as Savior.  This is, essentially, the gospel, the essence of Christian teaching.  The gospel is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere in his writings.  For since by sinful man death and destruction came, by the incarnate God Man came resurrection and restoration.  In Adam all died, even so in Christ we are made alive.  God created man, physical death and destruction came because of disobedience, and the Cross brought atonement, reconciliation, and the promise of a new heaven and earth.  The solution to human estrangement from God is not to be found in sacramentalism, ceremony, religion, or reformation.  Jesus Christ did the only needed and acceptable work.  What is required of us is acknowledgement of our guilt, humble admission of our rebellion both individually and as a human, and acknowledgement of Christ as Savior and Lord.  We must admit that we are rebels who must lay down our arms.

It is “The Cross” and what happened there that is the centerpiece of the metanarrative. The Old Testament points to and predicts it, the New Testament presents and explains it.  By it the sins of Christ’s people are atoned for; they are reconciled to God.  Everything else is subordinate to this plan, put in place by God’s providence for the sake of this plan.  In Jesus Christ on the cross divine holiness was demonstrated and justice was carried out.  God put the punishment of all our sins on Him, so that He might freely and graciously pardon believers, to the honor and exaltation of His justice, grace, and mercy, as Paul explained in Romans 3.

We should and must also consider the earthly ministry and teaching of Jesus and live our present lives in light of his teaching, but we should always remember that the purpose for which Jesus came was to die on the cross.  In the Bible’s book of Acts, chapter two, recording a sermon of the apostle Peter, one reads,  “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, . . .”  The reason for the incarnation and death of Jesus plainly centered around His death for us.  He was not merely a great leader or teacher or martyr who died for a cause.  It is here – the incarnation and the cross – that we begin to understand the grand plan for humanity.  Creation showed his abilities and much of what characterizes God as God, but it only went so far.  God’s ultimate purpose was not merely creation; it was Jesus Christ on the cross and on His eternal throne worshipped as savior by His redeemed for all eternity. 

The Bible indicates that outside of the creation we inhabit, there are “the hosts of heaven,” other created beings such as angels.  We might expect that an eternally existent infinite God would create throughout timeless eternity.  And in Christ and what He came to do God uniquely manifested Himself not only to humankind but to these numberless created beings.  When man sinned, God did something startling, grand, unexpected.  He demonstrated divine grace and love.  Infinite holy God provided a way for humans to be saved by the sacrificial substitutionary death of Christ.  It is here that we find the grand purpose for human existence.  God vividly displayed His infinite grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.

In the Bible’s book of The Revelation, we observe that the “hosts of heaven” worship this “Lamb that was slain.”  The centerpiece of worship in heaven for eternity will be the display of the glory of the grace of God in the “Lamb that was slain.”   The suffering of Jesus Christ will be at the center of our worship and our wonder forever.  This is not an afterthought of God.  This was the plan before creation, the goal and purpose of creation and human existence, the reason why we exist.  The sacrifice of Christ is the focal point of the ages and of eternity for us.  It forever removed the sins of those who believe.  Angels and the redeemed of earth will sing of the suffering of this sacrificed Lamb forever; the suffering of the Son of God will never be forgotten.  We exist for God.  Jesus satisfied the Father’s justice, made the necessary atonement for sins, and created a people for God.   

The Epilogue – The Consummation

Over the last two thousand years, in the wake of the life of Jesus and the spread of Christianity, the gospel has been taught, people throughout the ages have believed that gospel and entered the spiritual kingdom of Christ’s followers.  Millions have believed the gospel, and in His divine plan God continues to add to the ranks of His eternal worshippers.  They have physically died but live on as worshippers of God, as subjects of His eternal kingdom.  They have left this life and entered a new existence with their Savior.  There is a consummation for each of us individually – we will all pass from this world and enter the eternal state.    

But the world still “groans” as the Bible says, still largely existing in the consequences of the Fall.  Of Christ’s first coming, Paul wrote in Galatians 4 that “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”  Christ came “in the fullness of time,” at the time planned from the beginning.  After His resurrection, as He prepared to ascend into heaven, Jesus told His assembled disciples (Acts 1:6-11),

 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.   And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” 

The epilogue of the metanarrative tells us that in God’s divine plan the present age will end at a divinely chosen time.  In His time, Christ will return suddenly and dramatically, as Earth’s rightful King to reclaim His country.  Judgement on the sins of the unrepentant will come.  God will intervene and bring righteousness, equity, and justice to the world, and believers will live eternally in unending praise of the One who died for their sins, in a world free from sin and its effects on a restored earth that will be ours to inhabit for eternity. 

Revelation 5:12-14 tells, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”  Believers of the ages will eternally worship, thank, and praise the Lamb who was sacrificed for our salvation.  This is the eternal plan and purpose of God.

This is essentially Christianity 101.  But, one might ask, so what? 

The Implications

For the Individual.  Creation in its grandeur displays something far beyond natural processes.  Observing creation, one does not necessarily come to conclude that the God of the Bible exists, but one must at least be open to the existence of a creator beyond creation.  The Bible causes us to understand that it is more God who seeks man rather than man seeking God, but observation of God demonstrated in creation and the created world coupled with the human conscience to some degree makes it incumbent that men do seek Him.  “God . . . now commands all men everywhere to repent.”

Those who have come to Christ and understand the great story of God’s plan for human redemption begin to understand that there is meaning and purpose to the world, to life, and to themselves.  Life is moving forward and heading toward an ultimate perfect eternal existence with God.  Our faith dictates the way we see the world, our attitudes and actions toward others, and our view of our self.  Individuals find their significance in knowing God.  Our existence has meaning; therefore, my existence has meaning.  As a believer, one comes to understand that we as human are sinful and fundamentally flawed, acknowledge our sin and rebellion, and humbly come to God.  We must live a repentant life, forming our attitudes and behavior in obedience to Him.  We understand that God our creator loves us so much that Christ died for us, and therefore we can and should live joyous, purposeful lives.  “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”  Despite difficulties, or enjoying positive circumstances, we live with an eternal perspective, understanding that our losses and our gains are both transitory.  God is sovereign and ultimately in control of His great grand purpose for creation and in His presence and purpose for us individually.  We are eternal worshippers of God; that is at the center of His reason for creating us, and we worship Him now in the totality of life.  As followers of Christ, it is He whom we worship in attitudes and actions, in giving excellence to the tasks in life, and serving those around us.  We worship Him when we learn and practice His ways outlined for us in the Bible.  While secularism and postmodernism cannot adequately answer the quest and longing for significance, meaning, and worth, Christianity with the unchanging central theme of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior brings the answer to those questions.    

 There is an eternal Creator who has created and expressed His love toward us; thus, He is the source and definition of truth and knowledge.  Truth becomes absolute, not relative, in the Christian metanarrative, and this profoundly affects our perspectives and our behavior.  Our understanding about reality and how we see the world and therefore how we live, becomes completely different from those who have a different worldview not informed by an understanding of God’s program.  The great Christian metanarrative is the source of concepts long taken for granted in western culture, like human dignity and basic human rights.  The cultures and nations influenced by Christian teaching have historically developed in expression of those virtues.  Believers are uniquely able to be a positive force in society. 

Benevolence, charity, equity, fairness, justice, deference, humility, and respect for rights, are ultimately rooted in this understanding that God created and loves people.  Christ’s followers should love those who like us are created in God’s image.  Our virtues are to be an expression of our identity as a follower of Christ, and our desire to demonstrate the love of Christ is the primary motivation for expressing those virtues.  Christ died for sinners, so we declare the gospel, persuade, and convince sinners to end their rebellion and acknowledge Christ as Lord and become worshippers of Him.    

Paul wrote in Philippians 2 that ultimately every knee will bow at the name of Jesus Who humbled Himself to death on the cross.   All of creation—in heaven and on earth—ultimately will bow before Jesus Christ and Him alone (Philippians 2:10).  Believers will worship Him eternally and are called to worship Him supremely in this present life.  We live in anticipation.  We live with hope and optimism.    

For the Church.  Biblical churches are assemblies of followers of Christ, and churches have been found in cultures and societies throughout the centuries.  There is no liturgy given in the New Testament for the assembly of the local church, and those assemblies are very different in various circumstances and times.  Two ordinances have been given to the church, baptism and communion, and the central feature of both is the central truth of Christ.  In baptism, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is pictured, and the individual being baptized identifies with Christ and with the church.  In communion, the broken body and blood of Jesus is vividly remembered.  These ordinances are acts of worship, remembering and commemorating Christ as the atonement for one’s sin.  They put the work of Christ in the central place in the church.  That centrality is to be present in everything that the church is and does.    

It might be easier for a persecuted church to remain focused on Who God is and what Christ has done for us.  But too often the American church seems to have set the central metanarrative aside.  In previous decades especially, many in Fundamental and Evangelical circles embraced a decisional approach that often used some combination of ease and convenience, guilt, and emotion to elicit a “repeat after me” prayer that would then pronounce the convert as “saved.”  The danger here is that the person fails to understand the gospel, understand true repentance, and genuinely turn to Christ as Lord and Savior. 

The bigger failure today is the failure of churches to emphasize anything of the gospel at all.  Too often the concept of Jesus that is presented is as a great teacher, a martyr, an affirmer, a friend, a social reformer.  He is a source for inspiration, principles of success, and prosperity.  He condemns no sin, instead affirms every action and choice.  The Jesus that might be put forward is “radical” or “revolutionary,” with an emphasis on various social issues. The church assembles more to be entertained than to glorify God and commune with Him.

The metanarrative with the central truth of Christ as Savior and Lord are to be the core subject of what the church teaches, the superstructure on which all else is supported.  Scripture addresses a vast number of subjects, helps us understand how we should live, and so the church continuously addresses those topics.  We must learn to live successfully in the present world as a believer, to overcome the corruption present in society, to live out our faith in the totality of life.  We should enjoy interactions with other believers and help each other in life.  But if one attends a church and does not regularly hear of human sin, the need for repentance and faith, and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the atonement for human sin, there is something wrong in that church.  If the themes and concerns of contemporary society crowd out the centrality of Christ, there is something wrong.  If the corrupt entertainment of the world is used in place of congregational singing of the gospel, there is something wrong.  If the blood of Christ is thought to be unattractive to a target audience and so is never mentioned, is never remembered in song, something is wrong.  The Lamb is the subject of the eternal “new” song and so should be now.         

Jesus at Calvary is the center point of human existence.  It is the theme of human sin and Christ as the solution to that sin that is to remain central – to the individual believer, and to a church.   

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

 

Music, Vacations, and Pandemics

Music is a powerful influence in both the life of an individual and of a society, and the music of a culture or subculture is a deep and profound reflection of that culture, its values, its underpinnings, and its perspectives on life.  The music one listens to demonstrates to some degree who that person is.  It is an expression of the soul.  Further, the kind of music one listens to ultimately shapes what that person is becoming; it has a definite effect on people.  We are constantly surrounded by music when we are in public places.  On a recent vacation, we went to play miniature golf at a course near our hotel, and a group of workers were performing maintenance on a small restaurant building near the course.  They were listening, perhaps on a local radio station, to music that was blaring, not quite deafening as we played the holes nearest to them.  I am not sure of the genre, perhaps rap and hip-hop, and it was loud, certainly featuring no pleasing melody or harmony, the lyrics generally indiscernible and when occasionally understandable the words were unsavory at best.  I silently wondered why one would listen to such, and what effect it might have on a person.

Often in stores, restaurants, and places of business, sometimes in public conveyances, certainly in current movies or entertainment, we are confronted by the music of the society and various subcultures.  If one is fortunate, perhaps it is merely “elevator music,” perhaps banal and benign country, or “soft” rock.  Less fortunately, one might be subjected to excessive volume, a driving beat and percussion, noise, and lyrics that are raunchy.  Hollywood, rock, hip-hop, rap, shock radio, and a host of other pop culture obsessions, helped by mainstream media and the general secular academy, have indoctrinated recent generations to encourage depravity and distract from that which is important, worthwhile, and virtuous.  Everywhere it seems we are surrounded by the music that is one of the manifestations of the self-destructive nature of morally deviant pop culture.

__________

When we returned home from the vacation, we went to church on the next Sunday.  As a believer, it was a joy to be assembled with other believers, singing words expressing Christian doctrine, singing the gospel, singing biblical themes with joy and reverence, with music featuring pleasing sounds of melody and harmony.  Singing that proclaimed the gospel, that expressed corporate worship to the Lord, that spoke “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  Not the music of movie themes, not of a contemporary subculture, but of a profoundly different culture – the body of Christ.

During the early days of the Covid panic, we were of course unable to gather on Sunday with other Christians in church.  Our church was able to go online with the Sunday services from a nearly empty auditorium, but it was not close to the same.  A big part of what was lacking was the experience of reverent, orderly, joyful congregational singing.  The Bible says much about the subject of music, and there are perhaps five hundred references to music in the Bible.  The Creator knows that music has an effect on people’s lives.  He is worshipped when the assembled church sings of who He is and what He has done for us in Christ with mindful, joyful reverence.

In Revelation 5:9, the Bible depicts a scene in heaven for us and tells us, “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation . . .“  This is not a “new” song merely in chronology; it is “new” in kind and substance, recognizably different in nature from something else of a similar type.  Different than the old songs of the earth.  Just as in heaven, so it can and should be in this life.  The psalmist speaks of a “new song” in, for instance, Psalm 40:3, 96:1, and 98:1, a song that reflects the direction of our heart, a song that reminds us of Who God Is and, now in this age after the cross, what He has done for us in Christ.

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.  (Ephesians 5:18-21)”

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Colossians 3:16-17)”

Joining the Jesus Movement

Months ago I received an e-mail from a post-christian Protestant denomination.  Titled “Welcoming Others to Join Our Jesus Movement,” it included an appeal to support “Ministries that make a difference in our world and propel us forward to walk in the way of Jesus.”  Bullet points pointing to these ministries included: Creation Care – advocating for the care of God’s creation; Evangelism – welcoming others to join our Jesus Movement; and Racial Reconciliation – working to create a Beloved Community for all citizens.  Essentially, “jump on the Jesus train, become an environmentalist, and focus on social justice.”  On Easter Sunday, many in the broad spectrum of christianity who attended a church or listened online heard sermons on subjects similar to the above, as they do most weeks, while many heard themes like Spring, victory following defeat, happiness and prosperity and success, or affirmation coming from the inspiring story of Jesus.

The “gospel” so often referenced on Easter and in other sermons, the messages that are the focus of the entertainment-modeled music heard in the typical evangelical, are “gospels” featuring themes of self-affirmation, prosperity, happiness, success, triumph, self-reform, or calls to societal change inspired by “Jesus.”  The approach is usually happy, upbeat, and affirming rather than reverent, repentant, and truly joyful.  The focus becomes “who I am” or “who I can become” because of God.  That, however, is not the Gospel of the Jesus of the Bible.  It is a deception.  It is a “pied piper” gospel, strong and delusive, making irresponsible promises, attracting followers, but not focusing on grace, faith, regeneration, and repentance.  It robs God of the glory rightfully His.  And, by not declaring the Gospel of scripture, it does not address the true need of the human heart.

__________

The local church we are part of had both an Easter/Resurrection Sunday service and a service on Friday evening.  The Friday service was memorable and was the perfect pattern for a church service.  The account of the trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus from Matthew 26 and 27 was read in sections, with a traditional hymn or gospel song appropriate to the occasion sung by the congregation between each reading.  The ordinance of Communion was observed, with time devoted to individual reflection and prayer, and the congregation was lead in corporate prayer.  Attendance by visitors outside of the congregation had been encouraged, and the Gospel was clearly proclaimed, from the scriptures, in song, in the observance of Communion, and in brief remarks by the pastor.  On Sunday morning, the pastor spoke from the resurrection account in Matthew 28, completing the account of the death, burial, and resurrection from Matthew’s gospel.  True worship draws the attention of the worshipper to God, to His nature, to His majesty, to who He is and what He has done for us in Christ.  What our church did that weekend did just that.  

The message of “Good Friday” and “Easter” is not primarily “me” focused.  It is not merely “By Your spirit I will rise from the ashes of defeat, the resurrected king is resurrecting me.”  No, the message of “Easter” is ultimately God-focused, Christ-focused, Gospel focused.  It is the message of sin and the wrath of God against human sin demonstrated and satisfied by Christ on the cross.  It is the message of the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ in victory over sin and death.  It is the message of the salvation of those who in repentance and in faith believe the Gospel and turn to Him.  And yet, paradoxically, it is only when we realize this, when we focus on God, Christ, and His Gospel, that we attain fulfilment, joy, and eternal life.  In John 14:19, it is recorded that Jesus told the disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.  Because I live, you will live also.”

“Because I live, you will live also.”  Christ came in the sovereign plan of God to make human redemption possible.  He defeated death for us.  Because He atoned for my sin, because in His grace He has called me to faith and repentance, because for His own glory He has made me a new creature in Christ, Because He lives, I will live also.

Unworthy

A social media photo of an individual who has been in the news many times in recent months prompted a reaction, as it usually does when I see the person in media.  This individual was the head of the state health department in a large state throughout the virus situation and has been appointed to a high position in the Biden administration.  The individual has shoulder-length curly hair, an obviously male face, dresses in female clothes, and has championed the idea of allowing, even encouraging, children to question and choose their gender and to receive harmful hormone and medical treatments to change their gender.  I am probably not alone among people with traditional values in having a reaction something short of the gag reflex when this person is the subject of a news clip or depiction on a screen. 

The presence of this person in responsible government positions is a symptom of something deeply wrong in post-modern, post-Christian western society.  He is not alone.  A similarly afflicted individual is a state legislator in the state where I reside, and this is by no means rare.  It is an indication of social collapse.  In the not-too-distant past, such individuals might have been considered mentally ill.

I have never and will never meet this person; he has committed no personal offense against me, and yet from a distance I am somewhat repulsed by him, by what he says and believes, and by what he represents.  But as I reacted internally to the photo I saw, I quickly was reminded of something else, something perhaps more relevant to me and to all of us. 

God created human beings and blessed humanity with a marvelous world and environment.  Yet the unthinkable occurred – man rebelled against God, the creature against the Creator.  That rebellion brought disaster to all of creation, to all of humanity.  My reaction to the depravity of another human surely pales beyond measure against the divine reaction to the fact that I am a sinner against God, a sinner both by virtue of the fact that I am part of the rebellious human race, and a sinner by willful choice.  “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.”  “All.”  Even traditional values, conservative, Republican, church-going Americans.  “The wages of sin is death” – separation from God – for all of us.  We are all repulsive unworthy rebels against God, subject to His righteous anger.  The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote that all our righteous works are but “filthy rags.”  We are all born part of humanity in rebellion against God, an offense of unimaginable magnitude.

But the most astounding thing has occurred.  Despite the repulsiveness of human rebellion, God Himself in Christ has atoned for our sins!  “The Just for the unjust.” 

None of us can redeem ourselves in the economy of God.  We cannot save ourselves from His righteous judgement.  In a real sense all of us should be irredeemable, yet no one is irredeemable.  Can a person become depraved to the point that they will not or cannot be saved?  A case can be made for that from Scripture.  But regardless of our sin and depravity, God is sovereign, God is gracious, and if an individual will but repent of sin, turn to Christ, acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior, that individual will be met with the love and acceptance of God.  Not because of works, not by intrinsic worthiness, despite human depravity, because of divine grace. 

“Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).”  Salvation is a work of God, offered not because any of us are worthy – because we are not, but purely of His grace, purely in His sovereignty.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).”  In Christ, we are no longer depraved, no longer repulsive, but accepted.  And that is indeed good news.

Invasive Species

A local media story headlined “Invasive New Zealand mud snails lead to closure,” noted that access to a popular creek area was closed after the discovery of that invasive species in the creek.  The mud snails are about the size of a grain of rice and one can produce a colony of 40 million snails in a year because of their ability to rapidly reproduce through cloning, disrupting aquatic ecosystems, harming fish populations, and displacing native insects.  The species can easily move from one body of water to another by attaching to things like an animal or fishing equipment.  The parks department, struggling with how to manage the presence of the species, urged people to avoid accessing streams or creeks where the snails have been found, to thoroughly clean waders and fishing equipment, and to brush dogs to make sure that they are not carrying any of the snails.  Invasive species like this tiny mud snail can bring great harm.

Our nation is currently in turmoil and in great danger.  Our constitutional republic has seemingly become an oligarchy, ruled by a small Leftist elite.  “Patriot” has become a word considered to be almost hate speech.  Virtue is mocked while immorality is rampant and accepted.  Christianity has largely been abandoned.  This did not happen instantly; it began with small steps that over time grew and ultimately brought about the perilous state in which we find ourselves.

The history of the church is marked by the presence of “invasive species.”  The New Testament writers observed that this was happening and wrote against it.  Theological error was present very early in church history and is addressed in the New Testament.  False teachers and unworthy leaders, full of pride and bad character, were already present before the closing of the writing of the New Testament.  Immorality infected the early church and is denounced by the New Testament writers.  Paul, Peter, and Jude in their writings clearly warned against these “invasive species” and gave instruction to be diligent and to deal with these and other issues.   

This has continued through the centuries.  By the nineteenth century, rationalism and liberalism began to invade many denominations and churches and eventually drove out gospel truth.  In the twentieth century, as theological liberalism continued its destructive path and theological error became widespread, the sins against which the New Testament authors warned became accepted, and by the twenty-first century even unspeakable immorality has become accepted and celebrated.  Slowly at first, in almost imperceptible steps, “invasive species” have infected churches and institutions, diverting them away from truth and true gospel ministry. 

Often there is not much we as individuals can do about these things.  But perhaps more importantly we need to be vigilant about “invasive species” in our own lives, things that distract us, things that will sideline and ultimately do great harm to us.   Anger can become destructive if we nurture it and allow it to grow in our life.  In Ephesians 4:3, Paul instructed, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”  Fear and anxiety can grow and sometimes paralyze us, especially when we focus on difficult or disagreeable circumstances.  The Psalmist wrote in the 118th Psalm, “I will not fear.  What can man do to me?”  Envy and jealousy can become poisonous.  Immorality may start out in small, almost imperceptible ways and grow into something that brings disaster.  In the Ten Commandments, there is a prohibition against idolatry and having any sort of other god before God, and this is repeated throughout the Bible.  All sorts of attitudes and actions can grow and become idols and take us away from devotion to the Savior.  Further, in the Commandments we are forbidden to murder, commit adultery, steal or even covet, bear false witness, or dishonor parents.  These forbidden things can become introduced into our lives in small ways.

Philippians 4:8 reminds, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”  The closing of churches in response to the virus disrupted the church life of American believers, and it has become too easy for some to continue to stay away from church and the discipleship and fellowship that is so vital to assist us in the task of “meditate on these things.”  Diligence is required.  Nations – churches – families – individuals – are brought down slowly by the “invasive species” that are everywhere. 

Proverbs 4:3 reminds, “Keep your heart with diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”

The Pursuit of Wisdom

Nothing so characterizes post-modern American culture more than a simple lack of good sense and sound judgement.  This seems to become more the case every day.  It can be seen by even a casual observer of current events and trends.  People lack the ability to look beyond the obvious, to look beyond the media narratives, and to critically analyze issues.  Examples abound.

American society was rocked in recent months by a few media-dominating police shootings, mostly of young Black men.  The result was riots and looting, denunciations of the police and even the concept of law enforcement, denunciations of the country and its historical foundations, and cries of “systemic racism.”  But it is easy to see that police shootings almost invariably have one of three factors involved.  In most instances, the victim has either committed a crime or is in the presence of someone who has.  Secondly, often the victim is intoxicated or has taken drugs.  Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the victim fails to cooperate with the police.  Over and over, at least one of these factors is present. 

The widely reported Minneapolis incident earlier in the summer illustrates this.  A police officer harshly overused a tactic to subdue a suspect, and the horrifying video was widely reported as the officer murdering the victim.  While the case has yet to work its way through the judicial system, what is known is that the suspect likely had committed a crime, he was not cooperating with the officers on scene, and he had a potentially fatal amount of fentanyl in his system.  Absent even one of these three factors, he would still be alive.  Race may or may not have even been a factor.  A widely reported Colorado case involving the death of a young Black man has been the subject of multiple investigations over several months.  There is no indication that the young man committed a crime, nor any indication of drugs.  What seems obvious is that he refused to cooperate with police officers investigating a report of a crime when he happened by.  He became agitated, paramedics were called and administered a sedative, and he tragically died due to the sedative.  He likely would have gone on his way and would still be alive if he had simply exercised better judgement and cooperated with the police.

These and other incidents are used, ironically, as proof that law enforcement cannot be trusted and should be resisted.  This blame shifting only serves to make the problem worse.  Instead of riots and protests, common sense would dictate that efforts would be better directed at reminding youth of all ages and races that their actions have consequences.

The collapse of the traditional home is creating monumental problems throughout society.  It is now the common pattern that a young Black person was born to an unmarried teenage mother who herself was born to an unmarried teenage mother.  Statistics clearly show that this is a disaster.  Children who grow up in such a situation are far more likely to have poor outcomes than children who experience growing up in traditional settings.  Reasoned observation confirms this and has for decades.  In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan published “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” At that time, 25% of blacks were born outside of wedlock, a number that Moynihan said was catastrophic to the Black community.  Moynihan, who went on to hold a number of governmental positions including United States senator, wrote: “A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure—that is not only to be expected, it is very near to inevitable.”  The 25% number in 1965 was far smaller than the number today, and unfortunately not merely among Blacks.

Common sense and science confirm that one’s sex and gender are fixed and unchangeable from the moment of conception.  Media and government may fawn over transgenderism, but in doing so no favor is done to the unfortunate individuals involved.  Transgenderism will not buy long term fulfilment and joy.  It will certainly be to the detriment of the individual’s physical health when they receive harmful hormones and experience physical mutilation.  Moving a child in this direction is nothing short of child abuse.     

The human-caused climate change mantra often shows a lack of reasoned thought and analysis.  The whole argument in its simplest form suggests that industrial production of carbon dioxide (and to a lesser extent a few other gasses) is dooming the planet to an environmental disaster.  The atmosphere contains just over 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide.  While China, India, and the rest of the world continue to increase their production of gasses, the suggested solution is that the United States and Europe virtually eliminate industrial and transportation-related production of carbon dioxide.  By doing this, at enormous cost, disruption to society, and environmental damage, the promise is that a few parts per million can be shaved off of atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, and this will save the planet and introduce a climate utopia.  Climate has indeed modulated throughout Earth’s history due to various causes science only partially understands, even before the industrial era, and climate change has often produced positive results such as increased crop yields.  This is ignored.  Proofs of anthropogenic climate change are offered that often are not proofs at all when thoroughly analyzed.  Yet climate change is accepted as an unquestionable axiom.    

Knowledge as an accumulation of facts grows today at a rapid pace.  The internet brings information and reports of events both trivial and important almost instantly.  But wisdom, the ability to take information, carefully consider facts, and address life situations and needs, is in dangerously short supply.  As Christians, we understand that wisdom and discernment, and common sense, comes through the Lord Jesus Christ – “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24)” – and through the written Word, the Bible – “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15)”.  James 1:5 reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  We must pursue wisdom, not just in matters of faith, but in the general affairs of life as well.  “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom.  And in all your getting, get understanding (Proverbs 4:7).”

Scripture helps us understand that there is a great metanarrative of history and human existence, the overarching account of ultimate purpose, history, events, and circumstances.  That story teaches us that God created the universe, the disaster of the Fall and sin ruined the world, God has provided for our redemption in Christ, and history will one day end in the great promised consummation of the ages, all within the sovereignty of God and for His ultimate glory and purposes.  Lack of good judgement has plagued human experience since the beginning of time; it is not a phenomenon confined to any particular generation, any one social class, culture, or nation.  Ultimately, for the Christian, one who has come to faith in Christ and the gospel, good judgement in life in large measure derives from biblical wisdom, observing God’s mandates to us, seeing life from God’s perspective, and responding accordingly.  As citizens, we can in some measured ways confront the unwise views of people around us; it is our right and our responsibility.  But our greater responsibility as Christians is to live sensibly and to confront people with the wisdom found in Christ and the Scriptures.  Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”                   

Not Our Home

An old gospel song begins, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.”  Perhaps now more than at any time in the history of the United States, Christians can see truth in this sentiment.

The growing disdain that society shows for biblical Christian beliefs and values shouldn’t surprise us, but it is sometimes overwhelming to observe the pace at which western society has rejected and marginalized traditional ideas.  The United States from its founding was profoundly influenced by Christian values, but in the last couple of decades that history has been denounced, marginalized, and swept away in academia, media, entertainment, and government.  Christians and Biblical ideas are now widely rejected and even hated.  Scripture warns us that believers will face such opposition.  In John 3:19-20, Jesus told His disciples, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  Later, in John 15:18-21, Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”

Absolutes.  The concepts of objective authority and objective truth have been rejected, while personal autonomy and subjectivism rules the day.  Truth is seen as one’s own truth, what one might personally define as truth.  This is held only in a form, for certain ideas are held to be true because, in effect, the social elite say they are true.  Ideas are repeated as truth over and over until they are accepted as true.  Anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is one example of this.  Media has come to simply assume and state it as fact.  Anyone questioning it in any way is ridiculed and rejected.  Science supposedly proves it, and it must be accepted and not questioned, contrary evidence is never given credence, and anyone who doubts is dismissed.

Sexual expression and morality are central in this postmodern rejection of objective truth.  The freedom to fornicate is today’s most prized and cherished freedom.  At a recent Senate hearing to confirm a Supreme Court justice, the nominee was castigated by a Senator for using the term “sexual preference” rather than “sexual orientation.”  The assertion is that we must not question one’s rejection of traditional heterosexuality, it must be accepted that the individual has every right to be identified however they feel oriented and practice accordingly; we must not think of it as merely a choice.  At a recent televised event, Democrat candidate former Vice President Joe Biden offered his support for children to undergo gender transition.  Responding to a question from a mother of a supposed transgender child, Biden said, “The idea that an eight year-old child or a ten year-old child decides, ‘you know I decided, I want to be transgender, that’s what I think I’d like to be, it’d make my life a lot easier.’  There should be zero discrimination.”  This was a stunning statement.  Eight-year-old children often cannot make good decisions about picking their nose.  The idea that a child should be guided on a path to receive harmful hormones and later be physically mutilated is akin to offering a child on a pagan altar.

The ideas of Karl Marx are becoming widely accepted to the Left.  Marx as an atheist and a materialist rejected morality as irrelevant and contended that power is everything.  Postmoderns seem to agree, at least that morality is irrelevant and the quest for a socialist order is everything.  “My object is to dethrone God and destroy capitalism,” Marx wrote.  “Keep people from their history and they are easily controlled.”  Forget history, and of course ultimately forget God.

Secularism simply has no place for Christianity, at least in a biblical form.  Some within broad Christianity have imagined that Christianity can somehow be made acceptable to the postmoderns.  This is an error and a deception.  We will either need to embrace most aspects of their philosophy, which is completely antithetical to biblical teaching, or we will face their ridicule and anger.  It is becoming more obvious by the day that churches and believers who hold to Christ and His gospel are simply unacceptable in today’s environment.  This growing hostility takes many forms.

Churches and Christian institutions have been tax-exempt throughout American history.  It may be a matter of time before this is threatened.  In a piece published in “The Denver Post” on July 12, 2020, columnist Bruce DeBoskey wrote,

“In 2019, 29% of all U.S. giving, $128.17 billion, went to religious institutions. Those donations were tax-deductible, resulting in billions of dollars of lost federal and state tax revenue. Unlike nearly all other nonprofits, however, religious nonprofits are not required to file annual tax returns revealing how the donations were spent.  Those expenditures may include leaders’ salaries, benefits and other perks, property holdings, investments, sources of revenue and other facets of the nonprofit’s operation and management.  Although most of us believe that the majority of the 300,000 religious institutions in the U.S. follow the law and are doing good work in, and provide value to, their communities, there is no way to factually evaluate that claim.”

He continued,

“Moreover, in most cases, religious institutions are exempt from paying property taxes, depriving local governments of badly needed income to provide essential services such as public education, law enforcement, fire protection, etc.  Studies estimate that American churches own approximately $300 billion-$500 billion in untaxed property.  New York City alone loses nearly $627 million in annual property tax revenue because of exempted churches in the city.  The triple whammy of deductions for contributions, exemption from paying taxes, and no reporting requirements, leaves us all in the dark about why these organizations deserve such favorable tax treatment.”

When a church simply teaches the scripture authoritatively, there is obvious conflict with new social ideas regarding subjects like sexuality, marriage, and gender roles.  Insistence that marriage is solely to be between one man and one woman, and all sexual expression is to be confined to marriage is widely rejected in thought and in practice.  The Bible teaches male leadership in the church and in the home, hardly a popular idea today, and a biblical church must hold to that in practice and teach it.  The wrath of those who reject the teaching of scripture will inevitably lead to demands to end any favored status for such churches or institutions.

Internet censorship most obviously seen in the political sphere is sure to come against Christians and biblical ideas.  Breitbart recently noted that

“Wikipedia users are no longer allowed to include “user boxes” on their profile page that express opposition to gay marriage following a discussion where predominantly left-wing editors argued such a stance was “discriminatory” and against site policy. Most user boxes pre-dated a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and were used by hundreds of editors. This included one expressing a personal view favoring traditional marriage, but advocating for states to decide.”

Beyond the internet, Christian broadcasters are likely to come under pressure.  The airwaves simply cannot be used to promulgate speech that offends.

Christians and Christian ministries are now often attacked with labels of hate and intolerance.  One far-left organization, the Southern Poverty Legal Center, claims to “monitor hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States and expose their activities to the public, the media and law enforcement.”  Some of these “hate groups” are well-known for their hateful rhetoric and actions, but others are Christian or nonprofit groups.  The conservative group Liberty Counsel has reported that many Christian or nonprofit groups have been categorized as “hate groups” by SPLC, given this label because each takes a biblical position on marriage.  Simply holding to biblical and historically Christian views, taken from the Bible, is enough to be called a “hate group.”  These groups don’t call for members to express hatred or commit violent acts; they simply hold to a set of beliefs that Christians, and most others in the Western world, have held to for centuries.  The Sunday service at a Bible-preaching church is essentially, to the far Left, a hate group rally, and the sermon “hate speech.”

The Gospel.  In 1 Peter 4:1-5 we read,

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles – when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.  They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

Ultimately, the real issue at the root of the conflict today is the Gospel.  Unbelievers do not want their sin exposed by the message of Christ and his Word.  They prefer to live in a society where their conduct is praised and accepted, rather than accept the truth that they are sinners in need of a Savior and creatures in rebellion against their Creator who need to turn from sin and turn to Him by grace and faith.  The Gospel is at the center of the church, the central theme of the Bible, the very center of Christian teaching.  The Gospel is Christianity; it is the message that the church has been commissioned to proclaim.  The message of the gospel is the good news of God for everyone who believes, but it starts with the bad news that we are all sinners and deserve the wrath of God, and that is a message people do not want to hear.  Throughout Scripture, God is shown to be a God of love and mercy, and many postmoderns are happy to accept this concept.  But He is likewise a God of holiness and justice, and people are less inclined to accept this.  He loves people, but he also calls all to repent of their sin.  Allowing people to remain lost in sin without warning them of the judgment to come is a disservice to them and an affront to God.

American believers are deeply patriotic.  We love our country, love our history, and are deeply appreciative of our prosperity and of our liberty, even as Christians face growing intolerance and hate from the culture.  We are becoming aliens and outcasts from society in our own beloved earthly country.  The last line of the first verse of that old gospel song reminds us, “And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

1 Peter 3:14-17 –  “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

John 14:2 – “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

A place prepared as our home. Our eternal home.

Idols of Our Own Making

Augustine wrote, ” O poor soul, how you debase yourself when you love earthly things.  You are better than them!  Only God is above you and you were made to love him only!”

God – the God of the Bible – is the Creator of all and leaves no room for any other imagined deity.  He is eternal, uncaused, self-existing and absolute perfection, and nothing can be added to him or taken from him.  No other being is its own cause.  No other being rivals the One True God.  In the Ten Commandments we read,   

6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  7 ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.  ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 9 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.  For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.  11 ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Deuteronomy 5

That message is repeated throughout the whole of Scripture.  The Christian believer is to love and serve Him as Lord and as God; there is never to be any place given to any other god, idol, or power.  Further, we are to worship and revere Him as He is, as He has objectively revealed Himself to us in His Word, and not merely as we might wish or imagine Him to be. Idolatry, at times incorporating the religious influences of the pagan nations around them, and ultimately essentially forgetting the One True God, brought ruin and destruction to the Jewish kingdoms in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 44 conveys a key and powerful message:

 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.

The superiority of God over idols is the main point of this writing of Isaiah, proven by the ability of God to foretell the future.  At the end of the chapter is a detailed prophecy of events fulfilled more than a century in the future at the time of writing, and throughout the writings of Isaiah there are a number of very detailed prophecies that have been fulfilled.

And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses.  Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’ ”

Other “gods” made by men are idols that cannot see, speak, hear, or even do what humans can.  The ancient workmen who created idols from the natural elements of creation were mere men who could make nothing superior to themselves. 

Those who make an image, all of them are useless,
And their precious things shall not profit;
They are their own witnesses;
They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed.
10 Who would form a god or mold an image
That profits him nothing?
11 Surely all his companions would be ashamed;
And the workmen, they are mere men.
Let them all be gathered together,
Let them stand up; Yet they shall fear,
They shall be ashamed together.

12 The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals,
Fashions it with hammers,
And works it with the strength of his arms.
Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails;
He drinks no water and is faint.

13 The craftsman stretches out his rule,
He marks one out with chalk; He fashions it with a plane,
He marks it out with the compass, And makes it like the figure of a man,
According to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house.
14 He cuts down cedars for himself, And takes the cypress and the oak;
He secures it for himself among the trees of the forest.
He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.

15 Then it shall be for a man to burn,
For he will take some of it and warm himself;
Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread;
Indeed he makes a god and worships it;
He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
16 He burns half of it in the fire; With this half he eats meat;
He roasts a roast, and is satisfied.
He even warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.”
17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They do not know nor understand;
For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see,
And their hearts, so that they cannot understand.
19 And no one considers in his heart,
Nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
“I have burned half of it in the fire,
Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals;
I have roasted meat and eaten it;
And shall I make the rest of it an abomination?
Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”

Nothing could be more foolish than worshipping something made of metal or wood or other materials of creation.  Idolatry is declared to be a deception, which profits nothing and brings judgement.  The chosen Jewish nation failed to maintain strict loyalty and obedience to God.  Few of us, either individually or in our churches, have any sort of statue or image that might be considered an idol, but too often we too are given to very real idolatry. 

In Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote  “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”   John warned believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols.”  Earlier he warned, in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”   To love the world is to make an idol of some element of it.  Sexual sin, materialism, jealousy, covetousness, hunger for power and prestige, the inordinate pursuit of pleasure, selfish pride; these things are idolatry and displace God from His rightful place in our lives.  Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “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!”  Too many of us are guilty of these things, and often we must be reminded to turn away from such behaviors and attitudes. 

But all idolatry is not so obvious.  John’s statement to believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols,” is perhaps a contrast with reference to “the true God” in verse 20, essentially a warning against false teachers and false teaching.  A god who is not the god of Scripture becomes in effect an idol, a false god, and the god of growing segments of perceived evangelicalism is just that, a false god of their own making.

“Lovers of self” leads the list of Paul’s description of the last days in the 2 Timothy passage; if unrepentant self is loved and admired it is an idol.  This has been forgotten by a broad part of the church with people often essentially encouraged to be “proud,” “unholy,” and “lovers of themselves” by the church.  God isn’t championed as the living sovereign God of Scripture, holy, righteous, just, intolerant of rebellion and sin, while also love and grace and mercy; but rather merely as accepting and loving as defined by human reasoning.  The gospel that is presented is broadly a man-centered gospel of happiness, hope, prosperity, and success; Jesus the life-coach. The Jesus of history becomes a divine source of inspiration and timeless wisdom but not the source of salvation through His atoning death and resurrection, for a god of purely human-defined love and acceptance requires no atonement. There is little mention of the sin of man and his utter helplessness in turning to God for salvation.  Jesus is frequently referred to in literature, sermons and teaching, and especially in music in terms of filial or erotic love; Jesus the divine boyfriend.  Compromise and secularization of the church is justified by saying that this is necessary to appeal to a broader segment of society and attract the un-churched.  Pragmatism rather than revealed truth becomes a driving principle, with churches that warn no one of eternal judgement or teach that anyone should repent of their sins. As a result of these compromises they are no longer worshipping the living God but are worshipping an idol of their own making.  This is idolatry as surely as bowing down to a statue.

Ideology often becomes, in effect, an idol embraced by the church.  Patriotism and love of country is a good thing, but it can never be allowed to displace the gospel as the dominant theme of the church, and at times this has become a problem in conservative American evangelicalism.  But God, as it were, is neither Republican nor Democrat.  Themes of socialism, “social justice,” critical theory, multiculturalism, and leftist-Marxist ideas have begun to gain acceptance in the perceived evangelical community; these ideas are completely antithetic to the gospel.  The god envisioned by those who accept these ideologies is not the God of Scripture but rather an idol, a god of human making. 

“Jesus” must be the Jesus of Scripture, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity who came to atone for the sins of all who will repent and believe His gospel.  The prosperity-promising Jesus, the sin-affirming cosmic boyfriend Jesus, the life coach Jesus, the inspirational philosopher Jesus, the example of divine love martyr Jesus, the socialist Jesus, the Jesus adapted to fit the culture of the day – these are idols, abominations to God.  The Jesus of the Bible will be all or nothing, Lord and Savior, and anything else is a lie and a deception. 

John Calvin (Institutes, 1.11.8) rightly said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”  Just as idolatry brought disaster to the ancient Jewish nation, it will bring disaster to us. 

6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” 

1 Corinthians 10:6-7

Whose World Is It Anyway?

As we understand that this truly is God’s world, and that He is really in control, we begin to have some sense of understanding our circumstances and the events around us.

My wife and I were unable to have children for reasons that were never diagnosed.  We were able to adopt and have two healthy, happy, now grown children.  We brought home our daughter from the hospital the morning after her birth, and four years later we brought home our son the morning after his birth.  After a couple of years of marriage, our daughter wasn’t yet expecting, and my wife began to despair that she might not ever become a grandma.  But, eventually, our granddaughter was born, beautiful and healthy and happy!

But not all stories in life end well. Why do children become orphans?  What does one say to the person whose child is not healthy, whose business fails, whose spouse is unfaithful or abandons them, or who receives solemn news from their physician?  Why does the crusty old reprobate live to be age ninety, while the kind faithful man dies at age forty?  Why do bad things happen to both good and bad people?  Why is the world full of disaster and plague and poverty and injustice?  We at least sometimes find ourselves answering such questions with an honest “I don’t know.”

An understanding of the teaching of the Bible teaches us that God created the world, the universe around us, and us.  God created all for His own glory, for His own eternal purposes.  He displayed His great wonder, power, and surpassing majesty in creation.  But that was just the beginning.  He allowed sin to enter creation, and disaster followed.  Bad things – catastrophic things.  When humankind sinned, God displayed His nature far beyond what was displayed in creation.  He displayed grace.  He displayed love.  He displayed forgiveness.  He did not destroy creation; instead He began to unfold the eternal plan of redemption.  Christ was the Lamb ordained before the foundation of the world to be the requisite sacrifice.  At the appropriate and predetermined time in history, in Christ God did something so startling that we cannot completely comprehend it.  He Himself atoned for our sin.  He satisfied divine wrath and justice.  He forgave the sins of those who would merely turn to Him in faith and repentance, made possible by Christ.  It is His world, and He has supremely displayed His grace, love, and forgiveness to us when He chose to redeem us.

We must remember this to maintain any sort of perspective on the progression of events in the world as well as the events in our life.  God is – God.  He is Sovereign over all of the affairs of time.  He is never taken by surprise, and nothing that happens is out of the control of His ultimate divine purpose.  The author of Psalm 90 reflected on this concept:

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You turn man to destruction, And say, “Return, O children of men.” For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night.

For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. 10 The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. 13 Return, O Lord! How long? And have compassion on Your servants. 14 Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, That we may rejoice and be glad all our days! 15 Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us, The years in which we have seen evil. 16 Let Your work appear to Your servants, And Your glory to their children. 17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands.

God is above time and not limited by time.  He is the eternal God, not measured or limited as we are.  He sees all of time as one event, and all that happens in time happens ultimately for His divine purposes.

To acknowledge this doesn’t fully solve all of the related philosophic questions we might consider.  The whole concept of good and evil, why God allowed sin and evil, is in some sense impossible for us to comprehend.  Why are some saved and many lost?  What is the divine purpose in allowing many to be eternally lost?  Why have empires arisen and fallen throughout time, disasters and misery occurred throughout history, billions of people been born and died without hearing anything of the gospel?  In truth, we cannot completely fathom the answers to these questions.

In a more personal sense, it is important to remember that all events are under the control of divine providence, and so the events and challenges in our life are ultimately traceable to our Father and His divine purposes.  Sometimes we can see testing in life’s difficulties; the Psalmist wrote in 11:5 that “The Lord tests the righteous,” and this concept is found throughout the pages of Scripture.  Our Lord in His infinite wisdom and superabundant love sets such a high value upon His people’s faith that He will not protect them from the trials by which faith is strengthened.  He knows our tomorrows as well as we know our todays and yesterdays, and thus we can trust Him with what tomorrow will bring.  While we might acknowledge this principle of being strengthened through trials, in truth it is often difficult for us to see any value in the “bad” events that happen to us.  “How can this possibly benefit me or anyone else or bring glory to God?”  Perhaps steadfast faith in acknowledging His grace and sovereignty in such circumstances supremely brings glory to Him.

As we understand that this truly is God’s world, and He is really in control, we begin to have some sense of understanding our circumstances and the events around us.

A recent hymn reminds us,

Our sovereign God by His own word
Sustains this world and reigns as Lord.
No angel, demon, sinful man
Can change His course, restrain His hand.
O sovereign God, we praise Your power;
Your wisdom, goodness we adore.
We bow our hearts before your throne,
Help us O Lord to trust You more.
Help us O Lord to trust You more.

When the fullness of the time had come,
God sent His own beloved Son
To keep God’s law, live in our place,
To bear our sin, guilt, and disgrace.
Dead in our sin, estranged from God,
We fled as rebels from His love.
In sovereign grace He made us sons,
And saved us from the wrath to come.
And saved us from the wrath to come.

Before our birth He planned our days,
Laid out our course, ordained our ways;
The moments of our lives He weaves
So all the glory He receives.
To those He loved before all time,
To all He called in grace renewed,
He cannot lie, His word is true,
He makes all things to work for good.
He makes all things to work for good.

He has written history’s final page,
His Son’s return will end this age.
The Lamb will come in glorious might,
Take back His world and end its night.
How deep the wisdom of our God;
Unknown, unfathomed are His ways.
None counsels Him, or knows His mind;
We bow before Him all our days.
We bow before Him all our days.

O sovereign God, we praise Your power;
Your wisdom, goodness we adore.
We bow our hearts before your throne,
Help us O Lord to trust You more.
Help us O Lord to trust You more.

More Than 700,000 Served

The local suburban weekly newspaper featured the headline, “More Than 700,000 served.”  The opening paragraph noted that the local school district’s food program “will take a break for a week or two next month after a busy spring and summer.”  The accompanying photo caption began, “Cars line up at Northglenn High School July 17 to collect three days worth of meals,” and noted that the school district food service had been providing the meals to students and their families since schools in the area closed due to COVID-19.  The photo showed three late-model SUV’s lined up as they approached the tent to receive the hand-out meals.

“We went from giving out cold sandwiches in March, blended in April and May with hot entrees served daily and now we’ve gone to frozen meals they can finish at home,” said an administrator.  Later, the article noted that “Families line up drive-through style, picking up several meals per person–lunch for two days and breakfast on Mondays and Wednesdays.  They pick up more meals on Fridays, enough to get each student through the weekend.  They’ve even added a mobile option, with a bus leaving each high school headed to more remote areas.”

I was incensed.

A few months earlier, I had a similar reaction as local television featured similar stories, one showing busses heading out to hand out lunches, another a woman and her kids standing at the door of what appeared to be a comfortable home receiving meals.  I might have a different reaction if this were merely for several weeks during the virus shutdown, but that is not the case.  Months earlier, before the virus shutdown, the school district’s “mission creep” had included expansions of their feeding program.  Full-day kindergarten had been mandated by the state and introduced at the beginning of the school year.  Always more taxpayer-funded programs, always a bigger role for the government and the government schools.

The school district never seems to have enough funding, asking for more property taxes almost every election cycle.  Understanding that much or most of the funding for the massive food giveaway is from taxes the Federal government has taken, not just taxes from local property owners, one still must ask why government handouts have to be the source of food for every lower- and middle-economic class family.  When I was growing up, we were far from wealthy, but I took a sack lunch TO school every day.  I ate breakfast and dinner at home, and during the summer there was no school food program.  Dad, and later Dad and Mom went to work to provide for our needs.  They taught my brother and I by example how to be responsible, how to provide for our own needs, how to work and save.  Our children did not go to the government schools, but did not go hungry – my wife and I worked to provide for them.

Children resident in the United States should not go hungry.  America is an exceptional nation, divinely blessed with a favorable climate, almost limitless natural resources, millions of square miles of arable land, and an economic system unequalled in history.  We have the capability to produce far more food than we consume.  But what kind of lesson is being taught to children when the government and school district become their source of every basic need?  Why do productive people bother to work, send increasing amounts of their earnings to government, only to have government redistribute it to others purely at the whim of government?  If one wants more, just riot and demand more; this has become the understood message that is increasingly accepted.

Wealth is productivity – productivity brings wealth.  This is true of individuals, it is true of nations.  People cannot look to government as their source of material goods; it will ultimately bring poverty, loss of freedom, and ruin.  Individuals must use whatever opportunities and advantages that may be available to them and become productive.  The American system offers tremendous opportunity.  This concept has been lost; far too many with a sense of entitlement and aggrievement look to government to provide for their needs.  No need for personal responsibility, no need for marriage and family, no need to work and save, just demand more from government; this has become widely accepted in society.  That philosophy will bring ruin.

The Bible is filled with exhortations as to the responsibility to work, to be productive, to provide for one’s own needs and the needs of family.  Compassionate giving, sharing with those in need – absolutely; that is the spirit of Christianity.  But it is not at all compassionate to facilitate dependence on charity or on government.  It is ruinous – to the individual, and to the nation.