Faith and the Trust Fall

I once watched the speaker at a post-evangelical megachurch deliver his Easter weekend message.  Broadly, it wasn’t bad, centering on an appropriate Easter theme as he spoke about the concept of faith in Jesus.  At the conclusion of the sermon, he climbed a ladder, perhaps twenty or more feet in the air, and, wearing a tethered harness, fell backward off the ladder, gently lowered back to the stage, as an illustration of faith.  As I reflected on this rather dramatic illustration and the entire talk, I was somewhat troubled.  I thought back to an experience earlier in my business career.

The company for which I worked for many years hired an outside firm to conduct a rather elaborate company-wide training, team building, and motivational series of events.  Always a bit of a skeptic and cynic, I nevertheless played along, as I was a low-level manager at the time, and so had to participate without too much outward protest.  One event was an off-site event for groups of employees, conducted over a few days for groups of several dozen people.  At that event, I was introduced to the trust fall, sort of a highlight of the meetings.  A trust fall is designed to be a team-building group exercise game in which a person deliberately falls backward, relying on a group of a few people standing behind to catch him or her.  We were all encouraged to take a turn as the person falling.  At the end of the day, I thought the whole thing a waste of likely six-figure money, and it didn’t motivate me or any of my peers or subordinates to trust each other.  But again, I plead guilty to being a skeptical cynic.

Back to the megachurch.  There was encouragement in the sermon to have faith in Jesus, but there was little of the concept of turning away from sin and embracing Christ as Savior and Lord.  Likely the word “sin” wasn’t mentioned, or the necessity of Christ dying as the necessary sacrifice for the sin of sinners.  In short, as I reflected on it, it almost came across as faith defined in some manner as “take a chance on Jesus.”  A trust fall.  Biblical faith – saving faith, and sustaining faith for life –  is something profoundly different than that.

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  When the Gospel of Christ, contained and recorded in the Bible, is internalized by the human mind and heart and applied by the Spirit, saving faith is the result.  Paul further says we are saved by grace through faith which is “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9), a gift from God that is the result of embracing the message about Christ and His salvation.  We hear the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the only solution to our alienation from God.  The Word produces faith within us and regenerates us.  We hear the message of the Gospel, we believe it, we acknowledge sin and turn to Christ as Savior and Lord, and the Spirit makes us a new creation in Christ: “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).”  How this gift of God mixes with the human response is a mystery that maybe cannot be totally understood, but salvation is far more than deciding to take the proverbial leap of faith.

Faith is the Spirit-given conviction that the Gospel is true, that the resurrection is a fact, and then acting on that conviction.  Saving faith does not simply originate within a person.  It doesn’t just sound good or inspiring or reassuring or affirming and so make us want to jump on the bandwagon or trust our teammates or join a club.  It is the gift of Jesus Christ and of the Spirit.  It is Christ who is both the source and object of faith.

Often, we hear people say that “their faith” has sustained them in a time of difficulty.  I would be so bold as to suggest that such an attitude can in fact be a feel-good deception.  In Luke 7:50, it is recorded of Jesus, “Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.””  She did not here merely show faith in faith.  She had come to Jesus.  Beginning in verse 44, the account tells us, “Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.  You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.  You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.  Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”  The object of her faith – was Jesus.

It is Jesus – the real Jesus Christ of Scripture – God the Son Who atoned for my sin on the cross and has conquered sin and death – that has saved me and will save all who will but end their rebellion against God and embrace Him as Savior and Lord.  It is He – the object of true faith – Who saves and sustains.

Common Sense

On a recent Sunday morning, the streets were snow packed after overnight snow.  As I drove our small all-wheel drive SUV cautiously at the speed of traffic, in the right lane on a major street, a car from behind in the left lane sped around me, swerved in front of me as he passed the vehicle in the left lane ahead of me, and veered back into the left lane as he sped on.  I was glad the car didn’t spin out on the slick street.  The previous Wednesday evening, a few blocks from this area on the same street, a car whipped around me to my right and drove through a corner gas station rather than slowing and using the turn lane in order to proceed up the street to our right.  Both drivers obviously showed a lack of common sense.

I scan the Denver newspaper every day, and usually catch a local newscast as well.  Lack of common sense is a constant unstated theme.  The left-leaning paper campaigned for decriminalization of marijuana for a couple of years before it happened in Colorado.  Since recreational pot has become legal under state law, the paper fawns all over the burgeoning pot industry, regularly championing recreational marijuana as well as celebrating alcohol consumption – promoting local microbreweries and drinking establishments, for example.  The lifestyle pages regularly celebrate and promote drinking.  Funny thing, though.  Almost every day one finds reports of crime, traffic accidents, middle-of-the-night shootings, etc., very often committed by intoxicated persons, often crimes against other intoxicated persons.  What I’ve missed are the stories of how marijuana or alcohol consumption makes one a better citizen, a better spouse, a better parent, a better employee, a better driver.  (I’ll allow that, conceivably, there may be a medicinal purpose for substances found in marijuana.  Further, I’ll concede the obvious that the great majority of social drinkers are neither alcoholics nor criminals.)

Perhaps I’m prejudiced.  My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic back when an alcoholic was referred to as the town drunk.  I only met him a couple of times, as the family broke up before my birth.  Growing up, I remember the alcoholic couple across the street, coming home occasionally – actually, more than occasionally – drunk.  Falling out of the car drunk.  Laying in the driveway or lawn, drunk.  Falling off the front step, drunk.

The current push for transgenderism is rooted in part in a lack of common sense.  Great compassion is due to many on this unfortunate path, usually victims of things like bad parenting or childhood abuse, deceived by media, deceived by friends, deceived by medical professionals, ultimately “victims” of their fallen nature.  Gender-neutral parenting – raising children in a manner which allows kids to explore different gender roles regardless of the sex the child was assigned at birth – has apparently grown in popularity, with parents somehow hoping to remove perceived societal pressure from their kids when it comes to gender roles.  A human being is of course male or female from the moment of conception.  This is fixed as the embryonic baby grows, his or her hormonal system confirming it throughout development before birth.  Imagining that one’s sex can be changed is, ultimately, a violation of common sense.  Pumping one’s body full of hormones and being surgically altered cannot change what became a reality at conception, and will never make a person truly fulfilled.  It flies in the face of common sense.

I saw a story on local news a couple of weeks ago.  A group of mostly female students at a local university was staging a protest, demanding that administrators “do something” about sexual assault.  I wondered why the protesters didn’t themselves do something.  Perhaps they could commit to remaining sober, to not attend parties or socialize in bars with intoxicated individuals, to returning to their dorm rooms or apartments by, say, midnight, and to recruit other students to do the same.  Just a guess, but it seems likely that most college sexual assaults happen at night and involve intoxicated individuals.  Common sense might cause one to take responsibility and consider avoiding such situations.

Lack of good judgement, prudence, and sensibleness is not a recent development.  It 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.  American pundit Will Rogers observed three generations ago, “Common sense ain’t common.”  But it almost seems that in American society today we are seeing a growing loss of common sense.  Family breakup and the decline of adherence to traditional marriage, addictions, alcohol and drug use, a victim mentality, an entitlement mentality – the list goes on –  only accelerate this decline in personal responsibility and common sense.

          

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

(Romans 1:18-23; 28-32)

Ultimately, for the Christian, one who has come to faith in Christ and the gospel, common sense in life in large measure derives from biblical wisdom, observing God’s mandates to us, seeing life from God’s perspective, and responding accordingly.  The Bible’s book of Proverbs is known as a book of wisdom and gives us a  detailed explanation of the value of gaining wisdom.  In Proverbs 2, we read

My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.

When wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you, . . .”

(Proverbs 2:1-11)

Living wisely is to be a priority in life for the Christian.  Proverbs 1:7 reminds us that The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Proverbs 9:10 similarly tells us,  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  The appreciation of the fact that the sovereign and providential God is present in our lives, and then living accordingly, is the basis of true wisdom.  A life of worship, awe, and submission to God both brings wisdom and expresses that we possess a measure of wisdom.     

Ultimately, the primary way we gain godly wisdom is by learning God’s Word and putting into practice what we know from Scripture.  When we begin to understand the written Word of God and include the knowledge of the Lord in every aspect of life, we make decisions and react to circumstances based on His approval.  We live with the knowledge that the Creator of the universe is involved in even our mundane daily affairs, which results in living a life that pleases Him and brings us true joy and fulfillment.  Without God’s wisdom, we may be educated, we may become successful, we may attain a measure of happiness, but it is the wisdom derived from Scripture that enables us to live the life God wants for us and to live in anticipation of eternity.  “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).  Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16 that we should “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”  The challenge is not merely to gain academic knowledge, but allowing the Word to “dwell” in us, being cautioned and instructed by Scripture and by the Spirit who speaks to us through the Word, growing in relationship with God, putting the wisdom of the Word into practice.  In no small measure, we will then develop and show wisdom even beyond

common sense.

The Methodist Bishop

Recently on a local television newscast I saw a story that featured an interview with the first openly homosexual bishop of the United Methodist Church.  She told the reporter that in her view the group’s pending split over LGBTQ+ acceptance in the church was the result of a principle listed in the foundation of the denomination’s values when it was formed in 1972, which stated that the church considers the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.  “At that point, we turned from a very grace-filled understanding of human sexuality to one of condemnation for a group of people,” she noted, and admitted that she was biased on the topic, as she has been married to her female partner for many years.  However, she said many pastors she works with throughout Colorado are traditional, and represent a significant portion of the denomination that believes homosexual marriage is prohibited in the faith and hold “very closely to a more literal reading of scripture, ”  while noting that she and other liberals “look at it through church tradition, reason and human experience.  And, our traditionalists look toward the Bible first and only.”  She said the split, if approved by vote later in 2020, was sad, but could also help Christians reach more people with the love of God.  “We can free one another to live in to the ministries we think God calls us to.  It is a huge moment in the life of our denomination.”  “What will emerge from this separation is a strengthening of a commitment to extend God’s love to all people, and that to me is where I find hope.”

I recall at the time briefly wondering just what I might say to her in a conversation on the topic.  She seemed like a pleasant person.  She is certainly better educated than I am, and likely my superior in intellect.  I soon forgot the news spot.

         

I recalled the report about the bishop when I was perusing a magazine recently.  In the publication “The Week” for January 17, 2020, in a short piece headlined “Irreconcilable:” was a report that

“The United Methodist Church announced plans last week to split into two branches, in a schism over same-sex marriage.  The country’s second-largest Protestant denomination, with roughly 9 million members, expects to let a “traditionalist” wing break off and take $25 million.  The remaining United Methodist Church would allow gay marriages and LGBTQ clergy for the first time, but any local church could vote to defect with the traditionalists (and take its buildings with it).  The announcement heads off contentious sanctions that were set to take effect against pastors who officiated at gay weddings: a one-year suspension without pay for a first offense and removal from the clergy for the second.  The Nashville-based church’s large following in Africa has fiercely opposed liberal reform.  Church leaders will vote on finalizing the split at their worldwide conference in May.”

I hope this denomination does indeed split.  But I think it needs to split over issues even more fundamental than the aforementioned.  Over what issues should this denomination split?  Issues such as the questions of –  Who is Jesus Christ?  Why did He come?  What is the Christian Gospel?  Do individuals need to be “saved,” and if so what does salvation entail, and how does one obtain it?  How has God spoken or revealed Himself to us; what is the Bible, and is it inspired, authoritative, primary, and sufficient?  It is in the answers to these questions that we find the basis of all true Christian unity, and that require division when there is disagreement.  It is only on the basis of the answers to these questions that the issue raised by this bishop can be addressed.

I am, frankly, highly unlikely to ever converse with this woman or any other Methodist bishop.  But, hypothetically, what would I say to her?  In all probability she is not a regenerate, born-again believer.  I would attempt to kindly share with her the Gospel, perhaps from Romans 3, perhaps from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, perhaps from John 3, though understanding that she probably does not recognize the authority of those passages.  I would share with her that Jesus Christ was the virgin born Son of God and God the Son who died on the cross to atone for human sin and rose triumphantly from the grave, that human sin and rebellion against God requires punishment and separation from God, and Christ has provided the only solution for that sin.  Turning from sin and turning to Christ as Savior and Lord in faith is the only hope any of us have.  I might further invite her to examine the teachings of early Methodist John Wesley, to consider the lyrics of some of the great hymns written by his brother Charles Wesley.

          

While I will never meet this bishop, I do meet people who are rebels against God and are part of the fallen human race.  People who are sometimes less than honest, sometimes less than truthful, thieves, materialists, proud, self-sufficient, individuals caught up in unwholesome compulsions or aberrant sexual behavior, but mostly people who are unbelieving or spiritually dull but really nice people.   And regardless of their particular situation in life, regardless of their religion or morality or individual failings or virtues, people who need to turn to Christ in faith and repentance as their only hope.  People who need to become convinced that the Gospel is true, and call out to God with utmost sincerity, repentance, and faith,

“Dear God, I know that I am a sinner.  I’m sorry for my sin.  I want to turn from my sin.  Please forgive me.  I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son, that He died on the cross for my sin, and You raised Him to life.  I trust Jesus as my Savior and Lord and want to follow Him from this day forward.”

 

 

 

 

 

Epidemic Despair

Anxiety, worry, and hopelessness seem to increasingly characterize American society.  The reasons are many and perhaps difficult to understand.  It only takes a quick look at previous generations to realize there has always been a long list of anxieties.  Our parents and grandparents experienced blizzards, droughts, heat waves, floods, epidemics, the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, recessions, and job uncertainty, just to name a few.  Today we have more economic and financial security than ever.  Fewer people are hungry than at any time in the history of the country.  Unemployment is at record low numbers; almost anyone willing to work can get a job.  Health care is almost universally available.  Americans are better educated, better sheltered, and have more leisure time than ever.

And yet despair is seemingly everywhere.

           

Columnist Kimberly Ross, in a recent article in the “Washington Examiner” entitled “Couples who skip children because of climate change aren’t just silly, they’re hurting society,” wrote that “The doomsday quality of the climate change movement is on track to harm more than it helps.  Fears of impending environmental doom have actually spurred some to abandon their plans to have children.  Not only is this behavior sheer nonsense, but it will work to weaken society as a whole.”  The piece noted that

the country’s birthrate is “at its lowest in 32 years, with 2018 being the fourth consecutive year of decline.” Even though climate change isn’t the only worry, it is now listed among more tangible problems like debt, employment, and the economy.”

“The birthrate is a barometer of despair,” Dowell Myers, who studies this data at the University of Southern California, concluded when the latest numbers were released earlier this year.  “Not a whole lot of things are going good, and that’s haunting young people.” On the list of “not good things” (lack of long-term job security, mountains of debt, the likelihood today’s children will not do as well economically as their parents), the climate crisis, with its specter of droughts, famines, fires and floods, is near the top.”

Even science journalist Michael Marshall, who views climate change as a problem in need of a solution, writes how unhelpful it is to assign apocalyptic end dates to the issue: “The point is that the climate is not so simple as to give us a neat cutoff date for action. Indeed, there is an argument that putting it in terms of deadlines just creates a feeling of hopelessness when we inevitably miss them.” In addition, this hopeless alarmism often seems more like a political push toward socialism than it does legitimate addressing of the problem.

A recent Bloomberg article, “State of Health Report Shows Growing Despair Among Men” cited a National Center for Health Statistics report which noted data indicating that life expectancy at birth for males declined to 76.1 years in 2017 from 76.5 in 2014, perhaps in part due to deaths attributable to despair.  From 2007 to 2017, the mortality rate from drug overdoses increased 82%.  Over the same 10-year period, suicide rates increased 24%, to 14.0 deaths from 11.3 per 100,000 resident population.  Males had twice the female drug overdose death rate in 2017 and rates for men have virtually doubled since 2007.  Suicides among Americans have also increased sharply — from 26,869 in 1980 to 47,173 in 2017.

The suicide rate among children aged 10 through 14 has nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017, while the suicide rate among older teenagers has increased by 76 percent between 2007 and 2017, federal data show.  A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the suicide rate among those aged 10 through 24 years has increased 56 percent over the last decade as violent deaths (suicide and homicide) continue to be leading causes of death for that age bracket.  In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14, teenagers 15 to 19, and young adults ages 20-24.

Epidemic despair.

Similarly, a recent Wall Street Journal article referenced new research suggests that many American adolescents are becoming more anxious, depressed, and solitary.  Growing numbers of adolescent girls describe themselves as vulnerable to our increasingly digital culture, with many of them struggling to manage the constant pressures of social media along with rising levels of anxiety and adolescent emotions.  While girls in 2019 tend to be risk-averse, focused on their studies and fond of their families, they are also experiencing high levels of depression and loneliness.  A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 36% of girls report being extremely anxious every day.  They are especially worried about school shootings, melting polar ice and their ability to afford college.

Research from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future project shows that, since 2007—the dawn of the smartphone era—girls have dramatically decreased the amount of time they spend shopping, seeing friends or going to movies.  This is true of both young males and females.  The glow of screens is unavoidable. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that 95% of American teenagers have access to a smartphone.  Common Sense Media has found that contemporary teens spend an astounding six to nine hours a day online—and that 72% of teens felt manipulated by tech companies into remaining constantly connected.  Gaming, sports-related activity, movies, social media sites, and texting consume enormous amounts of time and attention, and viewing pornography is rampant.  Leading in many instances to anxiety, depression and disconnectedness.

A “Washington Post” piece, “Lockdown drills an American Quirk, out of control,” noted

Here are some recent headlines from schools around the country: In Indiana, officials played a segment of a 911 call of a teacher in a panic during the Columbine High School shooting to students. In Ohio, officers fired blank shots during an active-shooter drill. In South Carolina, an officer dressed in black posed as an intruder on an unannounced drill. In Michigan, a school is spending $48 million on a renovation that includes curved hallways and hiding niches, in hopes of protecting students from a mass shooting. In Florida, a police officer arrested two 6-year-old students for misdemeanor battery. In Colorado, teachers received buckets and kitty litter for students to use as toilets in case of a prolonged school lockdown.

A recent “Jobsite” study focused on the “negative effects” of Secret Santa and “it found that some millennials . . . have been suffering from anxiety as a result of their workplace Secret Santa,” reports viral news site Twenty-Two Words.  The study, they say “found that younger workers are often spending more than they can afford on presents for their colleagues” in order to avoid being “judged” for their selection or thought “cheap” by their peers.  Even though most Secret Santa groups set a budget, Millennials say they feel pressure to “up their game” in order to fit in with their colleagues.  Beyond that, Millennials apparently report that they feel “angry” at office party organizers who don’t take their much-reported dire financial straits into consideration when instituting a Secret Santa game. That builds resentment among these workers which can lead to inter-office tiffs and a decline in workplace morale among Millennial colleagues.  Poor babies.

An Associated Press story noted that

More college students are turning to their schools for help with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, and many must wait weeks for treatment or find help elsewhere as campus clinics struggle to meet demand, an Associated Press review of more than three dozen public universities found.

On some campuses, the number of students seeking treatment has nearly doubled over the past five years while overall enrollment has remained relatively flat. The increase has been tied to reduced stigma around mental health, along with rising rates of depression and other disorders. Universities have expanded their mental health clinics, but the growth is often slow, and demand keeps surging.

Long waits have provoked protests at schools from Maryland to California, in some cases following student suicides. Meanwhile, campus counseling centers grapple with low morale and high burnout as staff face increasingly heavy workloads.

The social and economic costs of family breakdown are evident and overwhelming.  Studies estimate that divorce and unwed childbearing cost taxpayers over $110 billion each year.  Children raised in single-parent homes are statistically more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, exhibit poor social behaviors, commit violent crimes, and are more likely to drop out of school.  When it comes to fighting poverty, there is no better weapon than marriage; in fact, marriage clearly reduces the probability of child poverty.  Meanwhile, the idea of traditional marriage continues to fall further from favor.

Alcohol abuse is rampant.  Illicit drugs damage and destroy far too many people.  Marijuana use is no longer viewed negatively; in fact it is celebrated, threatening to unleash a whole host of problems.  Educators and some parents tell their children that they can choose their own gender and ridicule traditional ideals of morality and fidelity.

It is all quite depressing.

          

But what if, at least at the societal level, things aren’t really so bad as they sometimes seem?

          

Climate has modulated throughout recorded history.   In studying the causes of the fall of the Roman empire, I ran across this: “In recent years, explanations that focus on environmental factors have been especially prominent.  Some of these ascribe not only Rome’s fall to changes in climate, but its rise as well, arguing that the Roman Empire was only able to attain the size that it did because Roman imperialism had the good fortune to coincide with a period of unusually warm, wet, and stable climate across the Mediterranean basin that began around the 3rd century BC and lasted until the mid-2nd century AD–precisely the time of rapid Roman political and economic expansion.”  Over the last four or so centuries, since the Little Ice Age, there has been a slight but demonstrable rise in average temperatures.  Sea levels have risen perhaps as much as three inches.  Some of the effects may have been negative, some positive.  We still await the climate disasters predicted twenty years ago.  Due mostly to technology and economic advancement, today we are less likely than ever in history to meet with harm or calamity due solely to climate or weather.

In a column titled “Climate Myths Perpetuated by the Alarmists”, John Stossel

“How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood!” insisted teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg at the United Nations. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction!”
Many people say that we’re destroying the Earth.
It all sounds so scary.
But I’ve been a consumer reporter for years, and I’ve covered so many scares: plague, famine, overpopulation, SARS, West Nile virus, bird flu, radiation from cellphones, flesh-eating bacteria, killer bees, etc. The list of terrible things that were going to get us is very long.
Yet we live longer than ever.
Now I’m told global warming is different.
The Earth’s average temperature is rising. It’s risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. The U.N. predicts it will rise another 2 to 5 degrees this century. If that happens, that will create problems.
But does that justify what’s being said?
“We have 12 years to act!” says former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change!” adds Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Twelve years? That’s the new slogan.
The Heartland Institute invited some climate alarmists to explain the “12 years” and other frightening statements they keep making.
The alarmists didn’t even show up. They never do. They make speeches and preach to gullible reporters, but they won’t debate anyone who is skeptical.
Over the years, I repeatedly invited Al Gore to come on my TV shows. His staff always said he was “too busy.”
At a Heartland Institute event I moderated, climatologist Pat Michaels put the 12-year claim in perspective by saying, “It’s warmed up around 1 degree Celsius since 1900, and life expectancy doubled in the industrialized democracies! Yet that temperature ticks up another half a degree and the entire system crashes? That’s the most absurd belief!”
Astrophysicist Willie Soon added, “It’s all about hand-waving, emotion, sending out kids in protest. It has nothing to do with the science.”
Is that true? I wish the alarmists would show up and debate.
Alarmists say, “Miami will soon be underwater!”
Few serious people deny that the Earth has warmed and that sea levels are rising. But Michaels points out that even if the warming increases, humans can adjust.
For example, much of Holland is below sea level. “They said,” Michaels recounts, “we’re going to adapt to the fact that we’re a low-lying country; we’re going to build these dikes. Are you telling me that people in Miami are so dumb that they’re just going to sit there and drown?”
Climatology professor David Legates added a point the climate alarmists never make: “The water has been rising for approximately 20,000 years and probably will continue.”
But aren’t sudden climate changes happening now? Aren’t hurricanes suddenly far more violent?
“No, they aren’t!” responded Michaels. “You can take a look at all the hurricanes around the planet. We can see them since 1970, because we’ve got global satellite coverage. We can measure their power … There is no significant increase whatsoever—no relationship between hurricane activity and the surface temperature of the planet!”
He’s right. That’s what government data shows.
Nevertheless, activists and politicians demand the United States move toward zero carbon emissions. That would “put you back in the Stone Age,” says Michaels.
Another myth is that carbon dioxide, the prime creator of greenhouse gases, threatens the food supply.
But carbon dioxide helps plants grow. “There are places on Earth where it is greening up like crazy,” says Michaels.
But if the crisis isn’t real, why do governments race to respond to it with regulations and big spending projects? Why is the U.N.’s Panel on Climate (IPCC) so alarmed?
Well, IPCC does stand for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Legates says, “Governments want to keep control … Carbon dioxide becomes that molecule by which [they] can take control of your lives.”
Government is the real crisis.

In an article republished October 15, 2019 in the Denver Post, columnist Sergio Pecahna wrote, 

Here are some recent headlines from schools around the country: In Indiana, officials played a segment of a 911 call of a teacher in a panic during the Columbine High School shooting to students. In Ohio, officers fired blank shots during an active-shooter drill. In South Carolina, an officer dressed in black posed as an intruder on an unannounced drill. In Michigan, a school is spending $48 million on a renovation that includes curved hallways and hiding niches, in hopes of protecting students from a mass shooting. In Florida, a police officer arrested two 6-year-old students for misdemeanor battery. In Colorado, teachers received buckets and kitty litter for students to use as toilets in case of a prolonged school lockdown.

Mass shootings, meaning incidents with at least two deaths, in schools are horrifying. But it is highly unlikely that a child would ever witness one. Research indicates that some security measures brought in to make schools safer — like realistic shooter trainings — may be causing children more harm than good.

It is 10 times more likely that a student will die on the way to school.

Our chances of dying in a fire are also much greater — 1 in 1,500. But we don’t overreact.

More children have died from lightning strikes than from mass shootings in schools in the past 20 years. Still, we don’t obsess about them.

Exactly how common are school shootings?

In the two decades since Columbine, there have been 10 mass shootings in schools, according to a recent analysis by James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University who has been studying school violence for several decades. In total, 81 people have been killed, 64 of them students. That’s an average of four deaths per year, three of them students.

Even one death is too many.  But for perspective, 729 children committed suicide with a firearm in 2017, and 863 were victims of homicides by guns that year.

Nearly every public school in the country now conducts lockdown drills, and even the youngest students participate (last year, one school adapted a lullaby to prepare kindergartners). But very few studies have looked into the efficiency of these drills. One of them concluded that the practice can be helpful to teach students basic safety procedures. But to the author of the study, Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, there is no point in dramatizing the drills. “All that causes is fear,” she said.

Restaurants have 10 times as many homicides as schools. Why do we want to arm teachers and not wait staffs?

“There’s a misunderstanding in where the dangers are,” said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia. “Kids are at far greater danger going to and from school than they are in the classroom,” he said. “School counseling, academic support, that’s gonna do far more to keep our communities safe.”

We all rely on news reports, editorials, magazine articles, television broadcasts, websites, podcasts and books to stay informed and develop a perspective about what is happening around the country and across the globe.  Turn on the television or open a web browser and you will see stories about war, crime, terrorism, corruption, natural disasters, political dysfunction and environmental destruction.  Most news reports and editorials show us the world through a dark lens of tragedy and loss that leads to a distorted perspective, namely that we live in a horrible world at a terrible time – and the country is rapidly going to hades in a handbasket.

You might remember your childhood or young adulthood when things seemed simpler, easier, better.  But nothing is more responsible for “the good old days” than a bad memory.  Most of us have fond recollections of our early days.  But was society itself better?  Not if you were drafted to serve in a distant war, or needed a drug, medical device or surgical procedure that hadn’t been invented.  Nor was life necessarily better if you didn’t have running water, central heat and air, health insurance, instant communications, safe transportation, a personal computer, a TV, or the hundreds of other modern conveniences – electronic and otherwise – that make our lives more comfortable today.

Educational attainment has never been greater.  Standards of living have never been higher.  U.S. household income and net worth – adjusted for inflation – are at all-time records.  Advances in medicine and technology have eliminated most of history’s plagues, including polio, smallpox, measles and rickets.  There has been a huge reduction in infectious diseases.  Heart disease and stroke incidence are in decline. The annual rate of new cancer diagnoses has dropped steadily over the last couple of decades.

We complain about the rising cost of health care, but that’s in part because we routinely live long enough to depend on it.  The average American life span has almost doubled over the past century, partly because we’re living longer but also because childhood and infant deaths – formerly a depressing part of everyday life – are now so rare.

Maybe life in today’s world isn’t so bad after all.

          

On a more personal level, however, sometimes life can be, well, pretty overwhelming.  Christians are not exempt from the consequences of living in a fallen world; we still are subject to the aging process, disease, accidents, financial reverses, job stresses, relationship issues, and ultimately, death.  We lose cherished love ones.  Some are melancholy by disposition and prone to anxiety and depression.  And in fact as believers we may have a whole new set of anxieties.  We are concerned about our children, not only their health, happiness, and success, but their spiritual development. We may have stress about the state of our church.  We may feel pressures generated by our testimony for Christ, and in some situations even encounter  persecution for our faith.

But we as Christians have a Resource far greater than the issues we face in the world.

Psalm 42:11 reminds us, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?  And why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”  Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs defined contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”  The Psalmist in 121 wrote,

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

Puritan cleric Jeremy Taylor, who lived during a period of great conflict, wrote,  “It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.”

The Psalmist in 77:11-12 wrote, “I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.  I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds.”  Psalm 119:114 reminds us “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.”  When the ancient prophet Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and everything around him, he promised the people that it was God’s plan to give them “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). 

Jesus said, recorded in John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  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.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (verses 1-3).  Verse 27 records His words, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth century English preacher, was often afflicted by depression.  His ministry, greatly successful in his day, continues to have great influence through his writing.  In a devotional in his “Morning and Evening,” reflecting on Deuteronomy 33:27a, “The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms,” he wrote (revised and updated by Alistair Begg):

God–the eternal God–is Himself our support at all times, and especially when we are sinking in deep trouble.  There are seasons when the Christian sinks very low in humiliation.  Under a deep sense of his great sinfulness, he is humbled before God until he hardly knows how to pray, because he appears, in his own sight, so worthless.
Well, child of God, remember that when you are at your worst and lowest, even then “underneath” you “are the everlasting arms.”  Sin may drag you ever so low, but Christ’s great atonement is still under all.  You may have descended into the depths, but you cannot have fallen so low as the uttermost; and He saves “to the uttermost.”
Again, the Christian sometimes sinks very deeply in sore trial from without.  Every earthly prop is cut away.  What then?  Still underneath him are “the everlasting arms.”
He cannot fall so deep in distress and affliction but what the covenant grace of an ever-faithful God will still encircle him.  The Christian may be sinking under trouble from within through fierce conflict; but even then he cannot be brought so low as to be beyond the reach of the “everlasting arms”–they are underneath him; and, while he is sustained, all Satan’s efforts to harm him achieve nothing.
This assurance of support is a comfort to any weary but sincere worker in the service of God.  It implies a promise of strength for each day, grace for each need, and power for each duty.
And, finally, when death comes, the promise will still hold good.  When we stand in the middle of the Jordan, we will be able to say with David, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
We will descend into the grave, but we shall go no lower, for the eternal arms prevent our further fall.  All through life, and at its close, we shall be upheld by the “everlasting arms”–arms that neither flag nor lose their strength, for “the everlasting God . . . does not faint or grow weary.”

Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  (I John 4:9-10)

The Bible’s first book, Genesis, begins with the account of the creation of mankind and the realm that humans inhabit.  In the first two chapters is a brief, simple story of God’s creation of the cosmos that we know, the world in which we live, plant and animal life, and mankind.  “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.  And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done (Genesis 2:1-2).”   Genesis 2:7 reads, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  God had displayed His infinite ability, power, and wisdom, both within the Godhead and to all of the “angels” and other beings apparently created previously.  God had designed the world for humankind and had created humans, and from 3:8 (“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden”), there is the clear implication that God and man were in relationship and fellowship.  Adam knew God as God, as Creator, as Source and Sustainer, and even in a sense as Friend.  The created universe was vast, expansive, beautiful, everything that man would ever need or could ever imagine.  But the divine purpose in creation was far from finished; the love story of the ages was still more like a mystery than a love story.  

The divine purpose for creating humans was not that they should exist merely knowing Him as Creator.  God created man for a much more expansive and dynamic purpose, to be more than just a robot or machine but to ultimately deeply know, serve, experience, and worship Him.  To love Him.  In so doing, the possibility of human waywardness and disobedience toward God necessarily followed, and man fell into sin and rebellion against God, just as God in His divine unfathomable knowledge had known would happen.  Genesis chapter three relates a simple account of the Fall of humankind into sin and rebellion against God.  “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.  And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”-  therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.  So He drove out the man . . . (Genesis 3:22-24).”  And from that point forward, the cataclysmic result of sin against the Creator has played out through the ages.  

         

It is necessary that we get some comprehension of the vast unimaginable crime of creature rebelling against the Creator, explained more fully throughout the whole of scripture.  Triune God is the eternally existent One, and all that He has created is rightfully and necessarily for Him, His purposes, His honor, His glory.  Of Christ, Hebrews 2:10 tells us that “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, . . .”  In Colossians 1:15-17 Paul wrote that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  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.”  For His own glory and purposes, God created mankind and the earth.  The Genesis account tells us that man fell – sinned – rebelled against God –  and was driven from Eden and lost the previous relationship with God, and coupled with teaching throughout scripture, we learn that mankind “died” spiritually, becoming separated and alienated from God.  The earth itself, created as the home for mankind, was changed, still displaying God’s glory in creation, but profoundly affected in the wake of the Fall.  Through the centuries, natural disasters of every sort, weather disasters and plagues and famines and calamities have brought untold misery.  Human nature was monstrously affected.  Millions have died in wars, millions have been enslaved and oppressed, maladies and defects of every sort have plagued suffering humanity throughout history.  There is no dimension of our humanity, of the human experience, and of human history, that is not affected by our rebellion against God.  And death has ultimately been the inescapable lot of the descendants of Adam.  Romans 5:12 notes that “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned,” and in First Corinthians 15:22 is the statement that “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”  

It is with this background that the love story really begins, and God’s ultimate purpose for creating human beings unfolds.  The Genesis chapter three account relates that God had communicated that if Adam and Eve ate from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” they would die.  When they disobeyed, they died spiritually, their innocence lost and their previous relationship with their Creator destroyed, but they didn’t immediately die physically.  Instead, God killed two animals and used their skins as clothes to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21); substitutes were killed to cover their physical shame.  Animal sacrifice thus began and continued throughout the Old Testament.  In a love story?

Fast forward to a point in time some four thousand years ago, where the Bible’s story of God’s relationship with man and the great love story of the ages continues and begins to focus.  God entered into a covenant relationship with the man Abraham, and God’s divine purposes began to unfold through the nation comprised of Abraham’s descendants, Israel, the Jewish people.  In Genesis 22, God strangely asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son to the Lord.  Abraham faithfully obeyed, but as he was ready to kill Isaac, God stopped him and provided a ram caught by his horns in a bush.  Isaac lived because God provided a sacrifice to take his place.  Centuries later, while they were captive in Egypt, the concept of the substitute sacrifice came to a memorable point for the nation of Abraham’s descendants with the Passover in Exodus 12.  A lamb free of obvious flaws was killed and its blood spread on the doorposts of homes so that the family inside was spared the judgment of the angel of death, and the people ate the lamb, showing their identification and participation with it and its fate.  Sacrificial atonement came to be central to Israel’s religion.  In various offerings, the worshiper placed hands on an unblemished animal, signifying identification with the animal (Leviticus 1, 4).  The animal was killed, its blood poured out on the altar, and by faith the penitent worshiper was accepted and reconciled to God.  Ugly, bloody, not at all loving, viewed from a postmodern perspective.

Israel, the descendant people from Abraham, eventually became a strong nation, and a fabulous temple was built at Jerusalem.  Sacrifices were offered there day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, and animal sacrifices stood at the center of Israel’s religion.  The animals took the punishment the people deserved.  Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest, representing the nation, would offer a sacrifice for himself and a sacrifice for the people.  But unlike Passover or other offerings, neither the priest nor the people ate these sacrifices. They were whole burnt offerings, and God alone would symbolically consume the sacrifice and the sin that sacrifice represented.  That endless repetition of the sacrifice of animals, however, showed that the love story was not finished.  They merely foreshadowed what was to come. “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins (Hebrews 10:3-4).”  The sacrifices continued some four centuries in the temple at Jerusalem until the city was captured by ancient Babylon and the temple was destroyed.  The bloody sacrifices resumed decades later in a rebuilt temple and continued until that building was later destroyed by the Romans.  From the time of Abraham the religion of the Jewish people was massively bloody.  Hardly what one would expect in a story of divine love.

These Old Testament sacrifices were prophecies and promises of a greater substitute that was to come.  Isaiah spoke prophetically of this substitute in Isaiah 53, one whose blood could take away sin, whose death could actually gain the acceptance of the worshiper once and for all.  One whose substitution was fully appropriate because he was fully human, whose sacrifice was completely adequate because he was fully divine.  The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 10, quoting Psalm 40 as if spoken by Jesus:  “You did not desire sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me. You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings. Then I said, ‘See – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.”  Animal sacrifices could not ultimately satisfy God; no religious rite could ever bridge the gulf between the holy Creator and sinful man.

          

Another,  better, and permanent way was planned by God to atone for sin, to satisfy the wrath and justice of God against rebellion and disobedience inherent in His divine nature, to restore man to relationship with the Creator, and elevate man in fulfillment of the divine purpose for human existence.  Further, God had displayed only a portion of Himself and His nature in creation.  To demonstrate why He had created man, to demonstrate His grace and love while upholding His holiness, justice, and wrath against rebellion, something more was required.  So to complete the divine purpose in creation, to complete the greatest love story ever told, something remarkable happened.

At the point in time chosen by God in His divine wisdom, the love story of the ages reached its ultimate climax.  The apostle Paul wrote, in Galatians 4:3-5, “ Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.  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.”  And so, God the Father prepared a body for the incarnation of God the Son.  Through the Jewish nation, in fulfillment of the ancient covenant with Abraham, a final Sacrifice and Substitute was born.  All along, from the moment of creation, God’s plan and purpose was not only to provide that substitute, but to be that substitute in the person of his Son, bearing in Himself the punishment human sin demanded and the sinfulness we could not overcome.

Human existence knows of many displays of great and deep love.  A martyr might die for a deeply held cause.  A patriot might give his life in love of country.  A spouse may sacrifice for a spouse, a parent for a child.  But none of those can begin to rival the love of God passionately expressed in Christ.  Jesus did not die by accident.  He did not die a martyr.  He did not merely model sacrificial love.  He did not come as a divine messenger from God to die in demonstration of God’s acceptance and affirmation of “broken” humanity, to say that God loves and accepts and affirms humans just as we are.  He did not die to say that God is “crazy” about us all and to affirm our inherent value and worth.  He willingly and purposely gave His life to atone for the sins of others, unworthy created beings in rebellion against Almighty God.

In John 10:11-17 it is recorded that Jesus said, as He contemplated his approaching death,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. . .  I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.  This command I have received from My Father.

Jesus Christ was the Son of God and God the Son.  He came to the covenant nation with the message from heaven as their promised Messiah, and in the ultimate display of human depravity, He was rejected and savagely killed.  His death was not unique in its manner – thousands died on Roman crosses – and He was not the only man ever executed in a miscarriage of justice.  But His death was unique in that He was incarnate God.  In His gruesome death, the plan of God was fulfilled and the anger of God against sin was appeased.  Some eight centuries earlier, the Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote, in Isaiah 53,

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Jesus died first and foremost to atone for human rebellion against God, to satisfy the wrath inherent in the divine nature against sin, to reconcile God and the repentant sinner.  God is just and sinless and holy and yet still forgives those in rebellion against Him because He has atoned for the sins of ungodly sinners in the death of his own Son and has expressed and demonstrated His wrath against sin in the atonement made by Christ.  Christ came to offer Himself before God to save us from the wrath of God.  God did what He long promised He would do and what was demanded by the divine nature; He punished sin.  The innocent substitute offered on the cross was not a mere animal as in the Old Testament sacrificial system, but was the incarnate Son of God.

At the cross all of God’s attributes were shown.  In the crucifixion of Christ He demonstrated His own eternal greatness and glory, His holiness and eternal justice –  and His mercy, grace, and love.  This is the most staggering thing in the universe and in the whole of history!  Through Jesus Christ, we are saved in the greatest imaginable demonstration of love, by God for God and His glory.  It is only when we understand this, and understand how great our sin is, that we will begin to know how great is God’s love.  The  passionate expression of God’s love in Christ is the pinnacle of His glory.  With the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, we see the story of redemption and the glory of God, and we gain the understanding of the love of God.

The divine purpose in creation was not complete in Eden.  God had demonstrated his limitless power, ability, grandeur, and glory.  But it wasn’t until the Cross that He displayed His mercy, grace, and His love.  Paul wrote in Romans 5:6-10,

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  

In the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God has provided the means of salvation and redemption.  Just as willful rebellion and disobedience – sin – ruined humanity, so a  willful end to our rebellion is required of us.  The Father sent the Son in the power of the Spirit to express the mercy, forgiveness, and the love of the Triune God in the great act of redemption.  The Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to us to make the Son known, to make the way of salvation known to us, to call us and to restore and create life in those who will but end their rebellion, accept and believe what the Son has done for us, and call out to Him in faith.  Just as in Adam’s sin we all died spiritually, Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

          

Those who end their rebellion and come to Christ know God in a way that Adam could never have experienced in Eden.  Adam knew God as Creator.  We can know Him not only as God and Creator, but we can know Him as the One who loves us enough to die for us in atonement for our sin.  There is no more compelling story.  He loves us, and wants us to love Him and live in a manner that reflects that we have been transformed by Him.  In John 14, it is recorded that Jesus said, 

If you love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever –  the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.

Now, and perhaps more fully in eternity, repentant believers know Him and love Him as Savior and Redeemer.  We know Him in His love, and we can live in fulfillment of the divine purpose for our existence – to love Him.  At the end of time, at His chosen point in time, God will ultimately end unrepentant human rebellion.  We along with the redeemed of the ages will then live on a renewed and restored earth and eternally live The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.   

          

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Customizing The Cross


Cross  Just about any jewelry store features cross jewelry, most often as a pendant on a necklace.  The display of ornamental crosses is common among traditional Christians, and some subcultures use the cross as well.  Gothic outfits sometimes feature black crosses in their jewelry; rock stars occasionally even wear a cross.  The simplicity of the cross shape allows customization, and some would say that different variations allow for self-expression.  An icon in western societies, the cross has long been recognized as a universal symbol of Christianity and has been featured as an ornament not only in jewelry but in wall hangings and other items of decor.

But to the Christian who believes the Gospel of Scripture, the Cross is more than just an item of jewelry, a wall hanging, or a knick knack.  And unlike jewelry or home decor, the message of the cross cannot be customized.


Cross 3In a recent article in the on-line “The Resurgent”  Erick Erickson wrote that

In 2013, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Mainline and increasingly heretical version of the Presbyterian branch of Christendom in the United States, cast out the popular Christian hymn “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal revision.

The reason was that hymn authors Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend refused to change a line of the hymn. The PCUSA wanted the line “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” changed to “the love of God was magnified.”

The PCUSA has increasingly embraced the idea that God is fully love, “love is love,” and the concept of His wrath needs to be downplayed. This drags into long term theological problems that often wind up dragging proponents of this theological revision right out of Christendom. If the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same unchanging God, why must so much blood be spilled in the Old Testament if God is all “love is love?” Trying to resolve it all with God’s love being magnified makes no sense.

The correct theological answer is that God loves us, but cannot tolerate sin. Sin must be punished for us to be able to have a relationship with the Creator and the punishment of sin is death — our own or someone or something else’s. Throughout Biblical history, blood must be shed to make us right with God. On the Day of Atonement, blood is shed. On the cross, blood was shed. 1 John 2:2 states that “Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Paul in Romans 3:21-25 states, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

John Murray noted “The doctrine of the propitiation is precisely this that God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of this wrath.” (John Murray, “The Atonement”)

(The Resurgent, August 20, 2019, article titled “The Atoning Sacrifice of the Union Soldiers Means Nothing to the New York Times’ 1619 Project.”)

Why can’t God simply forgive sin?   Why can’t he simply offer forgiveness by fiat, by decree?  Why did there need to be a cross?  Like many other questions related to good and evil and salvation, this is not an easy issue to comprehend, but it is pivotal.  If we are to understand the Bible’s presentation of the cross, we must first have some understanding of the divine nature, of who God is.  It is only by remembering his complete self-sufficiency, glory, holiness, justice, and love, that we will begin to understand the nature of our sin problem and its only solution in Christ.  In large part, God cannot simply forgive because of who he is as the moral authority of the universe.  All of God’s attributes are a part of him, including his holiness, righteousness, and justice. He is not like a human judge, who adjudicates a law created by others; instead, God himself is the law. Our sin is not against a principle or law, but it is against God who is holy and just (Psalm 51:4).  When God forgives sin, he does so by remaining true to his nature, and that is why our forgiveness is only possible if the satisfaction of his moral demand is met. For God to declare sinners justified, Jesus perfectly obeyed all of God’s moral demands for us and paid for our sin in his substitutionary death on the cross (Romans 3:21–26; 2 Corinthians 5:21). 

At the root of every caricature of the cross, every bad customization, is an incorrect understanding of God. To think that God can forgive our sins without the full satisfaction of his justice, we must deny that God’s holiness and justice are essential to him and that he is not the moral standard of the universe, or, that God’s love is greater than his other qualities and so God can forgive us without the consideration of his justice and holiness.  But in forgiving us of our sins, God’s love is not opposed to his justice; instead the ultimate demonstration of God’s love is that in Christ and his death on the cross, God’s own righteous demand is met.  He doesn’t ignore evil or neutralize it by edict, but He provided the full and perfect atonement for sin in the person of his own Son, “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness” (Romans 3:25).  God’s love is not at all unjust and his justice is not unloving.  Sin is not  overlooked or condoned, but our sin is paid for in full either in Christ or in final judgment when all sin, evil, and death will be destroyed.  God has graciously provided the necessary atonement through the death of Christ on the cross. 

The honor and glory of the Creator is the ultimate reason that all of creation exists.  God created us with the ability to choose good and evil, but his nature and the fact that he is the cause of all that exists does not allow rebellion to go unchallenged.  It is in the gruesome death of God incarnate on the cross that the horrible nature of sin is exposed, and it is at the cross that his love is demonstrated.  The supreme display of God’s love is the Father giving his own Son on the cross as our propitiation, as the necessary satisfaction offered for our sins, which turns back his wrath against us and meets the demands of his holiness and justice on our behalf (1 John 2:1–2, Romans 5:8).  In the cross, we see the greatest imaginable demonstration of God’s holiness and justice as well as his love; it is there he remains supremely just and the one who justifies of those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21–26).  His holiness and justice is upheld, his grace and mercy is gloriously manifested.  It is in the cross that we see the greatest imaginable display of his glory.    


Cross 3Given the centrality of the cross, it is crucial that we understand it correctly.  All orthodox Christians from the very beginning have agreed that Christ’s death brings forgiveness of sins resulting in our reconciliation with God.  This is the very foundation of the faith.  A variety of atonement theologies emerged throughout church history.  As with other central doctrines, the church’s understanding of the atonement clarified quickly and theologians began to recognize that penal substitution was the theological explanation for why the cross happened and what it achieved even as other views developed and came to be accepted by some.  One early view of the cross reasoned that Christ’s work on the cross was to be seen primarily in terms of his identification with humanity through the incarnation.  By becoming human, Christ overcame the corruption of our nature in his incarnation and in his death on the cross.  Especially in Christ’s resurrection, immortality is restored to us as well as reconciliation with God.  Another view, sometimes associated with the idea of ransom to Satan, sees the primary objects of Christ’s death as the powers of sin, death, and Satan, the thought being that on the cross, Christ liberates us from these powers.  Others deny that God’s justice necessitates the full payment of our sin since God’s justice is not viewed as essential to him. Instead, as the moral Governor, God can choose to relax the demand of the law similar to a human judge, thus forgiving us by his mercy.  Another view, the example or moral influence view has been promoted within non-orthodox, liberal theology, and became prominent with the rise of liberal theology in the 18th  and 19th centuries. It taught that God’s love is more fundamental than his justice and that God can forgive our sins apart from Christ and the cross. God, then, is not the primary object of the cross, as Christ’s death primarily shows us God’s love and sets an example for us.  This idea has become the dominant thought in many circles, certainly in post-modern liberal christianity, and increasingly it is becoming accepted in some evangelical circles.   

But it is the fact that Christ was our substitute on the cross and died to pay the penalty for our sins that is the real, non-customized cross of Scripture.  Could God have chosen another method?  Perhaps, but it is Christ dying on the cross as our substitute that was the divinely preordained method chosen for the atonement.  The idea of substitution does not deny aspects of Christ’s death such as the restoration of what Adam lost, the defeat of sin and death, or the revelation of God’s love.  But the Bible teaches that central to the cross is the incarnate Son acting as our substitute to satisfy God’s righteous demand against us due to our sin.  To justify sinful humans, God provided a Redeemer who can pay for our sin and act in perfect obedience for us. Christ must be our penal substitute, paying the penalty for our sin. Ultimately, satisfying God’s justice is the central purpose of the cross.  Scripture does in fact present Christ and his cross as the supreme moral example of love, obedience, and suffering. But the cross only functions this way because of who dies and what he achieves, namely the full satisfaction of God’s righteous demand against our sin, which is the ultimate demonstration of divine love (1 John 4:7–10).


Cross 3We need more than an example to redeem us.  It is not enough for Christ to identify with us in his incarnation and show us how to live. Our problem is not merely that we need a great teacher to show us how to live. Our problem is sin before the holy God, and this problem requires the incarnation of God’s own Son to live for us and to die for us as our substitute. It is only Christ as our substitutionary appeasing sacrifice that meets God’s righteous demand, and enables believers, in Christ, to receive salvation.  The center of Christ’s work on the cross is that he has come to offer himself before God because of human sin. The substitutionary atonement of Christ so beautifully foretold by Isaiah some seven centuries before the cross (Isaiah 53) tells us why the Son had to die, and why he alone saves.  All any sinner can possibly do is receive salvation by penitent faith, believing that a perfect atonement has been made by Christ that satisfies the wrath of God against sin.

At the cross we see a revelation of God’s love, grace, and mercy, and we see the depth of our sin – not our own goodness and worth. Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6), not worthy, good people that needed help in discovering their true identity or affirmation of their self-esteem. This message is denied by many throughout christendom, and is even being denied among many who identify as evangelicals. Many erroneously teach that people are inherently good. They have designed a customized cross that is not the cross of Scripture.  If people are inherently good, they don’t need a savior, they need an inspiration, they need an example, they need to be affirmed, they need a new perspective. That is not the premise of scripture: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).  Where human goodness and moral relativism is the accepted basis of belief, people don’t feel the evil of their own sin against God, and thus don’t understand that the death of Jesus was needed because we have rebelled against and disobeyed our Creator.  Jesus came to restore the image of God within us when he died on the cross for our sin. Our self-esteem thus shouldn’t be based on anything except the love of God in Christ who willingly gave his life for us when we were unworthy sinners.  In this showed his tremendous love for us. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Our worth is affirmed by the atonement that was made for us at the cross. When missionary William Carey was suffering from an illness, he purportedly was asked, “If this sickness should prove fatal, what passage would you select as the text for your funeral sermon?” He answered, “Oh, I feel that such a poor sinful creature is unworthy to have anything said about him; but if a funeral sermon must be preached, let it be from the words, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.'” In the same spirit of humility he directed in his will that the following inscription and nothing more should be cut on his gravestone:

WILLIAM CAREY,

BORN AUGUST 17th, 1761:

DIED-

“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm On Your kind arms I fall.”

Carey understood the real message of the cross.


Cross 3The cross is everywhere in Scripture.  In the Old Testament, the need for the cross is explained and it is prophesied in detail.  Paul preached the gospel of Jesus according to the Scriptures.  The death of Jesus was at a predetermined time in history and was for a specific predetermined purpose. It was not merely the death of a martyr or philosopher who recklessly challenged the authorities of his society.  Paul declared its necessity (Acts 13:27–33), and like Jesus before him, Paul established from the Old Testament scriptures the reasoning why Messiah had to suffer (Luke 24:25–26).  Jesus had to die because righteousness could not come through any other means (Galatians 2:21).  The message we must understand and explain today is that it is only through Jesus’s atoning death on the cross as our substitute that we are forgiven, reconciled to God, and rescued from the evil dominating the present world (Galatians 1:4).  This is the message that must be at the center of evangelism. This is the cross that must be taught and preached.

Music is at the heart and soul of believers and of churches.  Given the centrality of the cross, a list of hymns and gospel songs about the cross would be lengthy. Isaac Watts, perhaps the leading early voice of English hymnody, wrote the well-known “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” beginning with the words, “When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of Glory died.”  Prolific hymn writer Charles Wesley in “And Can It Be?,” wrote in the refrain, “Amazing Love! how can it be, That Thou, my God should die for me!,” connecting the substitutionary death of the savior to the “Amazing Love” of God.  Present time hymn writer Chris Anderson (hymnody is very much alive), in “My Jesus Fair” has written of the death of the Savior on the cross,

My Jesus, fair, was pierced by thorns, By thorns grown from the fall. Thus He who gave the curse was torn To end that curse for all.

Refrain: O love divine, O matchless grace— That God should die for men! With joyful grief I lift my praise, Abhorring all my sin, Adoring only Him.

My Jesus, meek, was scorned by men, By men in blasphemy. “Father, forgive their senseless sin!” He prayed, for them, for me.

My Jesus, kind, was torn by nails, By nails of cruel men. And to His cross, as grace prevailed, God pinned my wretched sin.

My Jesus, strong, shall come to reign, To reign in majesty. The Lamb arose, and death is slain. Lord, come in victory!

My Jesus, pure, was crushed by God, By God, in judgment just. The Father grieved, yet turned His rod On Christ, made sin for us.

Not all songs that use the word “cross” are about the “real” cross. This is readily apparent in contemporary entertainment that has replaced hymns and gospel songs in many churches. Some use the word “cross” without explaining anything of what it means. Others see the cross merely as a selfless act of love for our encouragement. Some come close to actually remembering what Jesus accomplished at the cross while leaving out any mention of the details. Few mention salvation from sin or the blood or the wrath of God against sin or the concept of atonement. But the power of the cross is in those details. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, bore our sins in his body on the cross to endure the wrath of God for us so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God. That is the song of the redeemed believer, the source of joy and the ultimate cause of true worship.


Cross 3The building of the church of which we are members has an auditorium that has a balcony and so has a high ceiling. On a recent Sunday night I sat in a seat adjacent to the center aisle, and looking up the aisle I reflected on what I saw. There is a communion table at the front of the aisle, a matching wooden pulpit above that, the platform for the musicians and choir, and a baptistry against the back wall. Above the baptistry is a beautiful large wooden cross. There are screens well off to each side for the display of things like the speaker’s notes, but it is the cross that is the central architectural feature at the front of the room. That cross is there in the background, above everything that happens in the room. It likely looks little like the crude Roman cross upon which Jesus was crucified, but it beautifully reminds of that sacred event.

In some post-modern vestiges of christianity, there are beautiful and elaborate crosses, but the true message of the cross has been abandoned – customized.  Some newer evangelical churches might choose to not have a cross in their auditorium, lest someone be offended or find it too traditional, and many have customized their message of the cross.  In our church, the real beauty of the cross is that it is the real message of the cross – not a customized version – that is ever present. When the pastor preaches, the cross is there, not because it is the stated subject of the lesson or sermon, but because the Bible is taught and preached, and the cross is everywhere in the Bible. Hymns and songs are sung, like those mentioned above, that speak of sin and salvation, of the blood, of the atonement – of the cross.


Cross 4  Cross jewelry? By all means wear it. If I were not so, er, frugal, I might buy a piece of cross jewelry for my wife. In the post-christian western world, we can display the cross freely, in our churches, in our homes, on our persons. In a communist Asian country or in an African or Asian country dominated by Islam, one might not be able to openly display a cross. Yes, display the cross.  But more importantly, a Christian must not forget the message of the cross and the reality of a relationship with the One Who died there.  Renunciation of sin, self, and the evils of the world in identification with the crucified Christ is the aspiration of everyone who believes that Christ died on the cross for them.  Jewelry gets shuffled aside, wall hangings get taken down, display pieces get lost among others. This must not be so with the message of the cross. That message must remain an ever present moment-by-moment reality in our life.  

 

The Lord’s Day

When we were boys, my mother took my brother and me to Sunday School and church every week. Dad never went to church, but he didn’t discourage us from going. Every Saturday night, I took a bath, filled out my Sunday School quarterly, and often polished my shoes to get ready for Sunday. We had a big Sunday lunch, usually something Mom had prepared and put in the oven or the electric skillet, and during the NFL season Dad was usually watching football when we got home. Sunday was a “different” day, and there never was a debate about going to church, it was just assumed that we would go.

I continued to go to church every Sunday as I grew up. I met my wife at the church we both attended. After we married, we continued to go to church every Sunday morning, usually again on Sunday night. There was never a debate or discussion. We often had lunch with family, we usually took an afternoon nap, and Sunday remained a day different from the rest. It was a day for church, for rest, for family, for remembering the principle of Sabbath to some degree. It was the Lord’s Day. We took both of our children to church the next Sunday after their birth. They grew up attending Sunday School and church every week, just as my wife and I had done when we were growing up.

A number of years ago we visited with my uncle (brother to my mother) and aunt in the small Nebraska town that my mother’s family was from. My uncle and aunt were living in the town while on an extended furlough from Bolivia where they did missionary work. Conversing with them, they noted that they were involved with an effort to oppose the end of business closings on Sunday in the town. Sunday “blue laws” were still in place then. Years earlier, that might have been common in many American cities and towns. Today, that is no longer the case and hasn’t been for a number of years.

In the past, most people did not work on Sunday unless they were involved in agriculture or services like law enforcement or health care, but that is no longer the case. Now, Sunday is a big day for retail, restaurants, entertainment, and in many other fields businesses operate on Sunday as just another day. We live in a busy world, where we have boats to get in the water, home improvement projects to attend to, sporting events and recreational activities to pursue, kids’ ball games to attend, as well as simply leftover tasks we didn’t get to during a busy workweek. It’s been a long week, we’re tired. We simply can’t commit to go to church every week. And yet, a few generations ago, American Christians managed to make it to church. They considered it important to do so. They may have worked sixty hour weeks in a factory, they may have engaged in relentless agricultural tasks seven days a week, but they somehow managed to make it to church. More and more, this is no longer the case.

Recognizing this, many perceived evangelical churches have attempted to make church more attractive to people and help them to make it fit into their schedules. I drove by a church recently with a sign that said something to the effect of “Come on – Give God a Second Chance.” The idea of “stop in and give God a few minutes once a week” is perceived as a big draw. We’ll keep it informal, short, entertaining, and painless, we’ll offer a service on Saturday night so you can sleep in on Sunday morning if you want; just stop by on your way to or from the movies or the restaurant. We’ll have an early Sunday morning service so you can get it over with and have the rest of your day free if that works for you. Shorts and flip-flops are no problem. In many cases, maybe most cases, sound churches have discontinued their Sunday evening services, in part because they were poorly attended.

Worship should be an existential reality for believers. It should be a way of life, an hour-by-hour part of our life. It is not dependent on our physical location, our lot in life, or any external issue. Our personal relationship with God is a constant and ongoing part of life. Similarly, corporate worship is not limited to Sunday. The Lord of the Church resurrected on the first day of the week and so from its earliest days the church came to assemble and worship on Sunday, but believers can assemble and worship together on Saturday or for that matter on, say, Tuesday. Corporate worship can occur whenever the church meets and sinners are warned of judgement to come, Christ and the gospel is proclaimed, the Scripture is studied, believers pray together. In other countries and societies, a Sunday gathering might not even be an option. One wonders, however, when American churches seek to make their meetings completely convenient and informal and easy, if they haven’t lost something.

The New Testament presents to us the importance of being part of a church. We are supposed to gather together with other believers, for instruction and discipleship, for corporate worship, for encouragement and fellowship, for ministry. It isn’t optional, it isn’t something to do occasionally when it is convenient. We are supposed to be a part of each other as the body of Christ in the world. As Americans, we have great freedom to assemble in churches. If we are gathering together with other believers to worship together, to hear a clear exposition of Scripture, to sing songs of worship to God that joyfully and reverently proclaim doctrine and remind of what He has done for us in Christ, it should be a priority that exceeds our need for convenience and comfort. Our heritage as believers living in the United States is a heritage of observing the Lord’s Day, preparing our hearts, putting on some better clothes appropriate to assembling with the body of Christ, and attending church regularly, even if doing so might not always be convenient. This should happen not merely as a ritual or habit, but as a commitment from our heart.

There is no explicit New Testament statement mandating Sunday worship, certainly no limitation to corporate worship on that day, but there are several references indicating that the first day of the week was special for the earliest believers. Matthew 28:1-6 tells us of the Lord’s resurrection on the first day,

“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

Several other New Testament passages mention the first day. That tradition endured throughout history, and was an important part of American society for most of our history. That tradition and commitment has been slowly abandoned in recent decades. The reasons are many. Liberal churches hold to no message that is worth a zealous devotion to weekly church attendance. Prosperity takes our focus away from spiritual matters. We’re busy, have many activities and commitments. We can worship anywhere and anytime, we reason. Our favorite YouTube church is more entertaining and can be viewed anytime. Many professing Christians simply feel no need or desire to be involved with a local church.

But I’m convinced that Christians and the faithful church in America have lost something, something profound and vital, in losing our commitment to The Lord’s Day.