Idols of Our Own Making

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote  “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”   John warned believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols.”  Earlier he warned, in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”   To love the world is to make an idol of some element of it.  Sexual sin, materialism, jealousy, covetousness, hunger for power and prestige, the inordinate pursuit of pleasure, selfish pride; these things are idolatry and displace God from His rightful place in our lives.  Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”  Too many of us are guilty of these things, and often we must be reminded to turn away from such behaviors and attitudes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 10:6-7

Whose World Is It Anyway?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A recent hymn reminds us,

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

More Than 700,000 Served

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

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

I was incensed.

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

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

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

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

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

Wealth, Productivity, Riots, and Demands

The Bible has much to say about work, material wealth, and prosperity.  In the Ten Commandments, God clearly affirms personal property rights.  “Thou shalt not steal.”  “Thou shalt not covet.”  What is mine is mine and not yours; what is yours is yours and not mine.  We are reminded repeatedly in Scripture of the importance of hard work and personal industry.  Proverbs 14:23 tells us, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”  Throughout Proverbs we read of the importance of personal responsibility, work, saving and investing, providing for family, and doing so honestly.  Colossians 3:23 tells us, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  Elsewhere Paul reminds, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Ephesians 4:28).”

          

My father grew up in poverty.  He was born in a small town in Nebraska, the youngest of four children, and I don’t recall him talking about his childhood much.  His grandfather who homesteaded land in Nebraska was from a line of ethnic Germans who had lived in Russia and eventually migrated to the United States. My grandfather was an alcoholic; he didn’t want to farm and so sold whatever land he inherited, even as other relatives became successful farmers.  My grandmother had mental issues and likely suffered from schizophrenia.  Dad remembered that as a child he had picked up coal along railroad tracks to burn for heat at home, and his family had lost electric service on occasion for failure to pay the bill, and was even evicted a time or two.  Dad didn’t finish high school.

My mother wasn’t much better off.  She grew up on a small farm in the next county north, on land that her grandfather had homesteaded after the Civil War.  My parents met and married when Dad was working with a crew laying brick pavers in the streets of the town where Mom lived.  They married months after Mom finished high school, and Dad worked for a short while at an armaments plant leftover from the Second World War era.  The facility closed, and employment opportunities in the area were limited at best.  Dad’s sister and family had moved to an area just north of Denver, and with some promise of a job from my uncle, my parents moved to that area.  They secured a tiny rental home – better described as a “shack,’ of perhaps 500 square feet.  The hoped-for job didn’t materialize.  Dad got a job in a parking lot in downtown Denver behind a department store, where he worked when I was born.  He eventually secured a position working in a warehouse where he worked for more than two decades, even as physical maladies made it difficult for him to be on his feet all day on a warehouse floor.  The folks were able to buy a better house, all of 750 square feet, shortly after the birth of my brother.  It wasn’t much by today’s standards, but it was theirs.  Dad went to work – every day.  He lived within his means.  We never went hungry.  Mom stayed home with us when we were small, and eventually went to work for J.C. Penney for a number of years.  The family’s standard of living rose, and by the time of their deaths the folks owned their home and left an inheritance for my brother and me.  We sold the little house after Dad died.

My parents inherited – nothing.  They were handed – nothing.  Dad and my aunt paid on an insurance policy for years so that there would be money to bury my grandmother, who they had brought to Colorado.  When the area where they grew up offered limited opportunity, they moved to another area.  They never collected any government assistance.  They never received any charity.  “Welfare” and “food stamps” were epithets, terms of derision in our house when I was growing up.  They worked, saved, and lived within their means.  They married, before I was born, and remained married until death.  Starting from nothing, they provided a good life for themselves and for my brother and me.  They made lemonade out of the circumstance of lemons they had to work with.

A few months ago I participated in a memorial service for an elderly lady.  Her life story is fascinating.  She was born in Silesia, then at the southeast corner of Germany, shortly before the Second World War.  When the war ended, the area was annexed to Poland, and her family was given hours to simply vacate their house.  With only what they could carry, they eventually made it to the western zone of occupied Germany.  She met a young man coincidentally from her home region, who had been drafted into the German army.  They eventually married and came to the United States.  They became successful and raised a family.  They too made lemonade out of lemon circumstances.

A friend of my wife’s mother has a similar story.  A young girl when the war ended, her ethnic German family became refugees.  They came to the United States with nothing, but took advantage of opportunity.  This woman and her husband, also an ethnic German, raised a family and successfully operated a small business.

What are the common threads here?  Seeking opportunity and working to overcome circumstances.  Relocating to a place of greater opportunity when necessary.  Willingness to work.  Personal responsibility.  Marriage and fidelity to marriage and family.  These things produce success.  None of these people viewed themselves as victims.  They didn’t have time to grovel in their circumstances; they were too busy working.  I don’t have confidence that my Dad ever became a Christian, and don’t know that all of the others referenced here did either.  But the life pattern that they followed was rooted in Christian principles and brought them success.

I got a job the summer after my junior year in high school.  It did not require any great genius, but I merely had to get up early, go to work, and do my job.  I was able to return to the job, summers and on Saturdays, throughout the rest of my educational career when I was in-state and at home.  My brother also worked various jobs during his youth.  We both funded much of our own college expenses.  We developed a work ethic that enabled both of us to have successful careers.  Today, too often suburban males spend their adolescence “working with their thumbs” playing video games, watching their cellphones, or watching movies and sporting events.  I have observed that the landscape crew for my HOA is staffed by Spanish-speaking adults, likely Mexican or Central American nationals.  During my youth, those landscape crews were staffed by American high school or college-age youths.  A summer or two, my brother had a brutally hard job for a small concrete contractor, handling large panels assembling and disassembling forms for basement and foundation pours.  Today, those jobs are largely staffed by immigrants.  In many inner city areas, youth are both unemployed and unemployable.  They are too often the children of unmarried teenaged mothers who themselves were born to unmarried teenaged mothers and have no understanding of any sort of a work ethic.  They are easy recruits for those who would incite them to riot and destroy and demand more taxpayer benefits while never actually doing what it might take to secure employment and progressing to a better life.

          

Wealth comes from productivity.  Wealth is not created by governmental redistribution nor is it created by government fiat, by government creating money out of thin air to give away to perceived victims.  American prosperity comes from the fact that Americans are the most productive people on the planet.  The best form of government recognizes personal and property rights, fosters opportunity, and furthers productivity.  Our system of capitalism and free enterprise does that and has done it well.  But for significant portions of society, that work ethic has been lost..

Property rights are absolute and are key to developing personal prosperity and furthering prosperity in a society.  I have no right to destroy the property of others or to destroy community property.  Exodus 22 explains this principle under the Old Testament economy.  We all have a responsibility to work and provide for ourselves and our families.  My ancestors worked brutally hard – farming in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was no picnic.  My Dad performed manual labor.  My career has required me to perform not manual labor but intellectual tasks, and I have saved throughout my career and now have modest savings in various instruments that provide capital to companies that employ people and provide necessary goods and services. Scripture enjoins us to provide for our children, and to teach them a trade, or by extension in our era, to provide for education, to set a positive godly example, and if circumstances allow to provide capital for their use.

          

As Christians, we are above all called to use our means for the honor and glory of God.  We are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  Wealth is not to be hoarded, and we are not to find our satisfaction in amassing material wealth.  We are to give.  We are to consider ourselves as stewards of whatever we may possess and give of our resources in submission to the lordship of Christ.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.   (Matthew 6:25-33)”

Paul wrote of our proper attitude toward “things.”

Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world,  and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  (I Timothy 6:6-10)”

 

Old Books

I have an old set of the “World Book” encyclopedia.  I remember that my mother bought it at a second-hand store when I was a kid.  It was published just after World War II, and I have no idea why my parents bought it, probably because they could not afford a new set of encyclopedias.  It was long obsolete even then, and likely neither I nor my brother ever used it much.  I also have our old set of the “Funk & Wagnalls” encyclopedia.  If I recall correctly, the grocery store where Mom shopped used these as a promotion, featuring a new volume every few weeks for a nominal cost.  I’m missing a couple of volumes; we likely didn’t need groceries those weeks.  With way too much stuff, I have considered throwing out these books.  My kids will never want them.

But given recent events, I think I’ll keep these books.  For reference.  To pick up and read an entry here and there.  To perhaps donate to an educational institution that might value them.  Recent events feature people with no knowledge of history, no understanding of economics, no understanding, frankly, of much of anything, seeking to destroy and tear down the society.  Burning books.  Defacing monuments.  Pulling down statues erected to honor people that they know nothing about.  Violent anarchists and people who constitute angry mobs likely don’t spend much time reading, at least studying anything of objective truth.  They are not interested in books – only in burning them, literally or figuratively.  Cancel culture is a goal and a mantra.

A book published in the 1950’s “Fahrenheit 451,” describes a society intent on burning books in order to erase history (titled for the temperature at which paper burns).  Even at that time, the author feared that the United States might eventually turn away from truth and true history.  Destruction of books, statues, and historic sites, obliterating the remembrance of history, is anarchy leading to totalitarianism.   Remembrance and respect for history, even the bad aspects of past events, is vital to a society, essential to a freedom-loving people.

My old encyclopedias are obsolete.  They do not contain the most recent scientific data.  They do not document more recent events, but they document facts and much real history to the point that they were published.  They precede the Leftist textbooks and far-Left teaching in the educational institutions of recent decades.  They record historic truths in a variety of fields that have been denied or ignored.  They record much vital and important information, minus Marxist bias.

When one understands some of the information in these books, one can begin to understand why many of us believe in American exceptionalism.  We come to understand that the American Revolution wasn’t fought just to make a bunch of old rich white guys richer as some today claim, and that the causes of the Civil War were complex.  We come to understand that the “Noble Savage” myth is just that, a myth, and aboriginal societies were not exactly ideal.  We come to understand that character, principles of personal responsibility, deferred gratification, and free-market capitalism bring prosperity to both an individual and a nation.  We come to understand the progression and flow of history.  We come to understand the basis of true science.

I have many hundreds of books.  I’ve asked that if I should die before I move them along, at least an attempt be made to donate them to a Christian institution.  I’ll add these old encyclopedias to that request.

While many of us are concerned for our nation and its fate, I am even more concerned for the fate of the church.  We have an ancient Book – the Bible – that, unlike my encyclopedias, has no degree of obsolescence.  It is timeless and completely true.  And yet sadly it has lost its importance to much, maybe most, of the perceived faithful church.  A “cancel culture” of ignorance, neglect, and denial has invaded the church.

Months ago, a seminary that once may have been the premier seminary among Bible believers featured a chapel speaker who is a graduate of that school.  He is a well-known megachurch pastor in the southeast, a gifted motivational speaker, but no preacher of Scripture.  He is noted for his almost disdain of the use of the Old Testament and exhorted the seminary students accordingly.  Surely seminarians must be well educated in a variety of fields, able to deal with and relate to people and understanding the society in which people live, able to help people deal with the difficulties they face each day.  But at the very foundation of the education a faithful pastor must be – the Bible.  He must know systematic and biblical theology.  And he must be able to teach and preach scripture, in its entirety, to confront people with the gospel and all of its ramifications for the lives of believers, to help them gain an understanding of scripture and develop a thoroughly Christian worldview and philosophy of life.

That is being forgotten throughout evangelicalism, to an almost stunning degree.  “Cancel” the truths from scripture that might offend someone.  In effect, “cancel” the gospel.  Give people a more acceptable, up to date concept of Jesus.  People are advised as to how to “achieve their dreams,” how to “follow their hearts.”  People are given life lessons and motivational speeches, advice, formulas for success.  Congregations (obsolete word, I know) are exhorted to develop a personal vision, to follow a vision, to have some sort of encounter with God.  Self-esteem is big; God is “crazy about you.”  God wants you to be prosperous, or successful, or feel good about yourself, or know your true self, or realize how special you are.  Create your own reality through positive thinking.  Unbelievers are affirmed in their sins, told that they are “awesome,” told that they are “special,” advised to, in effect, add a little Jesus to their life.  Church has become a raucous rock/pop concert followed by such a “talk.”  One wonders how that can even be considered a “worship service.”  Is it really to be compared to hearing from God’s Word, of singing truth from the scriptures, of considering Who God is and what He has done for us in Christ?  Did Jesus die to atone for our sins, or to make us feel good and make our dreams come true?  Disney message, Disney music, a Disney version of Jesus.  “Cancel” all of that absolutist, doctrinal stuff.  Help people feel good and learn to be tolerant.

We live in a decaying and dying culture that is in desperate need of truth.  Recent events remind us of that.  The Gospel is essentially all that the church has.  Found in both Old and New Testaments, God has given us the truth that we need both for life in this world and for eternal life.  We dare not forget that.  When society crumbles, people do not need anything so much as they need the timeless truth of scripture.

That puts a burden and a great responsibility on us as believers.  It is not enough to hear a sound sermon and sing a few true doctrinal hymns on Sunday.  We cannot merely lament decline.  We may have to separate from churches that do not hold to Scripture and preach Christ instead of culture.  We must become disciples and students of the Word.  We must study it and read it, and we must live it so that we might relate it to the people around us.

In the Old Testament, there is an account of young Josiah coming to the throne in Judah, the southern Jewish kingdom.  Israel, the northern kingdom and apostate from God, had already gone into captivity.  Judah survived, sometimes apostate, sometimes knowing a time of revival.  In II Kings 22, it is recorded that

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem.  . . .  And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.  Now it came to pass, in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the scribe . . .  to the house of the Lord, saying:  “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money which has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people.  And let them deliver it into the hand of those doing the work, who are the overseers in the house of the Lord; let them give it to those who are in the house of the Lord doing the work, to repair the damages of the house—  to carpenters and builders and masons—and to buy timber and hewn stone to repair the house. . . ” Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.  So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the Lord.”  Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.  Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes.  Then the king commanded . . . , saying,  “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

The ancient Jews forgot God.  They forgot His Word.  It brought calamity.  When the ancient scrolls were discovered in the time of Josiah, it brought some degree of revival and postponement of ultimate judgement.  It brought life and hope to another generation.  As a nation, we cannot forget the truths found in the Old Books.  The church dare not forget the truth found in The Old Book.

Tell your children about it,
Let your children tell their children,
And their children another generation.  (Joel 1:3)

“Breaking News”

I basically gave up on watching local television news early in the virus panic.  I previously referred to the local newscasts as “The Giggle News” due to the typical on-air banter.  We used to joke about the nightly lead story of “Breaking News” from an area suburb, where there always seemed to be a shooting or policing event.  But with the virus coverage, I finally quit watching for the most part.  We might tune it to the news to check the weather at a quarter past the hour, but simply don’t care about big hard-hitting stories about the staff at The Daisy Hill Puppy Farm knitting hundreds of masks to donate.  I don’t care about people howling or barking at a particular time each evening to supposedly recognize medical professionals, presumably those treating virus cases and not the ones who were idled by the imposed shutdown.  I don’t care about pandering newscasters observing social distancing by sitting on opposite sides of the set, or people doing their segment from home.

Long ago I gave up on the broadcast network national news broadcasts, regarding them as generally Leftist propaganda, watching only occasionally when there might be a major disaster or weather event such as a hurricane.  I continue to receive the local daily newspaper, noting the sources for articles, picking and choosing what to read, sometimes little of it, sometimes when I’m in the mood for “opposition research” reading more of it.  Nevertheless, looking at a variety of sources, I consider myself well informed, just careful and thoughtful of what I might accept as fact.

Just as in matters of faith, understanding culture and current events requires discernment.  Check sources and evidence.  Look at and analyze source data.  Not everything in a newscast or the newspaper is true.  The internet is full of “fake news.”  Analyze.  Consider data carefully.  Even good and correct facts can lead to incorrect conclusions when the facts are considered out of context and out of the context of other data.  The human-caused climate change debate is famous for this.

Throughout recent months, induced fear has been everywhere in our society.  The run on products like toilet paper and other consumer staples showed the widespread fear. Recently I was on the road over Loveland Pass, at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet.  At a parking area, few people were around, on a sunny day, with some wind blowing as it always does there, I noticed two little girls, perhaps early elementary age, get out of a car.  Both had on masks.  Statistically, the coronavirus does not affect children, adolescents, or young adults (yes, there are exceptions).  Not my business, they are free to wear masks, but I noted that they would have had to make an effort to get within 10 feet of anyone.  While there, well away from others of course, I sneezed without so much as raising my hand or arm to my face, just for the sheer joy of it.  I’m tired of the whole distancing thing.

People have lost businesses and jobs in the shutdown, others have lost educational opportunities, others have suffered postponement of needed medical procedures.  Economic loss and financial disaster are all too real.  The recent civil unrest and riots have arguably been as bad or worse than the virus shutdown.  Fear – legitimate fear – is everywhere.  Fear for the life and health of loved ones.  The fear for one’s own life, health, and well-being.  The fear of the early-stage dementia patient, seeing no one except a staff person or two in a mask and medical garb.  The anxiety of an aging person unable to visit with anyone face to face.

“Cases” (positive tests).  “Outbreaks” (two or more positive tests in a facility, group, or place of employment).  An athlete or celebrity tests positive for the virus; not actually ill, just a positive test.  “Surge.”  “Spike.”  “Emergency.”  Somber tones.  Mass death.  Panic.  Despair.  Be afraid.  But maybe some fears are induced, overblown, and unnecessary.

A few weeks ago, I ran across an article by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, a journalism professor at Cardiff University (referenced in the monthly devotional booklet “Turning Points” from David Jeremiah’s organization).  The article is titled “Feeling Panicked About Coronavirus?  Media Coverage of New Epidemics Often Stokes Unnecessary Fear.”  In the piece the author writes,

“New contagious diseases are scary. They frighten us because they’re unknown and unpredictable. The ongoing outbreak of the novel coronvirus COVID-19 has received extensive media attention — coverage that can tell us a lot about how uncertainty in the face of such an epidemic can all too easily breed fear.

For about a decade, I’ve been studying the role of emotions in journalism, including in the coverage of disasters and crises. Media coverage is vital to our shared conversations and plays a key role in regulating our emotions, including fear. While fear is an emotion that we frequently experience as individuals, it can also be a shared and social emotion — one that circulates through groups and communities and shapes our reactions to ongoing events. Like other emotions, fear is contagious and can spread swiftly.

Media coverage sets the agenda for public debate. While the news doesn’t necessarily tell us what to think, it tells us what to think about. In doing so, the news signals what issues merit our attention. Research has consistently shown that when issues receive extensive media coverage and are prominent in the news agenda, they also come to be seen as more important by members of the public.”

Further,

“Research on coverage of earlier disease outbreaks show a similar emphasis on fear. In the case of the SARS epidemic in 2003, a study by historian Patrick Wallis and linguist Brigitte Nerlich found that “the main conceptual metaphor used was SARS as a killer.” Along the same lines, media scholars Peter Vasterman and Nel Ruigrok examined coverage of the H1N1 epidemic in the Netherlands and found that it was marked by the “alarming” tone of its coverage. Like the coronavirus, these historical outbreaks were characterized by uncertainty, breeding fear and panic.

To put these observations into perspective, it is instructive to compare them with coverage of seasonal influenza, which is estimated by the World Health Organization to kill 290,000 to 650,000 people around the world every year. Since January 12, 2020, world newspapers have published just 488 articles on the seasonal flu without also mentioning coronavirus. In sharp contrast to coverage of this novel coronavirus, fewer than 1 in 10 stories about flu (37 of 488) mentioned “fear” or similar words or phrases.

The prominence of fear as a theme in reports of the coronavirus suggests that much of the outbreak’s coverage is more of a reflection of public fear than informative of what’s actually happening in terms of the spread of the virus. Franklin Roosevelt probably overstated the case when he famously said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But at a time rife with misinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories, it’s worth remaining alert to the dangers of this contagious emotion in the face of uncertainty.”  *

In Hebrews 12:27-29, Paul wrote,

Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

Commenting on this passage, Charles Spurgeon (updated by Alistair Begg) in his “Morning and Evening” devotional, wrote,

“We have many things in our possession at the present moment that can be shaken, and it is not good for a Christian to rely upon them, for there is nothing stable beneath these rolling skies; change is written upon all things. Yet we have certain “things that cannot be shaken,” and I invite you this evening to think of them—that if the things that can be shaken should all be taken away, you may derive real comfort from the things that cannot be shaken and that will remain. Whatever your losses have been, or may be, you enjoy present salvation.

You are standing at the foot of Christ’s cross, trusting alone in the merit of His precious blood, and no rise or fall of the markets can interfere with your salvation in Him; no breaking of banks, no failures and bankruptcies can touch that. Then you are a child of God this evening. God is your Father. No change of circumstances can ever rob you of that. Even if by loss you are brought to poverty and stripped bare, you can still say, “He is still my Father. In my Father’s house are many rooms; therefore I will not be troubled.” You have another permanent blessing, namely, the love of Jesus Christ. He who is God and man loves you with all the strength of His affectionate nature—nothing can affect that. The fig tree may not blossom, and the flocks may dwindle and wander from the field, but it does not matter to the man who can sing, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” Our best portion and richest heritage we cannot lose.

Whatever troubles come, let us play the man; let us show that we are not like little children cast down by what happens to us in this poor fleeting state of time. Our country is Immanuel’s land, our hope is fixed in heaven, and therefore, calm as the summer’s ocean, we will see the wreck of everything earthborn and yet rejoice in the God of our salvation.”

David the Psalmist wrote, in Psalm 37,

Do not fret (worry) because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.

Do not despair because of evildoers – racists, rioters, Marxists, destroyers.  Do not worry because of diseases, disasters, disappointments.  Do not worry – it only causes harm.

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.

 

* https://www.niemanlab.org/2020/02/feeling-panicked-about-coronavirus-media-coverage-of-new-epidemics-often-stokes-unnecessary-fear/

 

 

The Simple Mission of the Church

Pandemics, Protests, and Purpose

 

Often things aren’t as simple as they seem.  Sometimes they actually are.

An article titled “NAE calls on Christians to pause, mourn 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in US” was featured a few weeks ago in an on-line publication.  The piece stated that “The National Association of Evangelicals is calling on Christians and churches to pause and lament the death of more than 100,000 Americans from COVID-19 on Pentecost Sunday, ” and quoted the NAE’s president’s observation that “It’s a reason for us to pause, to remember the dead, to mourn their passing, and to lament the fact that we have not been able to grieve as we typically would as Christians.”  The piece further noted that “The call is being made by “an unprecedented group of 100+ national faith leaders—from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions representing major denominations, national faith-based organizations, local congregations, and millions of people of faith across the country.”

The same article related that the founder of the organization Sojourners said “One hundred thousand people, citizens, friends, and family dead is a terrible marker we must not miss or pass by quickly or easily.  We must stop. We must weep. We must mourn. We must honor.  And we must lament which is to feel and bear great grief and sorrow, and to reflect upon it.”  The executive director of Sojourners commented that “Every one of the over 100,000 lives in the U.S. lost to COVID-19 is precious and sacred.  While the need for social distancing has precluded funerals and other traditional forms of mourning, we can and must find ways to grieve and lament together as a nation.  These tragic deaths include so many heroic frontline and essential workers who risked their lives to heal, protect, and serve others.”

These are not necessarily doctrinally solid organizations, but there is nothing explicitly wrong with and in fact everything right about sound churches and individual Christians supporting people who have lost loved ones and friends to the virus.  Paul wrote in Romans 12:14-16, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.”  But what about the tens of thousands of survivors of diseases like malaria, typhus, or dysentery, which largely occur in less developed countries, and those who have lost loved ones to such diseases?  What about tens of thousands of cancer survivors or those who have lost loved ones to that condition?  Or auto accidents?  Or seasonal flu?  Or old age?  Or poverty?  What about a special day for them?  Why single out COVID-19 just because it dominates the secular news cycle?  Is it a hook to somehow attract people concerned with a current and on-going event?  Or is it maybe because some would let society and current events set the agenda for the church with the thought that addressing solutions to the societal problems of the day is primary to the mission of the church?

Sound churches sometimes purport to aspire to “change their city” or perhaps “transform their community for Christ.”  But is that really the role of the church?  Or is the purpose of the church to be something both more basic and ultimately more important?  Jesus commissioned his followers to go into the world and preach the gospel and to make disciples.  To reach people with the message that Christ came to atone for their sin and if they will respond to the gospel and call on Christ in faith they will be saved, not just from disease and calamity, but from eternal judgement.  The church cannot cure any disease.  But in understanding and fulfilling its real purpose the church can help people see the One and Only Cure for their most fundamental underlying condition, sin.

In a book published in 1983 titled “Idols for Destruction,” Herbert Schlossberg wrote that  “Now American religion is full of the contradictions and paradoxes that come from the attempt to merge a true gospel with the faltering creeds of the surrounding society” (Page 9).  Later (Page 38) he observed that “God is still active in history and still makes himself known in blessing and judgement.  The message is as unpopular now as it was then, and there are many places in which the church is faithless to its charge, preferring to preach on popular themes that find ready acceptance among those who have rejected the first principles of the Christian faith.”  Surely those words are even more true now than they were in 1983.

What is the mission of the church?  What are we supposed to be doing?  The changing of people is surely fundamental to the mission of the church, but the only way to change people is to lead them to Jesus Christ – the Jesus Christ of scripture.  The only way for the church to change people is to declare the gospel.  The mission of the church is primarily redemptive.  The mission of the church is the gospel, the scriptures, declaring the gospel and then “teaching them to observe all things” that God in His Word has commanded.

Attempts to be contemporary, to be “relevant,” ensures irrelevance.  By constantly responding to current events, the disease or disaster of the day, or the media event of the week, churches completely lose their unique and fundamental function.  The desire to sympathize with suffering  aside from declaring the nature and cause of that suffering – human rebellion and sin against God – sacrifices eternal truth on an altar of misguided sympathy and emotion.  The church becomes just another voice in the crowd.  Current societal upheavals pose a huge risk of being sidetracked for many in the American church, even in sound circles where the gospel is believed. “Social justice” concepts are not merely a distraction from the gospel; rather, such things are antithetical to gospel.  Where social justice is accepted, the gospel is twisted.

The Great Commission speaks of Christ’s followers being a witness to people of all nations, men and women of all races and cultures. Evangelism and the gospel message is the absolute and only starting point for all Christian teaching and discipleship.  “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Believers and churches thus must be engaged in confronting the lost and presenting to them the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.  But Christ did not limit His teaching to the message of individual salvation from hell.  Discipleship follows and involves training in the Christian faith. The New Testament affirms the Old Testament teaching on fundamental marriage and family relationships.  Both testaments speak much of material goods, affirming private property rights, affirming the necessity of industry and work, saving and deferred gratification, honesty, and instructs as to the relationship between rich and poor and employer-employee relationships.  Throughout the Bible is instruction on all areas of life and relationships to others.  Scripture enjoins believers to live all of life under Christ’s authority.  When that occurs and becomes the focus, when individual believers throughout society begin to live out the gospel and its ramifications for life, governments, societies, and communities are changed.

In a sermon reprinted in the February 2020 Decision magazine titled “The Answer to Our Deepest Needs,” Billy Graham said,

“Yet here is where the tension in the church becomes acute. What is the church’s primary mission? Is it redemptive or social—or both? When most major Protestant denominations have their annual councils, assemblies or conventions, they make pronouncements on matters having to do with any number of issues, but very rarely are any resolutions passed that have to do with the redemptive witness of the Gospel.

The changing of people is the primary mission of the church, and the only way to change people is to lead them to Jesus Christ. Then they will have the capacity to live up to the Christian command to “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39).

There is no doubt that today we see social injustice everywhere.  Looking on our American scene, Jesus would see something even deeper.  The great need is for the church to call in the Great Physician, who alone can properly diagnose the case.  He will look beneath the mere skin eruptions and pronounce on the cause of it all—sin. If we in the church want a cause to fight, let’s fight sin.  Let’s reveal its hideousness.  Let’s show that Jeremiah was correct when he said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Then, when the center of man’s trouble is dealt with, when this disease is eradicated, then and only then will man live with man as brother with brother.”

People don’t need a vaccine for the virus so much as they need the cure for sin that is found in the blood of Christ.

We don’t need to pander to the crowd.  We need to declare the gospel to the crowd.

People don’t need sympathy or advice from the church.  They need clear teaching from the Scriptures.

We don’t need politics or more government.  We need to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Eternal King.

We don’t need to argue.  We need to in deed and in word clearly, lovingly, and forcefully proclaim Christ as the only hope.

We don’t need to march arm-in-arm and sing “Kumbaya” with protestors.  We need to invite them to join us in the eternal chorus of “Worthy is the Lamb.”

Lost people don’t merely need physical healing or reconciliation to each other or social reform.  They need the reconciliation to God that comes only through Christ and the gospel.

We don’t only need to decry the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed.  We need to tell both of their need to repent and believe the gospel.

Simplistic?  Maybe so.  Maybe not.

 

“Not Yours” – The Child and the Pandemic

Some would suggest that the current coronavirus pandemic is a message from God.  Perhaps it is a harbinger of the end times, or a warning of divine judgement.  We have certainly learned how easily mass panic can be engendered in the age of the internet and the constant bombardment of “news,” and how easy it is to get people to fall in line with growing governmental involvement in their lives when it is presented as necessary for their own good and the perceived good of the community.  But a “sign of the times?”  I don’t think so; there are no “signs of the times” to look for.  Christ will come suddenly for His Church, and then the prophesied events that precede the second coming and the establishment of the kingdom will come to pass.  But nevertheless, there is a profound reminder of scriptural principle for us in the situation.

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My wife and I often have occasion to watch our little granddaughter.  Both parents are employed, and we split daycare duties with the other grandparents and have done so since our daughter returned to work from maternity leave.  As the baby began to become mobile, first crawling, and then crawling faster, now toddling, generally during the day we have kept her in our family room most of the time.  The room is never too hot or too cold, always just right.  Her diaper is checked and changed regularly.  Bottle feeding was administered per her mother’s instructions, and now at some fourteen months old she is given age-appropriate nutritious food, and water is almost always available.  Toys and books are readily available as well as someone to read to her or play with her almost constantly.  Naps when she is tired are facilitated and encouraged.  Grandpa often carries her around the house, showing her “baby” – pictures on the wall, most featuring her, the baby.  Yet, invariably, she attempts to disregard the barriers to her exit from the room.  She attempts to escape and crawl up the stairway to the upstairs and has always been intercepted and scooped off the stairs, with, in my case, a pronouncement of “Not Yours.”  Attempts to get to something that might harm her, or to “mess up” something in the house, are met with “Not Yours.”  She wants the television remote, the lamp cords, anything placed out of her reach.  Taken into the room full of her toys and stuffed animals and books and told that “These are Yours,” she will soon attempt to escape to what is “Not Yours.”

She has enjoyed going outside in recent weeks and loves it.  In our back yard, we let her toddle around for the most part at will.  She may be met with “Not Yours” when she puts plant material in her mouth, but otherwise we enjoy watching her explore.  It is natural and healthy for her.  Over coming weeks, months, and years, we will enjoy watching her grow and explore.  That is what should happen.  That is for her enjoyment and benefit as well as for the profound pleasure of those who love her.

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The Bible affirms that God created man for His own divine purposes.  He created the world around us explicitly for us.  The writer of Genesis, the Psalmists, the Old Testament prophets affirm the glory of creation.  From the subatomic particle to the vastness of outer space, God created a perfect world, immensely beautiful and complex, a display of his grandeur, a place for people to explore and learn from.  The Edenic environment was perfect for the first created humans.  It was no doubt stimulating and awe inspiring, an environment in which humans could grow and explore and have fellowship with their Creator.

But the unimaginable happened.  Mankind rebelled and sinned against the Creator.  The principle of “Not Yours” was violated.  God, for His own unfathomable purposes, had created humans with the ability to disobey Him, and they did.  Their nature fundamentally changed.  They no longer had unimpeded communion with God, and in fact even their relationship with their world, with self, and with each other was damaged.  We can infer from Scripture that cataclysmic change occurred throughout the natural world when sin came.  And now everywhere we look, we see the glory of creation juxtaposed with the destruction of sin and rebellion against God.  There was no death in Eden, no pain, no tears, no suffering.  Mankind was created with a perfect environment.  But displaying their own will, the first humans rebelled against God.  Flood and drought.  War.  Misery.  Disease and pandemic.  Above all death.  All obviously allowed by Sovereign God, none part of His original creation.

The world didn’t merely become “broken.”  My granddaughter has some Lego-like plastic blocks.  Sitting on the floor with her, I can assemble a few into a shape.  She takes apart what I put together – she breaks it, the blocks easily reassembled or assembled into another shape.  A while back I attempted to glue back together a Christmas ornament that fell and broke, a ceramic egg picked up as a travel souvenir.   Almost as good as new, missing just a few tiny pieces, seams showing just a little glue and fitting almost but not quite perfectly.  That is “broken.”  But the Fall is something far beyond that.  The rebellion of creature against Creator was and remains something more massive, with consequences displayed everywhere we look.  Creation and the Fall.  The first two parts of God’s great plan for humanity.

The apostle Paul reminded in Romans 5:12-19,

 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.  But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.  And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.  For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

The fallen nature that we inherited from Adam plagues all humans.  Even my granddaughter.  The principle of “Not Yours.”  But the story does not end there.  As the Romans 5 passage reminds us, Christ came and has overcome the consequences of the Fall for us.  Rebellion against God required a solution of nothing less than Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, coming to earth as man to die on the cross for human sin.  The third part and culmination of God’s great plan for mankind that is explained in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the salvation that Jesus accomplished for us.  He made a way for us as sinners to return to fellowship with holy God.  It is incumbent on humans to be born again, to respond to the gospel and to the Spirit and recognize that we have by nature and by choice violated “Not Yours,” to turn in faith to Christ, to end our rebellion and call out to Him.  The necessary atonement for human sin has been made by the Second Adam.  Centuries after the Cross, we live in a world still plagued by the effects of the Fall, by disease and disaster and death, but we can individually know redemption and restoration.  The first Adam sinned and brought destruction and ruin; when we go toward what God has told us is “Not Yours” it brings problems to us individually.  God’s divine purpose is to call out people who are in violation of “Not Yours” and save them if they will turn to Him in faith.  Christians eagerly await the final part of God’s great plan, the end of the age and the eternal state, the restoration of all that was lost in the Fall.  An eternal age when we will know Him as Creator.  An eternal age when we will know Him as Redeemer.

An eternal age when there will be no more pandemics.

 

 

Safer and Safest

I had a cookie and coffee before bed the other night and didn’t sleep well; probably shouldn’t snack before bed, certainly no caffeine.  I woke up from a dream the next morning.

In the dream, as best as I can recall it, there had been media reports of several tragic auto crashes.  The National Transportation Safety Board began advocating for something to be done, and media pressure soon became intense.  After reports of several more accidents, the president bowed to the building political pressure and appointed a task force.  Working quickly, recommendations were made, and swiftly implemented.

The “Safer and Safest Plan” was announced.  In Phase 1, “Stopped is Safest,” automobile and motorcycle traffic was to be immediately removed from the roadways.  Essential truck traffic would continue, but only with reduced speed limits of 20 mph in cities and 30 mph on highways.  Mass transit continued, within the reduced speed limits.  Air travel stopped, as most airports required passengers to travel to and from the airport in an automobile.  Schools and businesses of course closed.  After a couple of weeks, limited auto travel was to resume.  Schools would remain closed – to protect the children – but businesses could then begin to reopen.  Opposition developed, particularly in small towns and rural areas that had no mass transit options and where lengthy travel was often required.

Businesses of course suffered, and most people were out of work.  Congress quickly approved a plan to help.  A few trillion dollars was ginned up in order to send a check made out to “Cash” to everyone in the country, with extra checks sent to politically favored organizations to distribute so no one would be missed.  Poignant media interviews with families of people who had died in accidents were prominently featured on a regular basis.  Personal injury lawyers continued to advertise incessantly on television.  Fear began to grow.

Under Phase 2, “Slow is Safer,” automobile traffic resumed with the lower speed limits.  But auto drivers and passengers, of course wearing the car’s safety belts, were to wear bike helmets or an equivalent, and cars were to be filled with pillows.  Factories were pressed into service immediately to produce these, at government expense.  The state’s governor, fully supportive of the program, was holding almost daily televised campaign even – er — press conferences, and soon appeared wearing a helmet featuring the state flag, holding flag-emblazoned pillows to match.  Numerous charts were presented, showing how many people might or might not die depending on how many people obeyed the speed limits, wore the helmets, and stuffed their cars with pillows.  There were a few unintended side effects – sometimes the pillows interfered with the driver’s field of vision.  There was continued and growing opposition to the whole plan, with many people wanting to just junk the whole thing.

Another plan was formed, to develop a new, safer “normal.”  The government would create tens of trillions of dollars and confiscate the auto manufacturers.  Small, electric, “safe” cars would be mass produced.  The cars, equipped with safety belts that would have to be buckled before the car would move, would be equipped with all sorts of air bags that would deploy on collision, so the helmets and pillows would no longer be needed.  The cars would be self-driving “smart” cars, preventing driver error as well as enabling a governmental agency to control speeds and monitor the location of the car at all times.  The new transportation normal would at last be safe.

About here I woke up from this dream.  I got up, and after my morning devotional reading and coffee, thought that I might take my wife out to breakfast and then maybe go get a haircut.  And then I remembered . . .  Later in the morning, we got in the car and took a long drive.

           

A timid sort by nature, I nevertheless am willing to take some risks.  But there is one risk I was never willing to take.  The Bible’s book of Hebrews tells us,

He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.  (Hebrews 9:26-28)

The “appointed for men to die once” part is universally, if begrudgingly, acknowledged.  We will all, at some point and in some manner, die.  It is the “but after this the judgement” that is not always acknowledged and is the most troubling.  But like millions of Christian believers throughout the ages, I have, as it were, eliminated the risk.  As I child, I heard and believed the gospel, acknowledged Christ as Lord and Savior, acknowledged His “Sacrifice of Himself” when He “was offered to bear the sins of many.”  Still living in a fallen world, still subject to calamity, still subject to physical death, but safe in the providence of the Sovereign Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.

 

Predictions and Prophecies

Early in the current coronavirus concern, on March 13, I sent an e-mail containing the following:

I just returned from Safeway.  No toilet paper or tissues.  Almost no bread.  Lines at checkout.  Many more people than a usual mid-day Friday.
With testing rolling out, I expect perhaps a quarter of a million confirmed cases in the US within two weeks.  I’d expect maybe 300 deaths in the same time frame.
Panic will continue for the next ten days or so.
Two or three weeks down the road, it will begin to be realized that it isn’t the disaster that some fear.  China first, then Italy, will begin to return to normal.  Things will begin to return to normal in the US.   A month down the road, other events will push to the top of the news cycle.  Economic damage will linger for several months.
Obviously, my predictions were – less than perfect.  I underestimated the spread of the disease, and greatly underestimated the panic.
On March 28, The Denver Post reported

Gov. Jared Polis offered grave predictions and a desperate call to action Friday over the future of the coronavirus, warning that tens of thousands of Coloradans could die if social distancing is not practiced, while reminding people that the effects of his orders restricting contact will not be seen for at least a few weeks.

The news conference marked the governor’s starkest warning to date, as he laid out two scenarios for the COVID-19 crisis — both of which he said could involve serious losses of life if the person-to-person spread of the disease isn’t slowed.

“Colorado hasn’t seen the worst of this. The United States hasn’t seen the worst of this. The world hasn’t seen the worst of this,” Polis said.

Citing modeling by the Colorado School of Public Health, Polis said it’s estimated that each person who contracts COVID-19 in Colorado is infecting an additional three to four people, and each of those infects another three to four — an exponential spread.

Under those two scenarios — depending on whether patients with COVID-19 are infecting three people each or four — either 23,000 or 33,200 people in Colorado could die by June if no social distancing is practiced, Polis said.

But Colorado is doing better than that, Polis noted. About 50% of the population was estimated to be practicing social distancing by avoiding crowds or isolating themselves before he issued his stay-at-home order this week. But that’s not nearly enough, he said.

As I write this, June is six weeks away.  The governor has placed the state on, as I call it, “martial law lite.”  I watched a local newscast last evening that reported on the lack of activity and staff layoffs in hospital emergency rooms and throughout healthcare in general.  The same newscast showed the governor, a politically ambitious progressive, at a news conference in a large convention center, wearing a hard hat and with sleeves rolled up, presiding over the construction of overflow space for hundreds of non-critical patients.  The predicted surge in patients, earlier slated for mid-April, has now been pushed back to May.  Currently nearly three hundred Coloradans who tested positive for the virus have died.  The governor is in a good position with his predictions.  If the number doesn’t continue to grow rapidly, he can take partial credit for his tough social distancing measures, and if perchance the numbers grow rapidly, it will be well within the scope of his projections.  At the national level, projections of deaths of those with positive tests also have been completely unreliable and have moved steadily downward.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus argued that human population always grows more rapidly than the human food supply until war, disease or famine reduces the number of people. He famously predicted that gains in living standards would be undermined as human population growth outstripped food production, and so would drive living standards back toward subsistence.  History has shown that he was completely wrong.  In more recent times, countless projections have been made about climate change originated by human activity.  Next to none have come to pass in predicted time frames.  Thomas Sowell has noted, “What can we be certain of from history? That human beings have been wrong innumerable times, by vast amounts, and with catastrophic results. Yet today there are still people who think that anyone who disagrees with them must be either bad or not know what he is talking about.”

Human predictions, even those based in scientific data, are, well, often wrong.

          

There is a source of predictions, however, that is always accurate.  The Bible is filled with prophecies, principles, and promises that we can see over and over are completely correct.  Upon completion of Solomon’s Temple,

Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.  When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place.  For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and ]My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’

 “But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.”  (2 Chronicles 7:12-19)

The rest of the Old Testament is a fulfillment of this pronouncement by God.  Following Solomon, the kingdom divided.  The northern kingdom of Israel fell away from following God and never returned to following Him.  That kingdom was destroyed some seven centuries before Christ.  The southern kingdom of Judah, headquartered at Jerusalem, also fell into times of apostasy but enjoyed times of revival and sometimes spectacular deliverance over the centuries before being overrun by the Babylonians.  Before the captivity, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah under divine inspiration made many detailed and accurate prophecies, some fulfilled in their time, some fulfilled later in history, and some yet to be fulfilled.  Even after the fall of the kingdom, God continued to fulfill promises made to Abraham and to the Hebrew nation, preserving the Jews and eventually restoring the nation in their homeland.  During the captivity, Daniel received a vision that, coupled with other scriptures, lays out with stunning accuracy the course of world history, even dating the first advent of Messiah.  While some prophesied events are yet future, the Old Testament is filled with amazing prophesies that have been fulfilled just as they were given.

Jesus spoke words of prophecy.  He knew why He had come; He told the disciples of His impending death.  Mark 10:32-34 records,

Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:  “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

His death happened just as the Old Testament prophets had foretold, just as Isaiah (chapter 53) graphically described prophetically some seven centuries earlier, just as Jesus on more than one occasion had told His disciples would happen.  And He rose from the grave, in fulfillment of  numerous prophecies, just as He told the disciples that He would.  Following the resurrection, He returned to heaven, and promised to come again:

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.  (Acts 1:9-11)”

God knows all things.  He created all things that we know and touch and feel and perceive.  He is above space and time.  He can predict with perfect accuracy all that will ever happen.  It should come as no surprise that human predictions are not always so  accurate.  Humans are inherently not only imperfect but sinful and apart from God.  Humans need to be saved from their sins.  The Bible is replete with the message that we are lost, but in His grace God has made a way, the only way, for us to receive a new nature and eternal life.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, came to earth as a man, died, and rose again as the only acceptable and necessary atonement for our sin.  In His divine wisdom and grace, God has decreed that if we but end our rebellion against Him, turn from our sins, turn to Him in faith, and accept what Christ has done on our behalf, we can know eternal life.  That is not a human prediction.  That is His promise.