“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.

 

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.

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.