“Not Yours” – The Child and the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An eternal age when there will be no more pandemics.

 

 

Safer and Safest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           

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

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

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

 

Predictions and Prophecies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right Here and Everywhere

Historic orthodox Christianity at its most basic core believes that God is both infinite and personal and wants to have a relationship with us.  The Bible tells us of a God who is the uncaused first cause, who preexisted the universe that we know and inhabit.  Beyond the limitations of the physical, and in fact the creator of the physical world, God is in no way limited by space and time; He created it all.  The immense and wonderful universe that exists is a display of His infinite intelligence, power, and creative ability.  He “spoke” all that exists into existence out of nothing that previously existed – He willed it and it was so.  An incalculable number of unfathomably complex atoms came into existence, formed into billions of galaxies, stars, and solar systems, in immeasurable space.

Many, maybe most, today believe that it is not reasonable to think that in the vastness of the cosmos there simultaneously exists a God who relates to individual people.  The authors of a social media post somewhat mockingly expressed this commonly held idea:

CHRISTIANITY: Belief that one God created a universe 13.79 billion years old, 93 billion light years in diameter (1 light year = approximately 6 trillion miles), consisting of over 200 billion galaxies, each containing an average of 200 billion stars, only to have a personal relationship with you.

While not agreeing with all of the stated presuppositions here, I think this statement about Christianity is essentially correct.  Christianity fundamentally believes that God is both infinite and personal and wants to have a relationship with us.

Creation has a divine purpose beyond merely manifesting God’s infinite glory to Himself and to His created beings.  He created the universe of “93 billion light years in diameter (1 light year = approximately 6 trillion miles), consisting of over 200 billion galaxies, each containing an average of 200 billion stars” as the perfectly designed home for humankind.  He created all that exists within our observation and comprehension for a great divine purpose that is in truth even beyond the glory of creation.  He designed us for the grand purpose that demands that we know Him, love Him, and worship and serve Him.  He created human beings in order to manifest His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.  Mankind, created by God, did the unthinkable, as God knew would be the case even before creation.  Mankind sinned and rebelled against the Creator.  Far more wonderfully than even creation itself expresses, God in turn has done the unimaginable.  He has made a way for us to be spared the consequences of rebellion against Him.  In Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune God became incarnate.  God stunningly became a man in order to be the requisite Savior.

Jesus Christ told us of God.  He taught us great high ethical standards.  He told us of God’s majesty and holiness.  He told us of the grace and love of God.  But supremely, He, God incarnate, submitted to a tortuous death on a crude Roman cross to demonstrate the monstrous consequence of human rebellion against creator God and to be the perfect sacrifice to provide the necessary atonement for human sin.  He died and resurrected in victory over death and sin for anyone who will but end rebellion against God, turn to Christ and embrace His gospel, recognize Him as Savior and Lord.  Yes, “only to have a personal relationship with you.”

Space and time and life on earth is a great display of God’s glory, and of His attributes of transcendence, unlimited knowledge, unlimited ability.  But surpassing that is the fact that God in Christ has Himself atoned for human sin and rebellion.  His redeemed people will know and love and worship Him eternally as Creator, but even more as gracious Redeemer.  A contemporary hymn writer has beautifully reminded us,

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.

God’s love, expressed in Christ on the cross, is “vast beyond all measure.”

What one believes about the anti-Christian sentiment and doubt expressed in the referenced social media post has great philosophical and practical implications.  Without an infinite personal god, human existence and life becomes vain and purposeless.  A human is but a tiny meaningless speck, an accumulation of a few trillion atoms, existing in a vast eternal cosmos of meaninglessness.  The uncomfortable but necessary conclusion is that there may be no answer in the quest for purpose and meaning.  Ethics and morality become relative.  Absolutes have no basis.  If I as an individual have no meaning or objective value, why might I assign value or purpose to others beyond what they can do for me?  The existentialist’s though of individual personal autonomy, of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die, and when I die I shall but rot,” becomes completely reasonable.  Love, hate, or indifference become merely highly complex chemical reactions in the brain of an individual.  The immaterial aspects of a human being that make one human – intelligence, emotions, thoughts, logic, will – have no explanation.  A purely naturalistic worldview cannot account for such realities.

Ultimately, the underlying nature of doubt about an infinite personal god is rooted in the fact that people want to be their own authority.  Jesus said, recorded in John 3:19, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  They are unwilling to admit their sin and turn away from their sin.  They are unwilling to acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord; they see no need for a supernatural savior, they want no Lord.

But to the Christian, there is no vain pursuit of meaning.  God values “beyond all measure” the people who He has created and who He has forgiven and redeemed.  He values us so much that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins to conquer sin and its effect, death and eternal separation from God.  He in fact delights in our eternal joy.

God told the ancient prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).  God knows us intimately and gives our lives purpose and meaning.  He formed us through His wisdom and power, and He sustains every moment of our existence.  Reflecting on God’s sovereignty over our existence, the psalmist David wrote in Psalm 139:17, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!”  The Creator made us, knows us, and loves us.

Further, the Christian belief in a personal god, the God Who has revealed Himself to us through the ancient Hebrew prophets, through the inspired Scriptures, and supremely in Christ, leads to the conviction that moral authority resides in that personal God.  Man is no longer left to his own devices on questions of ethics and morals.  We can no longer be autonomous.  We cannot act as we please; we cannot treat others as we please.  We are created by God in the image of God who placed within us a moral nature.  He created us as both physical beings and as mind and “soul,” capable of communication, thought, reason, emotions, and will.  God has in fact spoken to us and revealed Himself to us, and we must live in obedient relationship to God as the ultimate authority.  All questions of philosophy, ethics, morals, human relationships and societal construct are subject to Him as Creator, Redeemer, and Supreme Ruler over creation.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Observing Communion

The church in which we hold membership observed communion on a recent Sunday night.  We’ve been present as the ordinance has been observed a few times since we began attending the church, and these services are substantive and meaningful.  For whatever reason, I was reminded of the contrast between this Lord’s Supper service and a time a couple of years ago that we attended a local megachurch on a Saturday night to observe, and they had communion.

          

Entering the megachurch’s expansive venue, I noted on the hand-out that they were going to have communion at the end of the event.  They were having a global outreach month, as I recall.  The speaker that weekend was a thirty-something who was involved with a project in Mexico, and must have had an ongoing relationship with this megachurch.  The topic for his talk centered on the value of remembering Jesus as our friend.  He was an able and articulate speaker, but I began to wonder if there might be any use of the Bible before he referenced a few verses well into his talk.  In the end, I wasn’t sure what his purpose might be for his mission or ministry.  He did not really mention anything of the Gospel; I wondered if perhaps his concern was primarily social or benevolent.

At the end of the sermon, the lead pastor returned to the stage, and he and the speaker sat for a few minutes and chatted; I don’t recall much of the topic of the conversation, likely related to the value of the concept of Jesus as my friend.  At the end of their chat, the pastor indicated that the communion elements should be distributed, and he reminded the crowd to remember the similarity between “communion” and “community.”  I assumed that when the distribution of the elements was completed, the pastor would return, and there would be an explanation or discussion of the meaning and purpose of the ceremony.  The band began to play a bluesy version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” as volunteers circulated buckets of pretzel chips and individually-packaged communion juice.  A few people soon got up to leave, perhaps in a hurry, I thought.  Then, as more people began to leave, I had an almost visceral reaction, as it occurred to me, this is over!  These people in a supposedly evangelical church, designed to attract people who might not like “church,” have participated in a communion ritual without hearing anything of the Gospel, nothing about what the elements might mean.  Volunteers at the doors collected the empty juice containers.  I remarked to my wife that it would have been better to skip the communion elements and just distribute granola bars at the door at the conclusion of the chat.

           

The recent service at our home church was decidedly different.  It was neither somber nor cheery.  The congregation sang joyful and reverent songs appropriate to the occasion, songs about salvation from sin, songs about the body and blood of Christ that the elements depict, songs about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as payment for our sin.  The pastor didn’t preach, but worked through the Gospel of Matthew, following Jesus’ movements that ended with his death and resurrection at Jerusalem.  The elements were distributed by the deacons after the pastor spoke, and prayer was offered.  Congregants were invited to stand and offer public prayers as we held the bread and juice and reflected on the symbolic meaning of those items before taking them together.  The Gospel was declared, and God was worshiped as we participated together in this remembrance, as we considered the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the atonement for our sin, just as believers have for two thousand years.  My thoughts went to I John 1:9, the joyful promise that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”