May 242017
 

Normally by this time of the week in my writing, I’m refining my article (i.e. trying to make my rough wordy mess at least semi-palatable for the reader) shortly before sending it off to Michael.  Being that this is another one of those “I don’t know what to write about” weeks, I’m grasping for something of worth or interest.  Of course, the latest terrorist bombing just happened, but I don’t have the words to address it and Michael has already spoken well on the tragedy.  And no other grand topic has taken hold of my writing fancy.  So this one may be a good bit shorter than my norm (but maybe not by too much, now that I’m done and came back to add this comment 🙂 ). 

As a kid, we once had a former NFL football player come speak at our church.  Or so we we were led to believe he was a former NFL player.  I don’t really remember the man’s name (maybe it was something like Eric White), nor what his ministry was, nor do I remember much of anything he said.  In fact, the only thing I can recall him saying at the moment was that he had played for the Buffalo Bills.  At some later point, our church learned that this man had, in fact, never played in the NFL.

I was not devastated by any means to find this out, but was certainly disappointed.  As a kid, it was neat to see this big former NFL player come out to speak at our relatively little country church.  That feeling was lost when finding out the guy had misrepresented who he was and had deceived us about his playing career.  Some may not have been phased much at all by his original appearance or the later finding of truth, while others may have been negatively impacted much more strongly.

Now this was before the days of the internet and Google.  Over time, there probably have been plenty of Christian frauds who substantially misrepresented themselves and their credentials.  Some, such as this so-called NFL player and others like Mike Warnke, were eventually caught in their lies and deceptions.  Plenty of others may have made it through their entire lives without ever having been uncovered publicly.

In today’s world, it would take much more effort and skill to carry out such a ruse.  Yet, and maybe it’s not to the same degree of overarching deception, but I read at Warren Throckmorton’s blog, among other places, of famous Christians who claim PhD’s and other degrees and titles when they have nothing more than empty honorary degrees from schools of dubious standing for which they did little to no work to gain their “degree”.  I was reminded of this scenario once again when Throckmorton posted about General Jerry Boykin being the latest to engage in such a shenanigan.

 The shame is, there is seemingly little concern in the Christian community for such folly, most especially among those who are followers of those who have been “outed”.  David Barton is the prime example here.  Throckmorton has been quite persistent in documenting Barton’s claim of having an earned doctorate, when that doctorate is nothing of such in reality.  Yet, only those who already recognize Barton for his tomfoolery seem to care.  It is difficult to find much of a peep on the matter from those who are supporters.

How much potential damage may occur when these things are just brushed to the side?  When they are treated as miniscule indescretions of scant concern?  How much damage may we, ourselves,  cause when we engage in the same type of behavior?  Maybe we’re not lying about fake PhD’s or about having played in the NFL, but how often do we give false impressions about ourselves or tell little white lies to make ourselves or our intelligence or our standing in life look a little bit better?  When we may exaggerate just that needed little bit to give ourselves that extra oomph of appearance and/or persuasion.  When we may use some “minor” misrepresentation or deception to give that extra edge to get what we want or to win the argument.

We may justify what we do by claiming no real harm or foul.  But how do we know that in just the right circumstance, our conduct may not end up having a significant detrimental effect?  How do those followers of David Barton who are aware of some, if not many of his difficulties, know that their continued support of the man may not have a meaningful negative effect?  How does a preacher going around with a false claim of being a former NFL football player think that this is an acceptable act?  How do we get to decide that getting what we want or winning the argument or achieving the desired ends justifies whatever level of trickery we may use to get there?  When is it okay to just look the other way when we see others acting as such, especially when done so by higher profile people?

May God help us to stand in right behavior and trust that His good will for us and others will be achieved without us helping along the process to get what we want with dubious practices.               

May 232017
 

My Twitter feed is full of pictures of missing children.

These are pictures of children who attended a concert in Manchester, England that was the site of another terrorist attack.

They are scattered through my feed…they all look precious today…they are precious…they were precious.

The pictures were posted by parents who fear that the most precious part of their lives may have been destroyed by incomprehensible evil.

They must have heard the news about the attack and prayed and waited..and waited…and then were reduced to finding a suitable photo to share in hopes that their child wasn’t one that will never come home.

What they are going through today is more horrific than I can imagine and so much more than they ever imagined in their worst nightmares.

Some have already received a call that the nightmare is real.

The call will not mention that the nightmare will never end in this life.

They say that the attacker is dead and I’m glad…I try to find some small measure of justice in thinking about the pains of hell the person instantly began to experience.

It fails to bring any comfort at all.

There is no comfort when a child dies.

Over on Facebook most are horrified, others are angry because they have been trying to tell us that this is what Islam is all about.

There are warnings of more death to come…either at the hands of the Muslims or the hands of those who believe they are protecting against them.

The best answer either side can come up with is more death.

War is in the air…war against the Muslims, war between the left and right in our own country, war with brother against brother.

War is putting on it’s noble robes gain.

War will make this country what God intended it to be…if only we identify who the enemy is that needs to die.

Unfortunately, we all qualify in someone else’s eyes.

That’s what war does…it makes everybody someones enemy…and someones target.

We go to the Bible to find a better way.

It speaks to us of sacrificial love and death to self.

We close the book and look for a better way than that.

I have no answers to the terror abroad or the coming terror at home.

I only know that death breeds death.

We have to rightly understand the nature of Islamic terror.

We have to rightly acknowledge the potential for our own.

I weep for Manchester.

I weep for us.

Our children will die too…

 

May 232017
 

Satire…25 Christian movies that need to be made…

The beauty of Reformed worship…

The greatest threat to the church isn’t Islam,it’s us…

Is the common cup still relevant today?

The hypocrisy of Bible Belt executions…

The eternal mystery of being in two places at once…

How to make disciples in a secular age…

Dismissing violence…

Five things to pray after the Manchester attack…

Is it time to give attention to the plight of white men in America?

When this pastor got political…

China booming with religion…

Creationist sues the Grand Canyon for religious discrimination…

How to take the church to work…

The hospice chaplain and the schizophrenic…

How to love your ideological enemy…

Why all the fuss? The difference between the Lutherans and Reformed on the Lord’s Supper…

Five things you should know about Reinhold Niebuhr…

Why it matters that Jesus was really human…

A free drink for the parched…

What is the evidence for evolution?

What happens to our pets when they die?

How to be last…

Lord save us from a proof text faith…

The world to which He came…

Shifting footings on Junia…

Huge thanks to EricL as always…support his work at top right…

May 222017
 

This week…should churches be allowed to speak politically and even endorse candidates? That, plus another musical special from Phil’s friend…

Download the mp3

 

May 222017
 

The Church Catholic

“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church…”

What is the nature of the catholic Church that we confess in the creeds?  What constitutes a catholic tradition?  Indeed, what does the very term “catholic” mean in relation to the Church? 

You will note, that these questions are theological, not the pragmatic question of, “how can we get our churches to work?”. I think that often we have problems with the pragmatic issues, simply because we have not first addressed the theological issues. In our current fragmented culture, the most difficult question to answer might simply be, “What is the Church?”  We must recognize in seeking to answer this question, that there is a profound relationship between recovering the true nature of the Church theologically and then applying that understanding to the pragmatic and practical issues that confront us today.  It is, I believe, essential that we do this.  It is essential that the “communio sanctorum” which we confess in the creeds is not viewed as the ancient equivalent of coffee and doughnuts after the Sunday morning service. 

Historically, “catholic” is merely one of the “marks” of the Church confessed by Christians for almost 2000 years.  We refer to the Church as being “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”.  These four, together, are traditionally known as the “marks” of the Church, that is, the traits or qualities that make it possible for us to recognize the Church for what it truly is in its essence.  It is interesting to note that each of these marks is so linked to the others that one cannot be separated from the others.  Each trait or quality is so linked with the others that together they form one coherent and interrelated idea of what Christ’s Church is meant to be.  For example, the unity of the Church is more remarkable because it is to be a catholic unity, that is, a unity of faith (however basic in its outline) and hope in all places and ages.  It is also an apostolic unity, one that guards the one faith first proclaimed by the apostles. Finally, it is a unity of faith which is holy, because Christ, the head of the Church, is holy and we, in imitation, seek to minister to the holiness of life in the Church.  Owing to the outward expression of certain of these marks, they are sometimes spoken of as “signs” of the Church, so that the church takes on in its very being a sacramental nature – that is, a physical means of expression by which God’s grace is given through the work of the Holy Spirit among us.

Yet, seen in this light, the marks of the Church must also be seen as paradoxical.  For example, the Church is holy, but it is made up of sinners.  The Church is one, but it is scattered throughout the world and, indeed, includes all those who have gone before us in faith through the centuries.  The Church is apostolic, but it is not culturally bound to the mores and norms of first century Palestine resulting in ecclesial gatherings today that would, for the most part, be unrecognizable to the apostles.  Finally, the Church is catholic, yet most Christians today – from Roman Catholic to evangelicals – would, at best, struggle to define what the word means and, at worst, would run away from the term altogether.

The word, “catholic”, was first used by Ignatius of Antioch, one of the so called Apostolic Fathers.  Ignatius was born just a year or two after the death of Christ and went to a martyr’s death in Rome in the first decade of the second century.  Writing a letter to the Church in Smyrna on his journey to Rome, he wrote, “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”. Catholicity has since been defined as “universal”, “orthodox”, “continual”, “universal in mission”, “ageless” and a myriad of other terms and phrases. 

For myself, however, I like the early statement of Ignatius, that “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”  Simply stated, it’s not about us, it’s about Christ.  The church that is truly catholic is one that is universal, because it has Christ who is universal. The church that is truly catholic is ageless, because it has Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. The church that is truly catholic is orthodox, because it has Christ who is the fullness of truth.  As the late Reformation era Apology of the Augsburg Confession says, “It [the creed] says ‘the church catholic’ lest we take it to mean an outward government of certain nations. It is, rather, made up of men scattered throughout the world who agree on the same Gospel and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, and the same sacraments, whether they have the same human traditions or not.” (Art. VI:10)  

We may worship differently.  We may have differing polities. We may dress differently. We may speak or use different languages in our churches.  We may live in a totalitarian state or in a democracy.  We may be liturgical or casual.  We may be politically inclined or apolitical. None of these issues define the catholicity of the Church, nor, I would suggest, should we allow them to ultimately define our identity as the Church.  What does define the catholicity of the Church is the One we come to worship when we gather together.  As the Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann wrote, “The purpose of worship is to constitute the Church, precisely to bring what is ‘private’ into the new life, to transform it into what belongs to the Church, i.e. shared with all in Christ. In addition its purpose is always to express the Church as the unity of that Body whose head is Christ”. 

Simply put, our common worship of Christ is the greatest sign of our catholicity as the Church.  Our insistence on our own prerogatives – in our traditions, our “distinctives”, our forms of worship, our partisan politics, and all the rest – may be the greatest hindrance to finding that catholicity.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

May 202017
 

Thou art Jesus, the Son of the Father, Yea, Amen.

Thou art He who commandeth the Cherubim and the Seraphim, Yea, Amen.

Thou hast existed with the Father in truth always, Yea. Amen.

Thou rulest the Angels, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the power of the Heavens, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the crown of the Martyrs, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the deep counsel of the Saints, Yea, Amen.

Thou art He in whom the deep counsel of the Father is hidden, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the mouth of the Prophets, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the tongue of the Angels, Yea, Amen.

Thou art Jesus my Life, Yea, Amen.

Thou art Jesus the object and boast of the world, Yea, Amen.

The Dying Prayer of St. Athanasius

May 202017
 

Matthew 21:33-46

The Parable of the Tenants

  • Again we should note what is going on here, what Jesus is doing as he is working them to repent – to get them to learn by the obedience to his word.
  • If they will not learn by the seriousness of the hour – Messiah is here – Salvation is here,
  • If they will not learn this by his kindness, they will have to learn it the hard way – from his wrath.

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.

  • Pay close attention in this parable for the promised inheritance, taken away and even given to another – this is judgment.
  • The Pharisees, students of the law understood this is about Isaiah 5 – they understood that Israel is God’s vineyard.
  • READ ISA 5:1-7

34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.

  • Who are some of the players
  • The Master of the House = God … the Father
  • Tenants – God chose the tenants as is his right as Master of the House
  • Servants = Prophets
  • His Son = Jesus

35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

  • Look what the people of Israel did to Jeremiah – look at what was done to John the Baptist and other prophets.

36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.

  • God continually reaching out to his people

37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

  • You would think so – you would think that they knew the Father and the goodness he provided (again look at Isaiah 5 how the Father had nurtured and cultivated his vineyard – that they would have respect for the son.

38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’

  • Not so – and isn’t this like man even today – we want it all to consume on ourselves.
  • We think that following God is to give up what is rightfully ours.

39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

  • Who was crucified outside the walls? Jesus

40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

  • So look here for the attempt to get people to repent.
  • You are sons, you are tenants you are invited to the marriage feast
  • Look at the order of these parables
  • (1) Sons – 28 – 32
  • (2) Tenants – 33 – 44
  • (3) The marriage feast – 23:1 – 14
  • So Jesus leaves the question up to them – this is similar when Nathan challenged David’s adultery with Bathsheba with the little lamb story and David without realizing it pronounced judgment on himself.
  • Jesus speaks but will they apply it to themselves?

41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

  • Perry Mason could not have set this up any better – to get the guilty parties to condemn themselves.
  • As I said above, King David was trapped as Nathan said “you are the man.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

  • Psalm 118:22-23
  • This very event was prophesied 1,000 years before.
  • God has chosen the rejected stone to be the cornerstone.

 

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

  • Taken away from whom? Israel
  • Given to whom? The New Israel – called the Church.
  • The vineyard is going to be rented out to other tenants.
  • When the message of Paul was rejected in the Jewish synagogues God had Paul turn to the gentiles.
  • In one generation, gentiles outnumbered Jews in the church.
  • Now there is always a remnant – I am, through my family line the remnant.
  • But not to be Israel but to be the Church.

44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

  • Either way, this is going to hurt.
  • It will either break you through confession or it will crush you through judgment.
  • A Jesus reminder – When the stone falls on a man – the stone does not get hurt.
  • This is Jesus separating the sheep and the goats.

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

  • Duh
  • Can you imagine the Pharisees in their self righteousness applying Jesus’ words to every group they hate when the light goes on and they realize Jesus is pointing his finger at them?
  • These are fighting words.

46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

  • This is a problem – Jesus must be taken down, but how do you do it without a revolt?

 

May 192017
 

(comparative more inexplicable, superlative most inexplicable)

  1. Impossible to explain; not easily accounted for.

I offer you the dictionary meaning of the word “inexplicable” because it’s utterly inexplicable how I’m even online this morning.

Just a few short hours ago, before I went to bed, I decided to spray some air freshener about because my little space here smelled like various varieties of wet cat food.

I doused the air with Febreze and laid down for the evening, having exchanged the smell of rotted shrimp for that of “Bora Bora Waters”.

I’m not sure why the waters of Bora Bora smell like old perfume, but that too is inexplicable…I digress.

As often happens, Miss Kitty decided that she needed a snack after I had gotten comfortable, necessitating that I rise and get one for her.

I got up and turned on the lamp…and as I reached for the lamp chain my hand was sprayed with something wet.

When the light came on I saw the bottle of Febreze slowly emptying it’s contents…directly into my modem.

The handle was stuck and it had been spraying a stream into the router for a few minutes.

Needless to say, the drenched electronics no longer worked.

I poured (and poured is the right word) out the liquid from the modem and wondered how in the world I was going to be able to replace it.

I laid down again feeling more than a little depressed and defeated…the inexplicable accidents of life seem to happen here way too often.

This morning, I plugged it in, just out of desperate hope.

One by one, the lights flickered on across the face of the modem.

They stayed on.

They’re on now.

This, my friends, is inexplicable.

The seeming destruction of my modem and it’s resurrection are both inexplicable.

Actually, the fact that it is working is explicable.

God had mercy.

I don’t need any other explanation.

This got me thinking…

We try so hard to explain everything, including the Biblical story of redemption.

We analyze every jot and tittle of the 66 books to come up with precise doctrines and definitions of that which in the end is inexplicable save the love and mercy of God.

Then we condemn anyone who came up with something different in their search for answers to the inexplicable.

We suck every last bit of the joy and wonder out of our salvation and the work of God on our behalf, which is truly inexplicable behavior.

This morning, I’m rejoicing in the inexplicable mercy of God.

Go and do likewise.

Inexplicable mercy is a call to worship, not explanation…

Make your own application…

 

May 182017
 

The Advocate

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:5-11)

When Jesus said, “I am going to him who sent me,” the disciples did not grasp the full significance of His departure. They understood only enough to cause them sorrow. His leaving would end their hopes that Jesus would establish a visible kingdom and government on earth. Moreover, Jesus had just finished preparing the disciples for the rejection and persecution they would receive from the world. Could they accomplish their commission without Jesus physically with them?

But just moments earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would accomplish greater works than He “because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Now He adds: “it is to your advantage that I go away.” Jesus was not leaving them alone. When He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them as their Helper, Advocate and Comforter. The disciples would be the instruments of the Holy Spirit, and He would guide them into all truth.

Christ’s kingdom will remain and grow, but as a spiritual kingdom: “he will convict the world.” His kingdom is not a government constituted in worldly fashion by human wisdom and power, but a government of the Holy Spirit, in which Christ rules invisibly, not with bodily power, but through the Word alone. The Church proclaims Christ, His Word and His kingdom to the world.

But first Jesus had to return to the Father: “if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Jesus had work to finish, in the flesh, as the world’s High Priest, by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice and substitute for the sins of the world. Thus His route to the Father would take Him to Calvary, to a sepulcher, to His resurrection, to His ascension and finally to His exaltation at the right hand of the Father.

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8)

Pilate and the Jewish leaders thought they could convict and put an end to Jesus and His followers, but actually the Holy Spirit, through the office of preaching, would take the initiative, reverse the roles, and convict the whole world – rich and poor, strong and weak, kings and slaves, that the world is in the wrong before God. The world will be compelled to hear the Holy Spirit’s case against it regardless of rejection, threats, intimidation or persecution against Christ, His Church or His preachers. No one will be able to escape sin, death and hell, nor enter heaven, who does not hear and submit to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes His case against the world in three counts: concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Count #1: “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” (John 16:9)

Because it does not believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin.

When Paul preached in Athens, he accused the Greeks of “ignorance” concerning God (Acts 17:22-31). God is not “an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to God. If “sin” is defined as “missing the mark”, then one always will miss the mark if one is ignorant of the target. Unbelief in Jesus is the chief sin, because Jesus is the image of God and without belief in Him one is ignorant of God.

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15); “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3); “Whoever has seen [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Only with belief in Jesus can one begin to fear, love and trust God; only then can one begin to live according to God’s will and commandments.

Belief in Jesus, that He is the Son of God, who has made satisfaction for our sins, who died and was raised for our justification, etc., falls outside of empirical knowledge and human wisdom, so none of us acquires a belief in Jesus through human means. The Holy Spirit must convict the world of who Jesus is and what He suffered in our stead, and of His victory for our benefit. He who does not believe in Jesus cannot be rid of sin nor escape the wrath of God, because he has no forgiveness and abides under condemnation.

Count #2: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;” (John 16:10)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world that Jesus is righteous and the world is unrighteous, because Jesus goes to the Father and the world sees Him no longer.

Jesus is the One of whom the Father said: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) It is Jesus of whom David was speaking: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ ” (Matt 22:44). By His going to the Father, the Holy Spirit convicts the world that Jesus alone is righteous.

On the other hand, there is no righteousness on earth. As God warned Moses: “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). David also wrote: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Ps 143:2).

Therefore, man cannot obtain righteousness by his own efforts; he must clothe himself in the righteousness of Christ through faith in the Gospel. As Paul wrote: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:8b-9).

Count #3: “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:11)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world of God’s judgment in favor of Jesus and against the world. He will testify that Christ’s death and resurrection prove that Jesus defeated the powers of sin, death and Satan. By His victory, Satan is judged and condemned. Anyone who shares the unbelief of Satan is similarly judged and condemned.

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37)

The Holy Spirit has two offices. With the Law He performs His alien work which is to convict and condemn the whole world. With the Gospel He performs His proper work which is to comfort and make alive. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6b).

What is the Father’s desire for everyone who receives the Holy Spirit’s verdict? Quite simply this: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Amen.

 

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