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Interceding Moses, Interceding Jesus

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

 

It’s rare that I read something online that really makes me stop and think.  This essay, however, is quality work.  It grapples with the question of why God in the Old Testament does things that strike us as evil.  Particularly, why does He nearly annihilate mankind during the flood and almost do the same thing to Israel in Exodus 32 after the Israelites sin with the golden calf?

I thought the author’s analysis of the second question was particularly insightful.  He notes that God does not say to Moses, “My wrath burns hot against them, and I will consume them.”  Instead, He says, “Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.” 

Moses, of course, does not let God alone, and after the ensuing conversation, God agrees not to destroy the Israelites.  However, this conversation never would have happened if God had not provoked it by asking Moses not to have it.  Effectively, God is saying, “Moses, talk me out of this.”  Moses’ intercession kindles God’s mercy toward a people that manifestly does not deserve it.

These mysteries are profound, but I think we can go deeper still.  God does not merely say “Let Me alone,” because He wants Moses not to let Him alone.  Instead, God says that because part of God does want it to happen, not merely with respect to the sinful Israelites, but with respect to all sinful people everywhere.  His perfect holiness finds our sin repugnant, unbearable.  It demands that He separate Himself from us.

And yet, as much as God wants us to let Him alone, He wants us not to.  James 4:5 says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us.”  Our spirits reveal that we are His children, and He can no more abandon us than we could abandon our own children. 

Simultaneously, then, God longs both to reject and to embrace us.  This is not a contradiction in His nature.  Instead, it reflects the contradiction in our natures.  We are created as the children of God, but we behave as the children of wrath.  As He says in Hosea 6:4, “What shall I do with you?” 

His answer is to say, “Let Me alone,” both condemning evil and inviting the intercession from Moses that will tip the scales in favor of mercy.  In this, though, Moses’ intercession is nothing more than a shadow of the intercession of Christ.  If Christ does not intercede, if the holiness of God is not deterred from its course, God’s wrath will burn hot against us and consume us too.

In response, though, Jesus offers far more than Moses did.  Moses recalls to God His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but Jesus inaugurates a new covenant.  Moses forestalls the punishment for sin, but Jesus takes it upon Himself.  “Let Me alone,” God says, both to us and about us.  “No,” Jesus replies, and His intercession opens the door to mercy and fellowship for eternity.

A Note on _Unplanned_

Thursday, April 04, 2019

 

This past weekend, the movie Unplanned opened.  It follows the transformation of a woman named Abby Johnson from abortion-clinic worker to pro-life activist.  Suffice it to say that the reaction from the secular left has not been ecstatic.  It received an R rating from the MPAA for its graphic depictions of abortions.  Strange.  I didn’t know a depiction of a medical procedure could be graphic.

Theater owners have refused to run it.  Reviewers have generally ignored it, and those who have seen it have evaluated it on progressive-morality (“Worst.  Movie.  Ever.”) rather than artistic grounds.  Even the movie’s Twitter feed went down on opening night, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained.

If you will pardon the pun, we’ve seen this movie before.  Back in the day, the sensational Gosnell trial was roundly ignored by the mainstream media.  So too was the film produced about it.  Pro-life Supreme-Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was treated to the most impressive smear campaign in recent memory, with uncorroborated accusations treated as gospel and fabrications advanced as plausible.

Just ‘cause you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

With a little thought, the reason for this one-sided narrative becomes obvious.  It’s not about the truth of the matter.  In their heart of hearts, everybody knows that abortion is about killing babies, whether or not they will admit it.  Instead, it is about the progressive idol of sexual autonomy, the idea that everybody should get to have all the unrestricted sex they want without consequences.

However, sex as designed by God is a consequential act.  Its most significant consequence is the creation of new life.  Once you have to reckon with those consequences, the idol of sexual autonomy is revealed to have feet of clay.  The only way for progressives to resolve the problem is to make it possible for the consequences to. . . go away.

See?  No harm done!  Continue fornicating!

Unfortunately for them, the pro-choice case started out weak and is getting weaker.  Viability used to be the buzzword for distinguishing between a baby and a clump of cells.  However, as medical technology continues to advance, babies born as early as 21 weeks now have a chance at survival.  The day may come when even an embryo can be nurtured outside the womb.

This reveals what always has been true:  the pro-choice position is based on magical thinking.  What you want something to be—in this case, a fetus—determines what it is.  The wanted fetus is a baby to be defended with an arsenal of medical might; the unwanted fetus is a malignant growth to be scraped out and discarded.  If that’s the argument you have to defend, then, yeah, you’re going to do whatever you can to shut the other side up.

One final thought, though.  The treatment of Unplanned reveals a great deal about the abortion debate, but it also reveals a great deal about the mass-entertainment elite.  They want to stifle Unplanned because they believe that if watched, it will have a powerful effect on the moral convictions of its audience.  They believe that movies are very effective propaganda.

What does that tell us about their goals with the movies that they do produce, that they do promote?  What does it tell us about all the other movies that we watch?

Sex Offenders and the Congregation

Thursday, March 28, 2019

 

A few weeks ago, I ran across this article.  To summarize, a longtime youth minister in a church of Christ in Pennsylvania molested a number of boys over a span of decades.  In 2016, a couple of Christians confronted him about his misdeeds, and he broke down and confessed.  He was charged with and convicted of multiple counts of corruption of a minor and indecent exposure.  He then appealed. 

Somewhere in the process, he “came forward” twice, and the elders of the congregation accepted his repentance and allowed him back into the congregation, much to the horror of the victims and victims’ families who still worshiped there.  Currently, he is barred from attending services there by judicial order, which is one of the parts of his conviction that he is appealing.

As is always the case, this problem (and the larger problem of sex offenders in the church) is best solved by examination of the relevant Scriptural principles.  Certainly, Christians are obliged to forgive a sinner who repents, but sinners must repent if they wish to be forgiven. 

It is Scripturally appropriate to judge that repentance by its fruits.  Does the sinner freely acknowledge his wrongdoing?  Has he expressed remorse for the harm he has caused?  Does his conduct show concern for those he has harmed?  Is he doing his best to help them heal?  Is he willing to endure inconvenience for their sakes?  Or, conversely (as many sex offenders do), is he talking a good game while showing little evidence of repentance in his behavior?

Sadly, the latter seems to be true of this youth minister.  Rather than accepting the courts’ judgment, he is seeking to minimize the punishment he faces for his crimes.  Rather than showing concern for his victims, he seems intent on forcing his presence on them.  I think any eldership would be justified in judging those fruits unworthy of repentance and refusing to accept him into fellowship.

Frankly, I would be suspicious of any Christian sex offender who sought to continue worshiping with those he had preyed upon.  His presence could not help but cause distress to those whom he is supposed to love more than he loves himself.  If there are literally no other alternative congregations, such a desperate expedient could perhaps be adopted.  However, in the presence of alternatives, the offender would be best advised to seek to worship with brethren he had not personally harmed.

When the offender is forthright about his sin and no members have suffered directly, it is much easier for a congregation to admit him into fellowship.  In such circumstances, the church leadership ought to consider both his interests and the interests of the congregation.  No sex offender should be left alone with children, nor indeed left to himself anywhere in the building (though if possible, it’s generally a good idea not to leave anyone alone with children).  If he stays in the auditorium and the lobby, no one will have any cause to be concerned about his conduct.  Under those terms, the church can accept him as a brother without fearing that its children will be endangered.

Sin can be forgiven, but even after forgiveness, it can still have earthly consequences.  A Christian woman is not required to accept her husband back after he has cheated on her, whether or not she has forgiven him.  A congregation is not required to re-appoint an embezzling treasurer, even after he has been restored to fellowship.  So too with pedophiles.  Even after he has repented and been forgiven, the effects of his evil still continue, not only for others, but for himself.

The Sexual Revolution Makes Bad Men

Friday, March 22, 2019

 

Like many Christians, I’ve watched the flowering of the #MeToo movement with some bemusement.  On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree that no man should ever use his power to take sexual advantage of a woman.  On the other, I cannot help but feel that those who have spent decades undermining the sexual ethics of the Bible are reaping what they have sown.

Let me explain.  As with (almost?) all men, I have a fleshly side when it comes to sexual sin.  The temptation to seek pleasure, whatever the cost to me or to others, is a strong one.  However, it is more important to me to please Jesus, and I know that Jesus expects me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him. 

As a result, I strive daily to put the flesh to death.  What’s more, I’ve learned from experience that even though self-denial can be unpleasant in the short term, in the long term, it leads to a richer, more fulfilled life.

However, according to the Sexual Revolution, sexual autonomy and fulfillment is the highest good.  “Whatever turns you on,” is a value so fundamental to our society that it is rarely even stated anymore.  Men who practice self-denial for religious reasons are fools in the world’s eyes.

Sadly, once the door to pleasure-seeking has been opened, it is open.  The dark side of male sexuality that men of God imprison is allowed to run amok, and the consequences are predictably disastrous.  There are probably millions of men in this country who are more concerned with sexual fulfillment than with anything else.  Whatever they can get away with, that’s what they’ll do.

Even men who are less crass than that are still extremely vulnerable when it comes to self-deception.  The modern hookup scene is a murky, ambiguous place.  When a man is animated by his strong desire, and when he has been told that satisfying that desire is the most important thing in life, it is very easy for him to resolve every ambiguity in a way that allows him to do what he wants to do.  It’s very easy for him to close his eyes to the harm he is doing women, to turn his mind away from considering such things.  Such a man can do great evil while still convincing himself that he’s a “good person”.

Today, these harms are more obvious to secular America than they ever have been before.  They’re responsible for the rise of consent culture:  “Is it OK if I do this to you?”  “OK, how about this?”  Such rules of engagement, no matter how faithfully practiced (and I have my doubts about that), can never create more than a shadow of the trust and understanding that exist in a godly marriage.

A true solution to the problem must be much more fundamental than that.  Marriage is an institution older than the Bible, and it flourishes around the world.  It has survived because it works.  It restrains the darker impulses of men (because every husband with a shred of understanding soon learns the truth of “He who loves his wife, loves himself.”), and it offers women security and protection in their intimate relationships.  It is admirably adapted to the flawed, fallen human condition, and no better solution to the problems of unchecked sexuality exists.

Tragically, this truth has so far escaped the fools who have spent decades undermining the institution of marriage in America, who are so fixated on sexual freedom that they countenance even the slaughter of unborn children.  However, actions have consequences, even for those who refuse to see them.  The unbridled pursuit of sexual license has done immense harm to men and women alike.  We can only hope and pray that its advocates will see the error of their ways before the damage to our national fabric becomes irreversible.

Ordination in the Bible

Thursday, March 21, 2019

 

A few months ago, one of the members at Jackson Heights asked me if I would write a blog about ordination in the Bible.  Apparently, she had been talking about the subject with one of her friends and wanted to know what the Scriptures have to say about it.

First of all, it’s worth observing that the system of religious hierarchy that is present in so many denominations is absent from the Bible.  Jesus says it best in Matthew 23:8, where He instructs us, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” 

In the New-Testament church, there is no distinction between clergy and laity.  Instead, all disciples share in a fundamental equality.  Neither the most venerable elder nor the most famous preacher are in any way superior to the single mother sitting in the pews.  We all serve in different ways, but we are all servants, and we are always to regard one another as more important than ourselves.

However, there are several places in Scripture where we do see men set apart for particular tasks, usually with a ceremony involving the laying on of hands.  In Acts 6:6, when the seven are presented to the apostles, the apostles pray for them and lay hands on them before they begin their ministry.  Similarly, in Acts 13:1-3, the prophets and teachers in Antioch dedicate Saul and Barnabas to the work of proclaiming the gospel through fasting, prayer, and the laying on of hands.

First-century Christians took the laying on of hands quite seriously.  From the evidence available to us, we can infer that it was a symbol both of blessing and of fellowship.  Those who laid hands on the worker took a share in his work.  For this reason, Paul warns Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:22, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others.”  Before you dedicated a man to a task, you needed to make sure he was the right man.

Today, we often think of the laying on of hands as the way in which miraculous spiritual gifts were transmitted, but in reality, its significance was much wider than that.  As a result, it is appropriate for us to continue the practice today. 

Most commonly, I’ve seen it during the appointment of elders and deacons.  It is often the case that when a man is called forward, he will be welcomed by the one doing the appointing with a handshake and a shoulder clap.  Though many onlookers don’t realize it, this is nothing other than the ancient practice of the laying on of hands, carried out in a way suitable for our culture.

The practice has value, though, even beyond the selection of shepherds and servants.  For instance, before brethren travel to preach the gospel in a foreign country, it would be fitting to send them on their way with prayer and the laying on of hands.  Does this make them “ordained”?  No.  However, it does do something much more meaningful.  It ensures God’s blessing on them and on their work, without which no servant of God can hope to succeed.

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