Beware of Life Celebrations

I had an experience this week which really bothers me.  One of our members went home to the Lord.  This was not unexpected given her advanced age and health issues, but it was still painful for those of us who loved that person.

I was contacted by one of the person’s children and asked to refrain from speaking about sin or the fact that their parent had been a sinner during the service.   They wanted to keep everything “upbeat” and happy.  I said that the Gospel is only good news if you know what the alternative is–eternity in hell.  Sinners who know Christ as Lord and Savior are not bound for punishment but for an eternity in the presence of the Lord.  That’s what makes the news good for believers.  That, however, wasn’t good enough.  There could be no discussion of such things because they were a “downer”, I guess.  I also pointed out that funerals always have people in attendance who have not heard the Gospel and it is an important part of a funeral service to witness to those folks, especially when the deceased had a saving faith.

Well, none of this was good enough and so we’re not having a funeral.  The family is sponsoring its own celebration of life at a civic building.  That’s okay, I know where the deceased is and I rejoice in their salvation.

Despite being disturbed by this one incident, I have to say that I have been put off for some time about these so-called celebrations of life that have become popular.  I’m especially put off when they take place in churches.  Oh, I know that the family and friends want to hear good things about the one they mourn, and I have no objection to that at all.  There is a place in our service for a Life Sketch where that is done.  But there is also the proclamation of the Gospel in readings, prayers, hymns and a sermon.  What is taking place here is not about the person’s life in this world, however long that may be.  It is about the person’s life on the other side of the door–the really long part of life, not the short one.

St. Paul writes that we are not to grieve as do those who have no hope.  Grieving is normal, but it becomes abnormal when it is either stuffed down in our gut, kept and massaged in our minds, or when people try to assuage their grief with a big party.  Only faith in Jesus and in the eternal blessings bestowed on His elect people can truly give us hope filled grief, a bearable grief which has with it a true sense of victory over sin, death and the devil.

As a pastor I have responsibility for the care of the souls whom I serve.  I won’t allow that to be diluted by worldly views.  If that makes me a bad guy, I guess I’m a bad guy.  But I will always care much more about the long future of my parishioners than about their short past.

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School Shootings Aren’t The Problem

Terrible things have been happening in our country.  Multiple attacks made on schools by young people have made everyone nervous and every politician is fighting to get in front of a microphone so they can “deplore” and “promise change” and fix what so far seems unfixable.  Everyone has a program or a policy that they claim will solve the problem and absolutely every single one of those programs or policies will fail.

Of course guns are said to be the culprits.  But guns are inanimate objects.  They are incapable of doing anything on their own.  If you lay a gun on a table and never touch it nothing will happen except a layer of dust will decorate it.  Guns are not responsible for shootings, people are responsible for shootings and if we outlawed all guns of all types people who wanted to kill would find another way to do it.  My understanding is that a bomb can be made from things any of us could buy at a hardware store.  What are we going to do–outlaw fertilizer?

The problem we are facing is one caused not by the availability of weapons but by the desire of people to use those weapons.  There is the problem.

We are all born sinners.  I believe that any one of us is quite capable of committing an evil act, given the right circumstances.  A well ordered society which promotes behavior that encourages community and interpersonal relationships that are both deep and continuing will have fewer outbreaks of violence and evil than an atomistic society that speaks only of “rights” and hardly ever of “responsibilities”.

Friends we live in that very atomistic society in which everyone proclaims their “rights” (real and imagined) frequently and loudly.  American culture is today sick unto death.

I have no hope for the future of this nation if God does not send another Great Awakening among us–an Awakening that will last through multiple generations so that the rot that invests our public and private lives will be beaten back and replaced by (dare I say it) personal virtue and public responsibility.

The politicians can’t fix what is wrong with this country.  The courts can’t fix what’s wrong with this country.  The schools can’t fix whats wrong with this country.  Don’t waste your time looking to them.  If this nation will survive at all it can only do so when Christians begin to take God’s Word seriously–when the Sermon on the Mount becomes our standard–when a biblical worldview guides our lives–when we who claim to follow Christ begin to live His way, showing the world around us the superiority of God’s way of life in this world.  All too often it’s hard to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians in how we live, how we speak, how go about our work, how we behave.

So let those who claim to follow Christ be the difference.  Even if we can’t save America, we can witness to the One who can.

Museum of the Bible

Well, it’s been quite some time since I last posted and I have every intention of being better about this work, but who knows how well I’ll do.  Anyway ….

My wife and I went to see the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.  It’s an interesting place to visit and you can easily spend an entire day there.  Some of it is first rate, some is less so for a person who already knows a lot about the topic, and some is, well, vaguely irritating.  I was especially turned off by a section quoting the deist Thomas Jefferson and the Unitarian John Adams about the importance of the Bible.  But, all in all, it’s a trip worth doing.

I was most taken by a display of the first editions of Tyndale’s New Testament, the Coverdale Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Great Bible, the Bishop’s Bible and the King James Version.  As an English speaking Christian there is a kind of thrill in thinking about the people who actually held those books in their hands and read God’s Word in their own language.

One of the troubling things about the visit was the amount of security they feel is necessary.  There are guards stationed inside and outside the building.  Metal detectors, of course, and some of the most interesting bag check machines I’ve ever seen were also present.  I’ve been told that there were threats made against the museum while it was being built.  Satan’s minions are ever active in this world and evidently this privately built 6 story museum just off Capitol Hill is deemed by our enemy to be dangerous to his plans.

My wife commented to me that any other book that had as much impact on the world as the Bible would be required reading in every school.  And she’s absolutely correct.  The Word of God comes off the pages with power and with effect.  Nothing is so threatening to our debased and evil national culture as God’s Word found in Scripture.  Nothing speaks Truth with such authority as Scripture.  Nothing is more precious to those who have God’s Word than it is.  And nothing has changed the world as much as the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us.

It is impossible to imagine Western Civilization without the Bible.  Many of the common phrases used in conversation are the result of translation decisions made by men like Wycliffe and Tyndale.  Slavery was abolished because of Christianity.  Women received equal rights because of Christianity.  Music and visual arts have been profoundly affected by Christianity.  The first hospitals were inspired by the proclamation of the Gospel.  Public education was started so men and women could read the Bible.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  So if you have the opportunity to get to Washington, take the time to visit this museum.  It could inspire you to open the book it celebrates a little more often.

 

Have We All Gone Mad?

As fall creeps in on us the TV is filled with ads for the new movies coming to our local cinemas.  Yesterday I saw one for the newest addition to our American culture–the assassin as hero.  This is, by my count, the third motion picture this year to glorify people who kill other people for a living.  Adding in television series’ that feature blow-em-up, shoot-em-down and then go out for a beer after work story lines, we seem to be a people entertained by violence–the more the better.  If we add in the gratuitous sex scenes and the elevation of perversion to a positive good–well, back to my title–have we all gone stark raving mad?

What is behind this degeneration of our culture?  Why is there no serious “push-back” from people against our glorification of what we have called sin for thousands of years?  What has caused our people to be enamored of things which were either shunned or at least disliked by virtually everyone not too many years ago?

I have a tentative answer for that, but it’s only tentative.  I believe we have become too individualistic in this country.  We have too much democracy, too many “rights”, and not enough community.  When I was in college I was a convinced libertarian.  I borrowed my motto from a 19th century English woman whose name I now forget–I don’t care what people do as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses.  While that position modified as I grew older, and modified even more as I became a better Christian, it still fit in with a lot of my opinions.  I have even voted Libertarian in several presidential elections.  But I now see how wrong I was.

Society functions best when there are constraints on individual behavior such that good is promoted and evil is denounced.   In this country we have experimented with removing those constraints and the results are horrible.  Looking for statistics that indicate 21st century America is a just and good society is like looking for snallygasters–you can’t find them.  Forty percent of babies are born out of wedlock.  Half of all marriages end in divorce.  Nearly half of the American people pay no federal income tax, essentially riding free on the national train.  Our desires for the novel and the new are all consuming.  Millions of babies have been murdered in abortion mills.  Celebrities have more followers than Christianity.  You all know how this can go on.

In the book of Hebrews the author tells us we are not to cease to meet together–in other words we’re not to cease going to Church.  But I believe we can extend that idea a bit–we are not to cease to see ourselves as part of a larger community that has interests extending beyond our personally perceived well being.  We have thrown aside all reason and inherited attachments to the seasoned and the accepted and replaced them with our own “feelings” and desires.  We have become people whose inner sinfulness now knows no external boundaries.  The America our ancestors sought to build is gone and I have no idea how to put that rabbit back in the hat.  I suspect it’s too late for that.

But I do know this–no matter how degenerate our culture becomes, the Church of Jesus Christ will prevail.  He has promised that not even the gates of hell could overcome the Church.  Hard times are coming for the Church.  We must put aside all thoughts of America being a Christian country.  It’s not and it won’t be.  We must be ready for persecution, for it is coming.  And we must believe the promises of God that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Laughing in the Heavens

My readings this morning included Psalm 2.  The psalmist touches on something that is important for Christians to remember–God will always have His way, no matter the vigor with which people oppose Him.  I thought I’d share some thoughts about this psalm.

The Western world is a mess.  If you don’t believe that, then you haven’t been looking.  Of course the great problem with the world is sin–believing that we can do a better job than God in the ordering of creation.  Mocking the Lord will always get a laugh on television and holding His people up to ridicule will always find its way into the editorial pages of our major newspapers (and not a few minor ones too).

But look how God responds to those who despise Him and His people.  “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” (v.4)  The mighty of this world, the powerful men and women, the cultural leaders, the haters of all things holy–God does not try to make excuses to them or explain His will.  He does not call on His people to alter what has been taught amongst them from time immemorial, He does not bend to the fashions of the world and seek to seem relevant in the eyes of secularists.  No friends, God laughs at them for He knows who is in control of the universe.

The next time someone attacks your faith or attempts to tell you God is simply a myth we have created to make ourselves feel safer–well, you can just smile at them because you know exactly what God thinks of them and what that will mean in the long run.

Oh, and in case you’re unsure about God’s victory, you can believe it because I looked in the back of the Book, and He wins.

Marketing God’s Word

I suppose you could say that this is kind of a rant.  I frequently receive catalogs from a major seller of Christian books and Bibles. Over the years I’ve bought quite a few things from them and I appreciate their work.  But the latest catalog sort of set my teeth on edge–and it wasn’t about the number of Amish romance books on display–although I may rant about those sometime soon.  No this rant is about the Bibles they’re selling.

The Bible is the Bible and while there are competing translations–ESV, NKJ, NASB, NRSV, etc.–there shouldn’t be much else separating them.  The Word is the Word, after all.  But you can never underestimate the ability of marketers to differentiate their product from their competitors product.  With the Bible we not only find study Bibles with notes by people of differing theological positions, we also find Bibles prepared especially for children, teens, women, men, people in recovery, people who like horses (really I can’t make this stuff up), and just about every other subgroup of Americans you can find.

I’ve begun to find all of this really irritating.  The focus of Bible readers should be on the Word of God proclaimed therein–not on anything else.  If you like horses and want to read about them–read Black Beauty. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God’s nature and His salvific work through Christ’s substitutionary atonement for our sins at Calvary.  It is to bring people to faith in Christ.  Every time we add something alien to that task to the pages of Scripture we diminish that purpose and obscure the Word.

Unfortunately the Church today is far too willing to accept the marketing of trinkets and trash in the name of living a Christian life, when what is really needed is not a mimicking of the culture around us but a turning toward the unadorned Word.  Had God wanted additions to His Word, I dare say He would have had the writers of Scripture add them in the original autographs.

Why We’re Crumbling

I’ve noted before that the culture we inhabit is collapsing around us, like a line of dominoes that, when the first one is pushed, all the rest fall in their turn.  Now as a Christian I am not worried at all about the future.  God’s plans can neither be altered or ruined by anything people do.  Before time began God had everything worked out and His promises to His chosen people will be kept with 100% certainty.  But it’s still worth our time to consider what is going on around us and get a feel for how we are to survive until Jesus comes again.

I recently re-read an article written by Dr. David Wells 20 years ago.  Dr. Wells is a distinguished academic who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and has written quite extensively about religion and culture.  In the article at hand he quoted a number of rather scary statistics about American attitudes–statistics which today would probably be even more concerning than they were then.  I won’t spend time on them, but I do want to begin with a quote from this article that is both true and horrifying–“we [the West] have lost our ability to discern between, or even talk meaningfully about, Good and Evil.”  If you don’t believe in moral absolutes (and two thirds of Americans say they do not) then nothing is either intrinsically right or wrong.  In other words, whoever has the most guns gets to decide what is moral, and no one has the right to say otherwise unless they can amass more weapons.  One way to think about the results of this amoral view of the world would be to ponder what it would mean about who was right or wrong in World War II.  If two thirds of Americans were consistent in their thought they would have to say that the Nazis weren’t wrong, they were just different we can’t judge their moral standing.

Now of course very few people would say that out loud.  It would not be politic to do so.  But if what we have believed about marriage for thousands of years can be overwhelmed in just a decade, how long do we have to wait for the overcoming of our repugnance at the existence of death camps?  A culture based wholly on the idea that people should be allowed to do whatever comes to mind is a culture that won’t last very long.

Dr. Wells argues that our inherited culture could be divided into 3 realms–law on one side; freedom on the other; and, occupying the middle what we could call truth and character.  The Constitution of the United States deals with law and freedom, what we are not to do and what we are protected from.  But critical to our culture has been the middle ground where such things as personal honesty, moral obligation, civic duty, social responsibility, and such other personal and civic traits.  It is the place where what has been called “obedience to the unenforceable” takes place.  Without a functioning middle law must, of necessity, take on a greater role in the culture.  If people won’t act right on their own, they must be made to act right.  But the problem is that we no longer have any sense of what is right or what is wrong.

This situation is fraught with difficulties for Christians.  We have always been called to stand against the culture, to speak words of peace where there is war, love where there is hate, acceptance where there is bigotry.  But as the middle ground grows smaller and the law and freedom larger, Christians will be more outside the cultural mainstream than ever before.

Now maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe the Church needs the strength that comes from being constantly opposed.  I don’t know.  But I do know this, whether America follows Rome down the rabbit hole of history or not, whether this culture survives this century or not, our only hope is Jesus Christ.  As things are trending today, our influence on the culture is declining.  But a culture without an “obedience to the unenforceable” won’t last too long.  The Kingdom of God, however, now that’s forever.