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Monthly Archives: March 2022

Should You Question Your Status as a Christian? 

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“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

–I Corinthians 10:12

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Have you ever had anyone question your Christianity?

When I was in college, I was taken aback by the fervent Evangelical Christians who came to my dorm room to speak to me about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

After the visit, I was a little bit distressed because they left me with the impression that they suspected I wasn’t a true believer…

largely because of things I said to them!   

And I felt like I had failed my God… failed to be a witness to them about what I, really – deep down – knew Jesus had done for me…

Needless to say, their surprising visit shook me up and caused me to start to re-evaluate my spiritual life. 

My wife had a similar experience at college, except a bit worse! 

She was told by people – people from this same organization actually, not the same college – that Lutherans were not Christians.

Shocking as this might sound to some of us, in truth episodes like this can be worth not just getting upset about but reflecting on!

What does it really mean to be a Christian? 

How can we identify other Christians?

How can anyone be sure about their own Christianity?

Interestingly, all of our texts this morning seem like they could easily go hand-in-hand with these kinds of questions…

First, let’s take a look at our Epistle lesson. There, St. Paul is eager to encourage those in the Church in the large port city of Corinth (in Greece) – folks who he earlier identified in this letter as believers – to not fall into sin like those God had chosen in the Old Testament. 

Of the people Israel, Paul goes so far to say: 

“They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.”

…but God will always provide the Corinthians a way out, Paul goes on to assure them!

Nevertheless though… nevertheless… hear the import of what Paul is saying! 

Here, he is recalling the story about how when they only had bitter water in the wilderness, God provided pure drink for them through Moses. 

That refreshment, that comfort, that temporal salvation if you wil, Paul tells them, was all from Jesus Christ, the second person of the Eternal Triune God, even though He had yet to be born in history, in the temporal realm!

Furthermore, the physical rock gave them physical water, nourishing their bodies to be sure…. 

…but Paul says that they were all eating the same spiritual food and drinking the same spiritual drink  from the spiritual rock that was Christ. 

All of them!

Think about this: he is saying that even though every single one of the people of Israel was given spiritual food and spiritual drink through Christ, God was nevertheless not pleased with most of them!

…and their bodies were consequentially scattered in the wilderness! 

It seems that what Jesus talks about today in His parable of the fig tree in the vineyard might also apply doesn’t it? Let’s hear that from our Gospel reading again:

“Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Yes! Here we see God’s patience, forbearance here in this parable of Jesus! But we also hear…

Cut.

It. 

Down. 

…like let their bodies be “scattered in the wilderness…”  

So why was God not pleased with His people in the Old Testament? 

Why did so many seemingly die as those He was not pleased with instead of dying well, dying with His pleasure? 

Because they did not have fruit. 

And why did they not have fruit?

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Well, we’ll get to that question soon, but first let’s address this matter of fruit.

In Galatians chapter 5 we recall that the Apostle Paul speaks of the fruit of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law,” he says. 

Christians are those who show some of this spiritual fruit. 

And so it is right that such matters should be of importance to us. As I have heard it put: If you were accused of being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you in court? 

And going along with this, it is not wrong for Christians to have confidence that others they know or meet are Christians as well – even if absolute certainty about other’s status with God is knowledge that only He can have. 

For example, we might take to heart what the Apostle Paul says to the young pastor Timothy, 

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also…”

Again, this is true: Christians can have confidence that others are Christians. 

And yet, we also need to acknowledge this: Things can go seriously wrong here.

This clearly happened with my wife, when people told her Lutherans couldn’t be Christians. 

I think that also happened to me in college, my freshman year. When asked whether I thought I’d go to heaven when I died, I said I was 95% sure. 

The people talking to me took this as a sign that I was not really trusting Jesus Christ, but considering my own good works as part of this equation. In truth, I believe I answered that way because while I did know Jesus loved me and forgave me by grace though faith apart from works, my faith was quite weak. 

After my senior year in high school I begin to have more intellectual doubts about whether or not Christianity was really true. I went to the 1992 LC-MS youth gathering, hoping to get more clarity, and this only made things worse for me.

Everything seemed to me to be about emotion, the power of suggestion, and getting caught up in exciting moments with one’s like-minded group. I had more pressing questions and wanted more solid answers. 

I think what I actually needed to hear is that God’s word is trustworthy, and that He even invited me to test that, like Thomas sticking his hand into Jesus’ side…

But the men in my dorm room that day didn’t know any of this, and I think they mis-diagnosed me. 

…as many often misdiagnose other Christians. 

Perhaps rightly concerned that Christian faith must be living and active, they, unintentionally, might do exactly what Jesus said He would not do: snuff out the flickering wick or break the bruised reed…

…snuff out the flickering wick or break the bruised reed…

I’d submit here is actually a long history of this kind of thing in America. Many American Christians, again, fall down here. While they are rightly concerned to honor what we heard in our Psalm this morning: 

Restore us again, God our Savior,
    and put away your displeasure toward us.
 Will you be angry with us forever?
    Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
 Will you not revive us again,
    that your people may rejoice in you?

….that [God’s] glory may dwell in our land.

…Americans Christians often lose the biblical context of today’s Psalm and create one of their own making in which to understand these words… 

For example, historically, besides many thinking that Americans are “God’s chosen people,” many American Christians have tended to equate things like large numbers, powerful music, strong emotions, and the appearance of power, influence, attraction with true spirituality… true spiritual success…

 “We need revival!” they might say, and it will look similar to this. 

Have you ever heard of the first and second “Great Awakenings” in America? 

The first featured men like the American Calvinist Jonathan Edwards and two highly impressive Englishman, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism who worked tirelessly to travel far and wide preaching his message, and George Whitfield, a fiery Anglican preacher who preached to thousands upon thousands in open fields (without a microphone, of course). The second great awakening was dominated by the American Presbyterian evangelist Charles Finney, who promoted “new measures” like the “anxious bench” (where one sat if they were thinking about their sin and becoming a Christian…) to bring spiritual awakening…   

Here, in general, there were concerns about a “dead orthodoxy” that was cold and stand-offish, concerns about an emphasis on liturgy and creeds, creeds, creeds instead of deeds!… and also a real skepticism regarding the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, thinking of the traditional understandings as being “too Catholic”… 

After all, they might point out, even if the Lord’s Supper really was Christ’s true body and blood – which is “too Catholic”! –  note what Paul says in I Corinthians 10: even though God’s chosen people Israel spiritually ate and drank from the rock that was Christ…

…God was not pleased with them!

How many fill our churches, Whitefield would often say, who do not actually know God!

Now even though we certainly know Jesus speaks about this… about the tares among the wheat, many take things further, going in very disturbing directions in fact… 

Even in our times, as we have heard, some professing Christians think (I’m sure much to the devil’s glee): 

Those non-emotional and doctrinally obsessed Lutherans? 

Where is their really joyful song? 

How can they really be Christians? Where is their fruit? 

Where is their concern for the evangelism of the lost? 

Where is their concern to fight corruption and injustice? 

Where, perhaps today, is their desire to fight racism? 

Where is their concern about good methods and measures, taking practical steps to reach the culture they live in where it is at – not where they insist the culture should be? 

Again, as harsh and unfair as all of these sentiments might be, we must of course recognize that there is a very important grain of truth to all of this. 

And that grain of truth is this: human beings are meant to really live, to really embrace all that they participate in…. To live our lives with conviction and gusto! 

And so, for Christians, it is good that our hearts would be overwhelmed with thanksgiving. And that, alive in God, that those hearts would ever be enlarged to not just walk, but run – and run more fully and faster all the time! – in God’s commandments, producing God-pleasing fruit!

But again, these American revivalists get things wrong not only because they downplay simple good works in favor of more impressive accomplishments, but because they take no heed to not snuff out the flickering wick or break the bruised reed…

Unlike our wise and strong Savior. 

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Again, we hear our strong Savior in our Gospel reading this morning: 

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

This message from Jesus is jarring. 

What he is saying is that when bad things happen to others, we should not think that God is punishing them because they were worse sinners! 

Instead, here is what we can know: We should take such distressing signs – and yes, distressing signs which rightly make us think of Divine Judgment – as a call for all to repent, for us to repent as well. 

Even us as Christians. 

Actually, especially us as Christians! You see, this is the kind of message that we continue to need to hear throughout our Christian life! 

At the beginning of the Reformation, the 16th century friar, pastor and professor Martin Luther penned the 95 theses, the first which was: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

True Christianity always lives in repentance, and does not live apart from repentance!

Sometimes Christians – like many of the Christians we have been talking about who might not understand that Lutherans are, or at least, can be, real Christians – have  and give the impression that repentance is something that is only meant to start the Christian life. 

I was a sinner, but then I repented and now I am a saved.

This is not a clear picture. 

Why? Because as I’ve often pointed out, the Apostle Paul speaks very clearly about how a war – a war! –  takes place in the believer. 

In Christ we are a new creation indeed! But in Galatians 5 we see that there is always a war in us between our new man and our old man. 

God’s Spirit which drives our spirit against our fallen flesh, often energized and encouraged by the devil’s lies… 

This is why Paul also writes as he does in Romans 7 and 8: 

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] [my fallen flesh, my old man,] a slave to the law of sin.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”

Again, American Evangelicals, for instance, are right to talk about how a true and living faith is a sign of a Christian.

But this, as Paul’s words should suggest to us, is not wholly straightforward, or easy to understand. 

True, when we suppress the fear of God, not having a care about intentional sins – or even when we tell ourselves that our sins are rarely intentional and so they aren’t a big deal…

…we are in danger at the heart of our spiritual life. God is never under any obligation to pull us out of the pit of our own self-destruction.

That said, also take comfort in Paul’s words here about the two natures of the Christian and how he directs even the failing Christian – even the failing Christian! – to Christ’s mercy in the midst of his struggles!

So don’t ever let anyone convince you that Romans 7 is not that important for Christians?

Saying, remarkably, this is only Paul speaking about his life before coming to Christ! 

Paul is writing as a Christian. 

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Again, fruit is important, no doubt. One is right to insist that good works provide evidence one is really a Christian. 

Did you see how fruit was also important in the Old Testament reading today? 

It is.

For example, God says through Ezekiel that if a righteous person trusts in their righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered and they will die for the evil they have done. 

In like fashion, if a wicked person does what is just and right, and gives back that which they took in pledge for a loan, returns what they have stolen, and follow God’s decrees, for example, they will live. 

But also notice, at the same time, how important in that text repentance is as well… 

Again, and again, we see the emphasis on turning from sin to the Lord and finding life. 

So, where does the true fruit come from? 

True fruit is born of repentance. 

And just what is it that makes for effective repentance, that is Christian repentance?

Repentance that will allow us to truly live as those who might have a sure and secure hope? 

Faith. 

Faith.

Faith in a good and strong Savior. 

Faith in the Savior who says 

“As surely as I live…I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’”

Faith in the God who loves all people so much that He would even hold his own children accountable for the blood of others who die in their sin… 

God will hold them accountable when their own love fails to reflect and to proclaim His love… 

When they would not care enough to warn their neighbors that the wages of sin is death and that hell is real and that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life…. 

-Again, the most important thing when it comes to true revival is not to try to be “fruit police,” always judging the fruit of others.  

-The most important thing when it comes to true revival is not to dig down deep, reach into one’s self to try harder, do better, be more sincere, etc…

-The most important thing when it comes to true revival is not to obsess and worry about how false Christians really can spiritually partake of Christ in communion, and hence eat His true body and blood to their damnation (true as that one might be!) 

The most important thing when it comes to true revival is simple faith in Christ – to acknowledge our sin before God and look to His Son on the cross for mercy!

When God’s Holy Spirit breaks through and convicts us of our objective guilt before Him…

When God’s Holy Spirit then shines the spotlight on Jesus as the answer to that problem…

That is always a new beginning of sorts! 

That is the beginning of true revival, as faith lives in repentance!

And sure – please God let our faith in our crucified and risen Lord be strong and grow stronger still! May our roots go deep…

Go deep, that we may continually be enlightened, revived, reformed, transformed in Your beloved Son!

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But do you see clearly? 

Faith in Christ, a mustard seed of faith in Christ, is the key. 

And even this is His gift for you, even now!

We spoke earlier about how Christians can not have absolute certainty regarding the status of another professing Christian’s faith…

What, however, should Christians believe about themselves? Can they have absolute certainly they are God’s? 

Should you have absolute certainty God is at peace with you?

Yes! 

Yes!!

Yes!!!

Call your sin “sin” and call grace “grace” and believe the Lord Jesus Christ when He forgives you 

all your evils…

all your doubts…

all your worldly fears…

For He is Strong and Good, and He will hold you forever in His hands. 

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Being Sent to Speak All These Words

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“…for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”

– Jeremiah 26:15b

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In this Old Testament passage, Jeremiah is pointing out that virtually none of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, wanted to hear the words God had given him to speak. 

And, let’s be honest… be honest with ourselves and others! 

In truth, the Bible contains lots of bad news for everyone… words of judgment for everyone!

And its not even like we can free ourselves from our miserable state, trying to conform by power from within us, by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.

Man, after all, is not a sinner because he sins. On the contrary, being “by nature deserving of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), man sins because he is a sinner. 

And God has no patience with any who would contend otherwise! Because deep down, each and every one of us knows this (Romans 1)…

And so, when we hear thunderous words like…

  • “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) 
  • “…the Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thes. 1:7-9)
  • “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:17)
  • “…by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:7)
  • “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:14)
  • “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36) 
  • “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13:4)
  • “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev. 21:8)
  • “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27)

Yes, when we hear thunderous words like…

  • “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

…how can we not, along with the prophet Isaiah, say:

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.”

And why are things like this? Well, as a means of quick review it goes like this: 

[tell the story… God created the world… Adam and Eve had it all… The serpent tempted them in the Garden… Did God really say?… They realized they were naked and fled from God… For on that very day, they, along begin to spiritually and physically die. Adam and Eve were indeed punished… And yet, He also gave them a Promise [Genesis 3:15]….]

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So on the other hand, there is good news too…. This Promise…

God gave Adam and Eve this promise that was then handed down throughout the Old Testament…

God chooses Abraham to be the father of Israel, God’s chosen people, and tells him that He will  make him into a great nation, and that Abraham’s Seed will be a blessing to all the nations. 

And the book of Genesis in fact closes out in part speaking of a very special and specific descendant of Abraham: 

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:10)

A good Ruler! And Psalm 72:17 states, “May the king’s name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun shines. May all nations be blessed through him and bring him praise.” Other Psalms, like Psalm  22 for instance, are also beloved for their Messianic prophecies (see also 2, 89, 110, e.g.).

In the preaching of the Old Testament’s later prophets, we hear more specific information about this Promised One. Big hitters like Ezekiel (34:23-24), Jeremiah (23:5, 31:31-34) and Isaiah (7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-16, 42, 52, 53:1-12, 61) speak clearly of Him, and Micah gives us the wonderful promise that we hear and celebrate each Christmas season:  

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days…”    

Finally, in the New Testament, we see the flowering of this promise, as the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, “takes on human flesh” and becomes one of us… so that He might go to the cross to pay the price for all man’s sins! (and be raised in victory over sin, death, and the devil!)

In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul calls it the “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people [including the Gentiles…”] and in our reading for today, he says: 

“…our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body…”

In Jesus Christ, God forgives His people, God shares in their humanity, and God vindicates and blesses them again His people as He will raise them from the dead and give them new spiritual bodies in the new heavens and the new earth! 

And here, our poor and fallen imaginations falter… because we have no comprehension of how good the things to come are!

This.

Is.

Glorious.

…and this is the fullness of the message that has been passed down throughout time… This is, as they say, the church’s song, it’s highest joy and the root of all our comfort and peace!

And, in truth, even as the hard words of God’s judgment stand, there is also a real gentleness and tenderness that appears with God’s servants, as they attempt to communicate to fellow pastors and people the heart of the God they know, that others may come to know Him as well. 

Paul, for example, writes to the young pastor, Timothy: 

“…Those who oppose him he must gently instruct…. in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (II Timothy 2: 24-26).”

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But sinful man, we know, rejects God! 

And those in the church as well are among them!

And so, in our Gospel today, we see Jesus cry out over the chosen people, over the nation, over the institution that He established and loves: 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

The excuses for such unwillingness continue today, and are many. 

There are both crass excuse and sophisticated ones…

The crass ones are easier to describe…

Here, on earth, health, wealth, and status often seem like our greatest need. We feel we need what’s sexy, success and stuff.

In fact, if we love these things instead of simply using them and being thankful for them, receiving them as the gifts of God that they are, we too will be lost…

Why? Well, we need to recognize, as the Epistle of 1 John puts it:

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:16).

Jesus Christ’s brother, James, also smacks us right in the face:

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:4)

The immediate context of this passage? Humanity’s unbridled passions, greed, and pride:

“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (4:2-3)

Again, there is still a deep rot even within us… even as Christians, as new creations, we most certainly do not fear, love, and trust in our God as we should… we rather, inevitably so, find ourselves following in the train of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Not sure if that is true for you? Again, the evidence that you, too, are a sinner is your death…

As Christians, we should know that God really does desire to bless His children.

That said, the popular views of the day, always emphasizing the glories of the world rather than its curses and crosses, misses the boat entirely…

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There is also a more sophisticated kind of rejection as well. One that, in fact, downplays thoughts about God and focuses and fixates on the matter of suffering

… and, nowadays, particularly the suffering caused by various kinds of human oppression, which today, in the eyes of many, also consists of those oppressors who would dare to tell others that there are in fact some natural limits that exist! 

And that actually limit their interpretations of reality or what their imaginations can construct and build… 

How did we get here? The broad answer is sin and the devil. More specifically, however, such things started among our best and brightest – among some of the greatest minds who have flourished in our the hallowed halls of our colleges and universities…. 

First, it was posited – quite unreasonably to be sure – that Christianity was not reasonable. 

And now – when yet a new opportune moment has arrived – it is contended that Christianity is not moral. Mankind is at war with God, and even His creation, attempts to “redefine realness” as much as is within their power. 

Some however, would like to slow down this craziness however, or, perhaps even better, be like a man bravely standing before an encroaching railroad engine and yelling “Stop!” 

Many with some more socially conservative dispositions were thankful, for example, to hear about the newly proposed University of Austin. A man named Andrew Abela writes about it: 

“The recent announcements about the founding of the University of Austin, “dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth,” were received with excitement by those of us who share a concern about the censorship of thought—the groupthink, cancel culture, and wokeness—that plagues so many of today’s universities…” 

But Abela hits the nail on the head when he plays the devil’s advocate, throwing a wet blanket on the excitement: 

One crucial question remains unaddressed [by the University of Austin and others]: is the fearless pursuit of truth sufficient to form the basis of a new university? Is it enough to be always in pursuit of truth? Or does one hope, along the way, to find, keep, and act on some of it? Is a commitment to truth and freedom in the abstract sufficient to ground an academic community, or is something else—a larger tradition— required? The essence of a tradition is the set of truths that thoughtful people who have gone before us have discovered and tested, across generations, and deemed worthy of keeping. The pursuit of truth is like the pursuit of a spouse: at some point you hope to catch the object of your pursuit, get married, and have babies…”

What will the University of Austin be assuming about questions regarding man’s meaning and purpose? 

And what about beliefs about the nature of all reality?

Will the University of Austin, with its seemingly more conservative yet secular orientation, really be drawing any significant conclusions about what it really means to be man?

Will it recognize the importance of acknowledging fundamental truths – including basic “moral facts” about right and wrong – and their role in attaining any real knowledge?

I think it is safe to say that they will do no such thing.

“Well, preacher…”, you might be thinking. “Doesn’t the Bible itself say that we ‘see through a glass darkly?’” 

Indeed it does, but none of this means – as those the church has called “noble pagans” have known – that there is no knowledge, no common ground, that man can not have!

And Christians, in particular, can and must  be different!

Recognizing that God blessed Moses and Daniel with knowledge from even the Egyptians and Babylonians respectively…

….recognizing that we are to love God with all our mind…

…and saying Amen to the early church father Justin Martyr who asserted that “all truth is God’s truth”…

Intelligent Christians could, for example:

-State that, ideally, Christians gain and share knowledge about the world or cosmos not only because they are curious or gain control by doing so, but also because knowing, teaching, and living in accordance with what is true, pure, just, lovely, commendable, etc. is one way to serve one’s neighbor in love.

-Be honest that “academic and intellectual freedom” always has limits. Emphasize that all colleges and universities – not just private or religious ones – are more or less consciously taking deliberate steps to introduce and even indoctrinate students into a specific and limited range of “acceptable” ways of understanding the world.

-Acknowledge that speaking both anthropologically and sociologically, whatever one’s beliefs about the world, it is human nature to either directly or indirectly shun and stigmatize contemporary voices who promote certain views that one and one’s community determine to be “out of bounds” – even in times that are not hysterical like our own today! Of course, traditionally private or religious schools, for example, have had the freedom to teach and practice their beliefs as they saw fit, but now this is being challenged in a myriad of ways.

-Recognize that because the form of toleration that some Christians in leadership positions have practiced can be interpreted as capitulation, a lack of courage, or inconsistency, the reasons for this tolerance should be made explicit and explained.

-Assert that we must stand. Even as all men and women seek identity, security and meaning, in the midst of all of this, the Church and its “parachurch” and other offshoots will be who we, by God’s truth and grace, know ourselves to be… We must be vigilant about running our household in accordance with who we are. Neither can the “spirit of the age” nor the “customer” always be right for us – any open and collegial conversation and debate must always exist in a context where kind but forceful intellectual opposition and attempts to gently correct can be provided…

+++

I know that is heady stuff, but this is deathly serious. In the book of Hosea, it speaks of God’s children being destroyed from a lack of knowledge. 

Jesus tells us that the children of the world are more shrewd than the children of light, and urges us to be wise instead. Tot be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves my friends… 

Remember also that Jesus says that in the last days the love of many will grow cold… and He even asks rhetorically whether or not He will find faith on earth!

We need to heed what the Apostle Paul says: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) 

We need to know what we believe and why we believe it. We need to learn how to give answers to those who ask us about the hope that is within us. 

A short story.

Once, Error, cold, dark, and empty, came upon a table where Goodness, Truth, and Beauty were feasting. Seeing their bounty he beseeched them, “O friends, do you mind if I just remain here at the foot of your table, eating the crumbs of nourishment that fall from your table?” Full of compassion and pity, Goodness, Truth and Beauty agreed that this would, in fact, be fine. After all, Error looked quite pathetic and had humbly asked if he could do so. A bit later however, at an opportune time, Error was bold to ask if he could sit at the table with Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. “Friends,” he said, “even as I have gotten stronger with your good food, I do long to have discussions with you, to learn about you, to better understand who and what you are! Might I be able to come up to your table?” Perhaps since love “always trusts”, they took Error’s stated desire to seek them – Goodness, Truth, and Beauty – to heart, and invited him to sit with them at the table.

Error asked some interesting questions, to be sure. Questions that always seemed sincere and born of real curiosity and interest. As time went on however, the questions wore at the resolve of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, as doubts entered into their minds. Later, Error brought his children to the table as well, and all of them began to get a bit more bossy. Soon, the discussions turned into debates, and after a while, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty were told that their opinions were not really appreciated anymore. They were not only unreasonable, but filled with animus, hate, as well. 

Finally, it was they who were sitting on the floor, and no crumbs were forthcoming for them…

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The devil wants your hide. Your family’s too. And beyond. 

Wherever you are, whatever the depth of your thoughts, don’t get stuck in either of these ruts, the crass or the sophisticated rejection of God and His Word! 

And so, in the season of Lent, we focus on the matter of repentance… that we are were made from the dust and we are going to the dust. Such is God’s judgment upon us. 

It does us well to remember that when Paul tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” we are reminded of the Greek word metanoia, which is the word for repentance… 

Metanoia basically means “a change of mind”… That is what repentance is. 

So, recognize that even as we try to get our troublesome impulses and desires under control, that the most important element of repentance begins with our minds… 

When Jesus cries out:

“O Jerusalem, O Jerusalem…. how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing…” 

Don’t let that unwillingness be true for you on any level. Don’t say, for example, what a famous church leader said this past week in a tweet: 

“The Christian faith doesn’t rise and fall on the accuracy [or the inerrancy] of 66 ancient documents [or books we call the Bible]. It rises and falls on the identity of a single individual: Jesus of Nazareth.”

No, pastor. The Scriptures are the cradle that holds Christ, who is, yes, its primary message! 

They also are the voice of God Himself! 

You can even say the Bible is God in a sense. The Bible is God speaking.

Don’t be eager to find creative ways of avoiding the whole counsel of God.

Don’t let that be true for your family.  

Don’t let that be true for your church. 

Don’t let that be true for your Christian institutions. 

Fight. 

The world’s insistence on unbelief is neither rational nor moral in any sense. 

Being a “good person” – either because they follow God’s law or they follow the laws they make for themselves, will not save them, in this life or the life to come.  

The Lord means for you and your house to cling to Him. 

And it is not just your pastors who are to speak such truths, to encourage with such truths!

But it is for all of us to do so, for “if anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God…!” (I Peter 4:11)

Cling to the Word, the whole counsel of God…

For it, truly, is our only hope. 

And cling to the Gospel that He extends to you even now, stretching out His hand to you to life you up, proclaiming words of forgiveness and life, the life that is truly life. . 

Take courage! 

For the victory is His and there is no condemnation for those who are found in Him. 

Amen 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2022 in Uncategorized