Friday, 1 June 2018

Pastor's Page: Faithful to the End

Pastor’s Take-Away

Faithful to the End
Josh 23:14

One thing is certain, from first to last, God is ever faithful--faithful to the end.   God assures us, “My word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11). This assurance is trustworthy because it arises from the steadfast character of God.

God is a “person”—that is, he is a personal being that relates to humans in personal relationships. An important aspect of this God-human relationship is learning to trust in God’s character and his eternal promises. When Israel was suffering under Egyptian bondage, Moses anticipated the Israelites’ query, “What is your name so I may tell them who you are?” or, more to the point, “Who is this God that we should trust him?” So it was that through the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea and deliverance from Egypt, and the divine guidance through 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites learned who God is as he revealed his trustworthy character.

Learning to trust God is an enterprise for every generation. With Moses’s death, Joshua’s generation faced new challenges, but never without the divine assurance, “I am with you, even to the end of the age!” God was present at the crossing of the Jordan, at the fall of Jericho, and in the extraordinary conquest of Canaan. Wherever Joshua’s footsteps, fell God was with him. To be sure, there were plenty of those, “Why God?” moments when God’s presence seemed far removed, or when God chose to hide his presence. On such occasions, one wise old man’s pithy saying on a rainy day rings true: the sun is shining, but you just can’t see it.

Joshua learned to trust God through adversity and through boon. His trust was such that he urged his fellow Israelites to do the same, to stake their allegiance in him. In his old age, after a lifetime of trusting in God, Joshua reminded all Israel of God’s faithfulness. He said, ““Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”

But personal relationships is a two-way street. It will not do for one person to be faithful and the other feckless. Thus, Joshua’s testimony of God’s faithfulness was meant to spur the Israelites to reciprocal faithfulness. Following his tremendous and comforting assertions that God keeps all his promises, Joshua issued dire warnings to those who would betray their allegiance to God. Because God is faithful to the end, we too must be faithful to the end.

Joshua’s testimony anticipates the Pauline declaration that whatsoever promises God has ever made, they are all “yes” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). Accordingly, we confess, “Jesus, Jesus! How I trust him, How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er. Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus! O for grace to trust him more.”

Pastor Jim

Friday, 6 April 2018

Pastor's Page: Discipleship and Building on the Rock

The parable is unforgettable; we’ve known it since our Sunday School days. Building a house on sand might be easy, and building on rock might be hard, but houses are more likely to last if built on rock. Final, end-time judgment is implied in the parable, one that is evident even in that children’s song: the house on the sand went splat!

Often overlooked in the parable is that one’s wisdom or foolishness is predicated on whether the individual who hears Jesus’ words put them into practice. If you hear the words but don’t put them into practice, you’re a fool who will experience a final, end-time judgment that is catastrophic. If you hear the words and, in fact, put them into practice, you’re a wise person who will stand firm and unscathed, despite the wrath that floods the earth at the final end-time judgment.

Matthew’s Gospel regularly alludes to this end-time judgment, and the parable is thoroughly contexted by judgment themes. Theologians refer to this end-time judgment with the pregnant term “eschatological judgment.” It conjures up both Noahic deluge imagery and fiery apocalyptic imagery as God brings this age to a climactic end under his reign. Thus, even at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, we see John urgently preaching repentance to prepare for eschatological judgment: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. [Jesus’s] winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3).

 The theme of judgment extends into the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus repeatedly warns of the fires of hell (5:22, 29, 30; 7:19), and eschatological rewards (5:12, 19, 20, 47; 6:1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 14, 15, 16, 18, 20, 33; 7:13, 14, 21, 23). And the theme continues immediately after the parable in chapters 8-10, where, for example, Jesus warns his disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (10:28).
Jesus levels these warnings of end-time judgment even at his own disciples. While elsewhere in the Bible, especially in Paul, we are taught that we are saved by grace through faith, Jesus explains that faith is not merely intellectual assent, but a shift of one’s allegiance to Christ that is accompanied by true repentance. Thus, the believer is a disciple who produces fruit in keeping with repentance; fruit-producing is not optional, nor is keeping Jesus’s commandments.

 Let us then be true and wise disciples who are diligent not only to hear but practice Jesus’ teaching so that we may stand when the eschatological waters rise and beat upon our rock-built houses.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Pastor's Page: Marvelous in Our Eyes: How the Despised Remnant Becomes God's Eschatological Temple

Pastor's Take-away
Marvelous in Our Eyes
Solomon’s temple was thought to be one of the great wonders of the world. It stood several centuries before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. It was soon rebuilt, using the old foundations, but lacked its Solomonic splendor. Centuries later, King Herod the Great destroyed a major section of it as he usurped the Jewish throne. This gave him the opportunity to become a great temple builder. He expanded the temple’s original borders and integrated the temple walls into Jerusalem’s fortifications. The new temple was spectacular, a remarkable testimony to human engineering.
Herod completed the main temple structure about the time of Jesus’ birth, but the construction process was not brought to completion for another 50 years. Ironically, the temple itself was tragically destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, just a decade after its completion, underscoring the truth of the psalmist’s claim, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (127:1).
Ultimately, no matter the grandeur, no matter the time or circumstance, the Jerusalem Temple is but a shadow of God’s heavenly temple. In fact, the Bible depicts a magnificent eschatological (end-time, ideal) temple in Ezek 40-48. The language is highly figurative and stresses the essence of Temple theology, that God dwells in the midst of his people. Indeed, just verses after describing the New Jerusalem (Rev 21), the Revelator declares that there is no temple there, “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”
Jesus himself appropriated the essence of Temple theology for himself and his Church. Since Temple theology is encapsulated as God’s dwelling among his people, Jesus makes his disciples into the new, eschatological temple, for where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, God is present with them. Thus, Peter writes, “You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Pet 2 NLT).
Accordingly, we believers, united together in Christ, are God’s new temple. Thus Paul writes, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Cor 3). To be sure, God’s Temple is in need of continuous cleansing, just like the Jerusalem temple. Nonetheless, this eschatological New Temple, God’s Church, is built upon the great CORNERSTONE. It is marvelous to our eyes, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Pastor's Page: ALL GLORY, LAUD, AND HONOR (Palm Sunday)

Pastor’s Take-Away

Our processional hymn is ancient, written by Theodolph of Orleans (A.D. 820). It celebrates Jesus’ coronation as king over God’s kingdom, reflected in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Triumphal Entry is ironic in that five days later this same Jesus was crucified as a pathetic pretender to the throne. The irony was not lost on Theodolph since this piece celebrating of God’s rule was written while he himself was imprisoned.
There is a strong tension between the confident assertion of God’s kingship and the sin that pervades our humanity. As Longfellow wrote, despite life’s chaos, illness, grief, and death, the Christmas bells peal loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Jesus himself declared that the kingdom is indeed come in his own person as he raised the dead, healed disease, and cast out demons. All this reflects the inauguration of the kingdom. Christ’s death might have falsely flagged his own defeat, but his resurrection guarantees the future culmination of the kingdom when God will wipe away every tear;
Theodolph’s hymn became popular in medieval times. Christians would celebrate Palm Sunday by gathering outside the city gates. Children would sing the verses, and the crowds echo the refrain “All glory, laud, and honor to thee redeemer king.” The city gates would then open to the crowd and the worshipers would proceed to the parish church or cathedral.
But the tradition is even more ancient. The text behind the events of Palm Sunday come from Psalm 24:
Lift up your heads, you gates;
    lift them up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
    The Lord Almighty—
    he is the King of glory.
We think that the ancient Israelites enacted this text in worship, like medieval worshipers. The king and his entourage outside of the city would call for the gates to be opened, and the gate keepers would ask who this glorious person is, with the crowd responding that he is the glorious king.
So also in today’s service, we open up the gates of our hearts to welcome Jesus Christ, God’s own Son who brings to us the kingdom of God.

Pastor Jim

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Remix of Paul's Charges to Timothy

Remix of Paul’s Charges to Timothy
(Culled from 1 and 2 Timothy)

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  
            But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.   Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

            In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.  Keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time--God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Augustine's Just War Principles

Augustine’s Just War Principles

I'm pretty sure I've plagiarized much of this from some source, but cannot now cite it.

1.      A just war can only be waged as a last resort.  All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
2.      A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority.  Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
3.      A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered.  For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4).  Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions:  the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.  A country may not justly start a war to grab another country’s assets such as precious minerals or other natural resources.
4.      A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success.  Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
5.      The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace.  More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
6.      The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered.  States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.  

7.      The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.  Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians.  The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Star Trek and the Perspicuity of Scripture

Star Trek and the Perspicuity of Scripture

Do you have to be a great scholar to understand the Bible?

We were serious Star Trekkers. We’d adjust the aerial antenna to catch whatever weak signal we could from Cincinnati, 90 miles away. Our black and white TV would give us just the faintest picture, in a blizzard of static and sound. Still, 20 years later, we were watching the same reruns.

In 1989, we moved to the North Cascades for grad school, taking only my books and a couple of cats. We heard rumors that a new Star Trek series had come to television. Having no tv ourselves, we soon discovered that if we scrolled the FM dial to the extreme left, we could catch audio of the new show Star Trek: The Next Generation. So, my wife and I would drive down to Lake Paddon where we had our best radio reception, and parked the car and listened to the show.

About three months later, my parents drove across the US to visit us. They brought our old 13” black and white tv. We extended the telescoping antenna and fitted it with the obligatory aluminum foil, and if we tapped the tuner just right, we could add a snowy image to the audio of the show. It was like Plato’s cave—we could see shadowy images of people acting while they spoke.

When we returned to visit relatives, we saw Star Trek: TNG for the first time on cable tv. We were surprised to see that Data the android had white skin. We were surprised to discover that Klingons looked much different in TNG than in the original series. And we were surprised at how the ship looked so real in comparison with the original.

As good as the picture was on cable, it was not until we saw the show in high definition that we discovered that Ferengi have a faint tattoo on their forehead.

Now, back to the question: do you have to be a great scholar to understand the Bible? Well, if you are capable of reading the Bible in your own language, you have the advantage over those who cannot read or who do not have the Bible translated in their own language. Still, having one’s own Bible was hardly possible prior to the 19th century; for most of the Church’s history, access to the Bible had to be mediated by someone who read the Bible aloud to an audience. So, most 21st century English speaking Christians have the advantage over most Christians of prior centuries. These realities, however, do not prove the notion that one must be a great scholar to understand the Bible any more than one must watch Star Trek: TNG in high definition in order to appreciate the show.

Even though for many months we only had access to the audio, we still understood what was happening in each episode. We still perceived the story line and the characters. Of course, acquiring the show’s video enhanced our appreciation, and we picked up on more and more of the nuances. Still, it was, all in all, the same show whether we only heard it on radio, or watched it through snowy static, or got the full effects in high definition. And thus it is with the Bible.

Let’s do the hard work of fine tuning the details.