Sunday, October 30, 2016

More Missing Verses: Cutting the Hell Out

Carrying on from last week's theme (The Lectionary: Stripping Paul of His Warnings), this Sunday's Epistle reading is 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4,11-12. By now, you should notice that verses 5-10 get left out. You know the routine. First, read the selection most church-goers will hear (I put a space where the missing verses should be),

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must always give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. 

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
That was encouraging and reassuring wasn't it? Our Sunday morning pewsitters will likely smile and nod at that one.

But they will just hear the fluff plucked from the letter's intro, the meat gets let out. In verses 5-10 they would have heard about God's vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus, and they should have heard about eternal damnation too,

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marvelled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

I cannot recall ever hearing a sermon from an Episcopal church pulpit in which the reality of eternal damnation was preached. In fact, I recall one sermon in which that fact was denied.

Thanks to our Revised Common Lectionary most pewsitters won't hear about it either. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Episcopal School's Fundraising Campaign: Where's the Christ?

This is the time of year for fund-raising campaigns. Every day pewsterspouse and I receive a number of requests for donations via snail mail from charities, "non-profits", and former schools. Our schools want money for alumni associations, scholarships, and general funds, each coming as a separate "ask". Each year, we are left wondering, "Is this something to which we should donate?"

Useful resources include the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. They rate charities based on how they follow protocol and the BBB provides financial information along with a pie chart of how much each charity's spending goes towards fundraising, administrative costs, and program expenses. Interestingly, the Clinton Foundation does not meet BBB standards, but you won't hear about that on the network news. The Trump Foundation is not even registered, a fact that did make the news.

You also can find a group's IRS Form 900 at Free registration is required.

Last week I received a request from my dear old Episcopal High School which gave me pause to re-evaluate their mission and to question whether or not to send them a donation.

You see, the request from this erstwhile religiously affiliated institution talked a little about generic "faith" but contained no mention of Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit. If I had to point to one thing that is wrong with the Episcopal organization, it is that we have done a lousy job of teaching our children to put their trust in Jesus. Instead, we have been raising generations of youngsters who are lacking in the one thing that the fundraising letter from my old school dares to mention, faith. Oh, they have faith in their education in English, Math, and Science, and they have faith that their educational foundation will get them into the best universities, but do they have enough faith in Jesus to mention his name when they are in need? The online request is longer than the short letter I got in the mail, but in spite of its greater length, Jesus is still curiously absent. This is what I pulled from the web page (names redacted),

“I am grateful for the talent and devotion of our teachers; the richness of our traditions; the combination of faith, scholarship and service; the exceptional educational experience; and the sense of community. Your gifts to the StM Annual Fund help to make all this possible.”  ***** Head of School 
"A Message from Board Chair As a proud StM parent and alum, I have spent the better part of my life on StM's campus.  And while my experience at StM as a student was great, through the dedication of our faculty, our students, and the community I have seen our school become even greater.  Unequivocally, StM is the best school for our children. Whether you are a parent, alum, parent of alum, grandparent, or community member, you have all been touched by the impact of a StM's education. Today, as we officially kick off the 2016-2017 StM Annual Fund campaign, I want to share with you just a few of the reasons why I take such tremendous pride in our school, and how your ongoing commitment and gifts enable our students and StM do great things.  StM is transforming education. We have become leaders in design thinking (locally and globally) and our school is being touted as one of the "go to" schools for this type of innovative teaching and program. Opening later this month is the new ***** Family Center for Innovation + Design.  This building will operate simultaneously as a design studio, prototyping lab, production studio, woodworking and build shop, flexible classroom space, and community partnership workspace. The range and sophistication of its equipment will make it the most comprehensive school-based maker space in the region (and perhaps the state).   StM has the best faculty. When I think about the teachers who made a difference in my life at StM, and the ones who are now impacting the lives of my children, I realize just how critical highly-trained, dedicated, and passionate faculty members are to our students and school.  A school is only as good as its faculty, and there is no doubt in my mind: StM has the best.  StM offers opportunities for a lifetime. We have a very successful track record of preparing our students for college, but they are also being prepared to thrive in life. Through new and innovative programs, hands-on, experiential learning, and numerous character and faith-building opportunities, StM empowers our students to excel and enjoy educational experiences that will last them a lifetime. This is the StM experience, and it is exactly what you support when you give to the Annual Fund.  Please join me, the Board of Trustees, and the faculty and staff by making one of the most powerful gifts you can make: a gift in support of education, a gift in support of our students, a gift that will last a lifetime.  Do something great for a student, a teacher, and StM. Make your commitment today. Sincerely, ***********
Chair, Board of Trustees  P.S. Gifts of all sizes are appreciated and will help us to reach the $400K goal. Families will receive their StM Annual Fund packets by mail. Please complete and return your pledge envelope on or before October 31. Pledges do not need to be fulfilled until June 30, 2017. You can also make your gift online now.StM Annual Fund gifts touch every student, every program, and virtually every part of our school life. Your investment in the Annual Fund enhances our students’ educational experience, enabling StM to add innovative programs and technology while honoring our traditions and commitment to faith, scholarship, and service.The Annual Fund is at the heart of the school’s fundraising efforts. As with most independent schools, tuition does not cover the entire cost of educating a StM student. The Annual Fund helps fill in the gap between the tuition revenue and the actual cost of providing the highquality education that our students experience at StM.

DONATIONS can be in the form of cash, checks, credit cards, pledges, and matching gifts. All annual gifts are tax-deductible. 
  • All gifts to the StM Annual Fund this year will be applied to expenses this year.
  • The StM Annual Fund Campaign begins July 1, 2016 and ends June 30, 2017.
  • Gifts may be pledged and paid in installments.
  • Donors at the Founder's level or higher are invited to an annual Thank You Reception in the fall and receive VIP Passes good for lunch with the head of school, athletic events, and theatre performances.
  • You may be able to double or even triple your gift with a Matching Gift from your employer or your spouse's employer."
Back in the day, I drew a picture of one of my religion classes as a senior which will give you an idea of why it took a couple of years in college to find Jesus,

I am always amazed when my school asks for money. Most Episcopal enterprises should not be in need of money. As I commented in an earlier post,
"The last time I looked, the Episcopal organization has an incredible treasure of  $355,969,542 in trust funds (see page 8 of the 2015 Trust Funds Report)." 
One look at U.S. religious groups with the wealthiest members shows that Episcopalians come in at number three right behind Jews and Hindus (Pew Research 2016).

I wonder if Episcopalians are so unsure of the Lordship of Christ that they are afraid to speak his name?

Or maybe they are afraid they might offend someone.

Jews, Muslims, and unbelievers won't have to worry about sending their children to dear old StM. The priests, if they still work there, won't try to convert anyone. They certainly didn't when I went there. In fact, I wonder if they were actually working to secularize us back then. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Lectionary: Stripping Paul of His Warnings

This Sunday's Epistle, 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18, contains another one of those annoying and potentially meaning changing lectionary edits where verses 9-15 get left out of the reading. Let's first look at what most people will hear today, the edited version,

6 "As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 
16 At my first defence no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Next, read it again with the lost verses reinserted and highlighted.
6 "As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
9 Do your best to come to me soon, 10 for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. 12 I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. 15 You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.
 16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Note that in the version heard in most churches, Paul has but one minor comment about those who deserted him, and even that is tempered by his plea to not have it held against them,
16 "At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!"  
In the missing verses we hear the details of some of the deserters and how Paul reminds his readers that God will hold it against those who oppose the Gospel,
14 "Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds."
I suspect a similar fate awaited Demas who followed the cares of the world and abandoned the Gospel.

No, those warnings will go unheard today.

Just another typical Sunday for the mind numbed pewitters...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

So Many Heretics: Where to Start?

A recent article at The Federalist pointed me to this survey by Lifeway Research  and then to "The State of Theology" which appear to indicate that the theological IQ scores of most Americans would put them in the "trainable heretic" category.

The findings are as follows,

46% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with the statement, "God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam." 
36% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with this statement, "By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven." 
50% agreed with the statement, "An individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation." 
52% agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, "By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven." 
83% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with this, "A person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace." 
Only 52% of self-identified evangelicals who attend church once or twice per month strongly agree with this statement, "Sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin." 
Only 48% of self-identified evangelicals who attend church once or twice per month strongly agree with this statement, "Abortion is a sin." 
61% of all participants strongly disagree with this statement, "Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation." 
56% of participants with a graduate degree disagree or somewhat disagree with this statement, "Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation."
If this is the best that self identified evangelicals can offer, is it any wonder why the mainstream denominations which are the least evangelical are falling like dominoes to the cultural attacks on traditional Christianity?

Judging from this survey, it appears that the mission field for evangelism is us.

At least we won't have to travel very far.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

2 Timothy: Equipping for Evangelism vs. One Episcopal Priest's Plan for Church Growth

This Sunday's epistle reading is 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, and this contains some very important lessons for those who want the Church to grow.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

To summarize, the foundations for what we know, believe and do are,
  1. Scripture instructs us for salvation.
  2. Scripture instructs us that salvation is through faith in Jesus.
  3. Scripture (all of it) is inspired by God.
  4. Scripture should be used for teaching, reproof, correction, and training.
  5. Scripture should be learned for you need to be proficient in it.
  6. Scripture and knowledge of it is necessary for you to do every good work.
Growing the Church requires the following,
  1. Proclaim  the good news.
  2. Be persistent no matter what.
  3. Evangelism involves patience, convincing, encouraging, and the nasty practice of rebuking.
  4. Rebuking is needed because people are easily seduced by false teachings.
  5. The evangelist should stay sober and prepared to endure abuse.

Paul knew what he was talking about. After all, he was chosen by God to be one of the most successful evangelists of all time.

This past week,  a Facebook friend posted a link to an article by an Episcopal priest entitled,
"A three-point plan for turning around the Episcopal Church right now!" (link here)
He starts out by choosing to deny and ignore the elephant in the room before launching into his plan.

"Is it because of the declining attitude about church in the northeast? Is it because of liberal theology? No. In our beloved, demographically awesome Diocese of Dallas, we’ve declined .5% in membership and a higher than the national average 5.3% in ASA.
Is it because we need a massive restructuring in church polity, governance and resources? Probably not. Is it simply because we are a mainline denomination whose glory days are behind us? Is it because people are choosing non-denominational 'big box' churches? Hey, it’s far better to be pure in liturgy than large in attendance, right? Wrong."
Once he has dispensed with that, he lays out his strategy,
1. "To the clergy — preach the Gospel. It is Jesus people need, not social commentary. Over the last few days I’ve been stunned at the level of passion that clergy have put forth about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I wish you would get as excited about Jesus as you are about Trump’s tapes and Hillary’s e-mails! In your social media profile, and for God’s sake your pulpit, stop imposing your polarizing ideas on your congregation. Is being “prophetic” a simple code-word for making yourself feel better via your bully pulpit? Cut it out! Lift up the goodness, grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Cast a vision of a church united in a common mission of transformation. Make your church a house of healing, a resource of reconciliation and a haven of hope. Most people — even the people who agree with you — really don’t want to feel more lousy about the world and themselves than when they came in. The Gospel is Good News. Even confrontational sermons must be soaked in the grace and love of Jesus Christ. I’m sorry to break this to you, but the Jesus Movement is not the installment of your personal political philosophy. Be excited about Jesus! Less of you and more of Him."

Well, he sort of gets what Paul was talking about regarding scripture, but he leaves out the need for correction and rebuke of the Episcopal organization's leadership. I am afraid he would rather just tame the political activists who chase away pewsitters and not the theological progressives who poison the Church itself.

2. "To the laity — be nice to people! For example, one small reason for the decline in the Episcopal Church, I’m convinced, is the Exchange of the Peace. While members hug, chat and smile with one another, visitors of our churches stand stiffly, often completely ignored, thinking, 'Well, I guess this place isn’t for me'. Most churches feel like they are nice and welcoming, but really they are not. When is the last time you welcomed a newcomer? Sat next to someone you didn’t know? Made it a point to extend your friendship to someone outside of your current circle of relationships? No amount of restructuring at any level, no change in the music, and no amount of good preaching is strong enough to overcome this obstacle. This is not the Vestry’s job or the 'Invite, Welcome, Connect' team’s initiative to achieve. If you love your church and want to see it succeed, this turnaround must start with you. A welcoming church will grow — not just because people will return but because it will be a safe place for people to invite friends to."
Paul's idea of being nice to people was to share the good news that Jesus died for our sins. The modern idea of being nice to people is to not mention anything that might offend them such as, "Welcome to this place where we can repent and our sins are forgiven".

3. "To all of us — exist for your mission field, not yourselves. Way too much of our energy and resources flow inward, not outward. How much longer will your church exist for itself? If the place was closed, would your community notice? Would it care? The days when we can paint our front doors red and expect people to come are gone and they are never coming back. Our mission fields don’t care about our stained glass windows, our organs or even how great the baked goods are at coffee hour after church. What is one thing your church could do to reach out? How might you open those red doors wide and let people know they can come? Where are the poor and how can you serve them? What is a need in your community that your church can meet? When will the blessed energy of your church flow outward instead of inward?"
Not one word of mention that the mission going outward is to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus to the world, but I guess that has not been the Episcopal organization's mission for so long that it has been forgotten.

I think I'll stick with Paul's advice.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

An Anglican Statement on Marriage: Is it Time to Retire the Term "Anglican"?

Notice that I did not say, "The Anglican Statement on Marriage". This particular Anglican Group, the Global South, comprises the largest number of Anglicans in the world. Their views on marriage are a world apart from the views of the Episcopal church organization or the position of the Canadian church  group. Here is what the majority of Anglicans believe as of October 6, 2016.

(From Global South Anglican)

1. We acknowledge that God is the Creator of the whole cosmos and of humankind. Male and female, God created them in his own image and likeness to know him, worship him and share in his glory and love. 
2. We affirm the dignity and value of every human being, as each bears the image of our gracious God. We recognise that humankind’s rebellion against God has tainted that image, but not eradicated it. Yet every person is precious to God. 
3. God’s message of hope is therefore addressed to every man, woman and child around the globe, that they might be redeemed, restored as image bearers of God through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and inherit eternal life. 
4. As we proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to a broken and wounded world, we acknowledge our own failures and weaknesses in the light of God’s word, the Bible. As God’s love was declared to us, before we loved God, so we declare God’s love to those who neither know him nor love him. Yet our love for God is both to believe and obey, and so our message is to call people to repentance and love for God, that they might be forgiven and live their lives in accordance with God’s pattern for humankind as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
5.  We recognise that the brokenness of our world produces many aspects of human behaviour which are contrary to God’s good design. These include slander, greed, malice, hatred, jealousy, dishonesty, selfishness, envy and murder, as well as fornication, adultery and same-sex unions. In addressing the issue of same-sex relationships, we are not minimizing the sinfulness of other forms of behaviour that are contrary to God’s character and pattern for humankind. Rather, we are addressing an issue that continues to be contentious in both the Church and society and that strikes at the very heart of biblical authority. 
6. We affirm that the clear teaching of Jesus, and the Bible as a whole, is that marriage is an estate for all people, not just for believers. It is a holy institution, created by God for a man and a woman to live in a covenantal relationship of exclusive and mutual love for each other until they are parted by death. God designed marriage for the well-being of society, for sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife, and for procreation and the nurturing of children (Genesis 2:18-25). 
7. We contend that sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex is contrary to God’s design, is offensive to him and reflects a disordering of God’s purposes for complementarity in sexual relations. Like all other morally wrong behaviour, same-sex unions alienate us from God and are liable to incur God’s judgment. We hold these convictions based on the clear teaching of Scripture. We hold them not in order to demean or victimise those who experience same-sex attractions, but in order to guard the sound doctrine of our faith, which also informs our pastoral approach for helping those who struggle with same-sex impulses, attractions and temptations. 
8. In this respect, the Church cannot condone same-sex unions as a form of behaviour acceptable to God. To do so would be tampering with the foundation of our faith once for all laid down by the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2: 20-22; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11; Jude 3). 
9. Any pastoral provision by a church for a same-sex couple (such as a liturgy or a service to bless their sexual union) that obviates the need for repentance and a commitment to pursue a change of conduct enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, would contravene the orthodox and historic teaching of the Anglican Communion on marriage and sexuality. Such pastoral provisions, while superficially attractive in giving a more humane and socially acceptable face to the church, actually hide the contravention of doctrine involved. We must be faithful in guarding the good deposit of the gospel, in all its gracious gifts with all its covenantal obligations as well, not for the mere sake of orthodoxy but out of genuine love for God and our fellow human beings. 
10. Our faithfulness to God and knowledge of his love empowers us to offer sensitive and compassionate ministry to those who are sexually broken in the area of same-sex attractions and unions.  Our pastoral approach is to accept people for who they are, just as God accepted us for who we were. We oppose the vilification or demeaning of those who do not follow God’s ways.  We affirm that every person is loved by God, so we too must love as God loves. Our role is to restore them to God’s divine patterns by inviting them to receive the transforming love of Christ that gives them the power to repent and walk in newness of life. We rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to reveal to them the measureless goodness of God and the greatness of God in setting the captive free as a new creation. 
11. We recognise that discipleship involves growth and while we long for all new believers to come to maturity in Christ, we know that this is a process. For those who are same-sex attracted, the path of discipleship and living in conformity with God’s Word can be difficult. We commit ourselves afresh to care pastorally for them as members of Christ’s body, building them up in the Word and in the Spirit, and encouraging them to walk by faith in the paths of repentance and obedience that lead to fullness of life (John 10: 9-10).

Since certain sects which describe themselves as "Anglican" vehemently disagree with the above statement. It is impossible to imagine a future in which all of the various entities operating under the "Anglican" banner can act as a corporate body given the irreconcilable differences over the issue of human sexuality present in today's communion of "Anglicans"..

One or the other is going to have to cast off the "Anglican" label and come up with something new.

Which one will give in first?

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Ten Lepers

This Sunday's Gospel reading is the tale of the ten lepers from Luke 17,

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ Luke 17:11-19
As I pondered this story which is only found in Luke's Gospel, I was left with the impression that the target audience for Luke, a Gentile one, would have found reassurance in that the outsider, the Samaritan was the character who demonstrated faith by returning to worship Jesus.

For a more detailed commentary of this story, please read what Matthew Henry (1662-1714) had to say in his commentary which I present without comment,

"We have here an account of the cure of ten lepers, which we had not in any other of the evangelists. The leprosy was a disease which the Jews supposed to be inflicted for the punishment of some particular sin, and to be, more than other diseases, a mark of God’s displeasure; and therefore Christ, who came to take away sin, and turn away wrath, took particular care to cleanse the lepers that fell in his way. Christ was now in his way to Jerusalem, about the mid-way, where he had little acquaintance in comparison with what he had either at Jerusalem or in Galilee. He was now in the frontier-country, the marches that lay between Samaria and Galilee. He went that road to find out these lepers, and to cure them; for he is found of them that sought him not. Observe, 
I. The address of these lepers to Christ. They were ten in a company; for, though they were shut out from society with others, yet those that were infected were at liberty to converse with one another, which would be some comfort to them, as giving them an opportunity to compare notes, and to condole with one another. Now observe, 1. They met Christ as he entered into a certain village. They did not stay till he had refreshed himself for some time after the fatigue of his journey, but met him as he entered the town, weary as he was; and yet he did not put them off, nor adjourn their cause. 2. They stood afar off, knowing that by the law their disease obliged them to keep their distance. A sense of our spiritual leprosy should make us very humble in all our approaches to Christ. Who are we, that we should draw near to him that is infinitely pure? We are impure. 3. Their request was unanimous, and very importunate (Luke 17:13): They lifted up their voices, being at a distance, and cried, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. those that expect help from Christ must take him for their Master, and be at his command. If he be Master, he will be Jesus, a Saviour, and not otherwise. They ask not in particular to be cured of their leprosy, but, Have mercy on us; and it is enough to refer ourselves to the compassions of Christ, for they fail not. They heard the fame of this Jesus (though he had not been much conversant in that country), and that was such as encouraged them to make application to him; and, if but one of them began in so cheap and easy an address, they would all join. 
II. Christ sent them to the priest, to be inspected by him, who was the judge of the leprosy. He did not tell them positively that they should be cured, but bade them go show themselves to the priests, Luke 17:14. This was a trial of their obedience, and it was fit that it should be so tried, as Naaman’s in a like case: Go wash in Jordan. Note, Those that expect Christ’s favours must take them in his way and method. Some of these lepers perhaps would be ready to quarrel with the prescription: “Let him either cure or say that he will not, and not send us to the priests on a fool’s errand;” but, over-ruled by the rest, they all went to the priest. As the ceremonial law was yet in force, Christ took care that it should be observed, and the reputation of it kept up, and due honour paid to the priests in things pertaining to their function; but, probably, he had here a further design, which was to have the priest’s judgment of, and testimony to, the perfectness of the cure; and that the priest might be awakened, and others by him, to enquire after one that had such a commanding power over bodily diseases. 
III. As they went, they were cleansed, and so became fit to be looked upon by the priest, and to have a certificate from him that they were clean. Observe, Then we may expect God to meet us with mercy when we are found in the way of duty. If we do what we can, God will not be wanting to do that for us which we cannot. Go, attend upon instituted ordinances; go and pray, and read the scriptures: Go show thyself to the priests; go and open thy case to a faithful minister, and, though the means will not heal thee of themselves, God will heal thee in the diligent use of those means. 
IV. One of them, and but one, returned, to give thanks, Luke 17:15. When he saw that he was healed, instead of going forward to the priest, to be by him declared clean, and so discharged from his confinement, which was all that the rest aimed at, he turned back towards him who was the Author of his cure, whom he wished to have the glory of it, before he received the benefit of it. He appears to have been very hearty and affectionate in his thanksgivings: With a loud voice he glorified God, acknowledging it to come originally from him; and he lifted up his voice in his praises, as he had done in his prayers, Luke 17:13. Those that have received mercy from God should publish it to others, that they may praise God too, and may be encouraged by their experiences to trust in him. But he also made a particular address of thanks to Christ (Luke 17:16): He fell down at his feet, put himself into the most humble reverent posture he could, and gave him thanks. Note, We ought to give thanks for the favours Christ bestows upon us, and particularly for recoveries from sickness; and we ought to be speedy in our returns of praise, and not defer them, lest time wear out the sense of the mercy. It becomes us also to be very humble in our thanksgivings, as well as in our prayers. It becomes the seed of Jacob, like him, to own themselves less than the least of God’s mercies, when they have received them, as well as when they are in pursuit of them. 
V. Christ took notice of this one that had thus distinguished himself; for, it seems, he was a Samaritan, whereas the rest were Jews, Luke 17:16. The Samaritans were separatists from the Jewish church, and had not the pure knowledge and worship of God among them that the Jews had, and yet it was one of them that glorified God, when the Jews forgot, or, when it was moved to them, refused, to do it. Now observe here, 
1. The particular notice Christ took of him, of the grateful return he made, and the ingratitude of those that were sharers with him in the mercy—that he who was a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel was the only one that returned to give glory to God, Luke 17:17, 18. See here, (1.) How rich Christ is in doing good: Were there not ten cleansed? Here was a cure by wholesale, a whole hospital healed with one word’s speaking. Note, There is an abundance of healing cleansing virtue in the blood of Christ, sufficient for all his patients, though ever so many. Here are ten at a time cleansed; we shall have never the less grace for others sharing it. (2.) How poor we are in our returns: “Where are the nine? Why did not they return to give thanks?” This intimates that ingratitude is a very common sin. Of the many that receive mercy from God, there are but few, very few, that return to give thanks in a right manner (scarcely one in ten), that render according to the benefit done to them. (3.) How those often prove most grateful from whom it was least expected. A Samaritan gives thanks, and a Jew does not. Thus many who profess revealed religion are out-done, and quite shamed, by some that are governed only by natural religion, not only in moral value, but in piety and devotion. This serves here to aggravate the ingratitude of those Jews of whom Christ speaks, as taking it very ill that his kindness was so slighted. And it intimates how justly he resents the ingratitude of the world of mankind, for whom he had done so much, and from whom he has received so little. 
2. The great encouragement Christ gave him, Luke 17:19. The rest had their cure, and had it not revoked, as justly it might have been, for their ingratitude, though they had such a good example of gratitude set before them; but he had his cure confirmed particularly with an encomium: Thy faith hath made thee whole. The rest were made whole by the power of Christ, in compassion to their distress, and in answer to their prayer; but he was made whole by his faith, by which Christ saw him distinguished from the rest. Note, Temporal mercies are then doubled and sweetened to us when they are fetched in by the prayers of faith, and returned by the praises of faith."

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Dealing With That Negative Political Vibe

The past few weeks of American political news broadcasting have left most of us waist deep in negativity. Our two major political parties have been slinging mud daily, and I do not think this has done anything but raise the approval rating of the current Commander in Chief. Rather than providing you with a list of examples, I will try to take the "50,000 foot view" and think through some of the lessons I have learned from my Bible study this past month. 

After the time of the Judges when,
"In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit." Judges 21:25
Samuel led Israel, but he was not a king. Samuel was called by God, but who would lead Israel after he died? His sons? They, like Eli's sons in 1 Samuel 3, were worthless.
"When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.  But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 1 Samuel 8:1-5
Day after day I have been listening to speeches from both sides about the dishonest gain and perverted justice of our candidates for President. I want somebody to vote for rather than having to go to the polls to vote against someone.

If I didn't know better, I would, like the Israelites, want a king.

Of course, I do know better, because the Bible tells me so,

And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king.  He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.  Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” 1 Samuel 8: 7-22
I am afraid that many Americans believe that the President is like a king or queen, some sort of superhuman who will solve their problems. This couldn't be farther from what our founding fathers had planned. The people have developed a dependency on the government to act as king rather than relying on God. The consequences for our nation of such an attitude will be as grim to us as the desire of the Israelites to have a king was to them for they wound up with years of kings who did things that were evil in the sight of the Lord, resulting in invasion, subjugation, and exile. Do we want the same thing?

There is no way to put a positive spin on the current cast of characters so I have to look to the place I should have been looking towards all along. Moving forward, I will pray to God that he will restore our republic and teach His people to place their faith in Him rather than in human leaders. The only thing I am afraid of is the method God will choose to teach us this important lesson. It might be a harsh lesson.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Those Troublesome Slave Passages

This Sunday's Gospel reading in many churches is Luke 17:5-10. In it, I see two distinct ideas being conveyed about obedience, 
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.' 
Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
When wrestling with the quoted passages above, preachers often choose to build their sermons around the theme of faith the size of a mustard seed rather than delving into the humility of obedience to a greater authority.

The slave references are totally at odds with the modern worldview which would rather have us say of ourselves,
"We are not worthless slaves. We are valuable human beings, important in our own right, and submissive to no one." 
The idea of humbling oneself to the point of submissive servitude without demonstrating a rebellious attitude is going to be next to impossible for the progressive preacher to convey to his/her congregation if they have been used to hearing nice, crowd soothing homilies over the years. Pewsitters in today's congregations have also been conditioned by society and the media to think of slaves as inherently rebellious and hateful towards their masters.

In our relationship to the Almighty, Jesus is right to say what he said, because that is where we stand (or kneel), and we need his correction in order to remain humble as we try to serve Him.

I suspect that most Sunday sermons today will focus on the mustard seed, and if slavery is brought up at all, it will be presented in such a historically contextual way that the truth of what Jesus was trying to convey will be lost.

We really are worthless.

We need to admit it.

We need to do what we are commanded by Him to do.

And how are we to know what it is that we are supposed to do?

Where do we turn to find the answer to that question?