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The Eternal Light

So the news—at least some of it—seems a bit more upbeat in recent days.  Businesses are beginning to reopen, churches are beginning to reopen, public spaces seem to be reopening.  Glimmers of light after two months of economic darkness.  I know we each hope the economy comes roaring back, and I’m certainly praying for that outcome.  

Over the years my children have asked me more questions than I could ever recount, and I’ve always endeavored to give them honest and correct answers.  When they ask me about economics—especially the big picture of macroeconomics— I confess my lack of knowledge.  I do know that economies go through periods of prosperity and hardship.  I know about supply and demand.  After that, I’m basically done.  So while I’m with everyone in praying for the economy to blaze back instantaneously, I do know that eventually the business of business will take another temporary slump.  And that will be dark.  

In my last post I spoke about the current darkness that we’re experiencing.  In Sunday’s sermon I spoke about tough times and how to get through them.  Ultimately, this all means basking in the eternal light of God.  John chapter 1 is a very famous and important passage of scripture because it proves the eternal divinity of Jesus Christ.  In verses 6-9 we read about John the Baptist—who was Jesus’ cousin.  

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

Jesus is that light.  And the way out of any dark time, be it economic or emotional or spiritual, is to run to Jesus for comfort and protection.  In John 8:12b Jesus tells us—

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

A Christian is a follower of Jesus.  Where He goes, we go.  And here Jesus is promising that we will not walk in darkness if we are His.  In God there is no darkness because He is light (1 John 1:5).  We have light within us and around us at all times.

Have you ever been in a power outage where you could see other houses that weren’t too far away from your dwelling, and the lights were on while your house was bathed in darkness?  No matter how dark that particular grid might be, those particular houses possessed light on the inside.  

The beauty of this is that if we are Christians, no matter how dark it is outside, we have light within us.  In fact, let me end by giving you some explosive news about yourself.  First, remember that Jesus says He is the light of the world (John 8).  Now, in Matthew 5:14-16 utters these astonishing words— 

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Let the truth of these words fill your veins and bones with power and life.  Think about the weight of what Jesus has said about us.  By the way, the term You is plural.  Dust off that King James Bible!  Those old fashioned, Shakespearean pronouns make it all clear for us.  We are an unstoppable force of light, of goodness, of holiness.  So let us join together and bring the message of light to a world that is hurting, a world that is blinded by spiritual darkness.  Only Christians have the answer—the answer is Christ.  

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

This Current Darkness

When you think about the current world situation, whether you think in terms of the political, or religious, or educational, or economic realms, how do you describe our world?  As a pastor I talk to a lot of people in various ways, and the basic themes I hear can be summarized in words such as these: crazy, restrictive, chaotic, insane, unfair.  Everyone has a particular perspective on these events, and not a single one of us has a claim to be the sole owner of absolute truth.  Those terms I listed get at certain aspects of the spirit of our times, and therefore, they are truthful.  But they are limited; they all fail to get to the heart of the matter.  From a spiritual viewpoint there is only one word that accurately describes our present state of affairs— Dark.  And, yes I capitalized it on purpose.  Not many Christians are thinking in terms of the blatant spiritual darkness we’re enduring.  It’s as black as ink.  

Please understand that you and I are living in momentous times.  I know more than one person who is in their 90s.  They have memories of the Great Depression, World War II and other horrifying events.  And they all acknowledge they’ve not seen anything like this.  God has laid His heavy hand on the earth.  This is the first time since The Flood that He’s done that.  And I’m concerned that a majority of Christians are not viewing this through a biblical or theological lens.  If they were then I’d hear about darkness a good deal more.

I’m an old school pastor and I base my ministry on two basic purposes.  The first is to make certain that I make the gospel of salvation as clear as possible to as many people as I possibly can.  The second is to make certain that I educate Christians in the proper worldview.  The first duty is decidedly more easy than the second.  And this crisis has heightened my concern that more of us aren’t viewing history through a spiritual window, and that means we’re tied to this earth.  Imagine if we had no cell phones, no internet, and no televisions.  How do you think we’d be handling all of this?  I’m not certain we’d be doing very well.

I encourage you to think hard on these matters.  Yes, I’m very thankful that the economy will hopefully begin making a comeback, and I grieve for those who are suffering financially.  And I’m optimistic that we’ll soon be able to gather together for Sunday worship.  But I pray we learn the spiritual lessons God has for us.  If we do not, I fear for what other means He will employ to get His people to repent.  Let us each look deeply into our hearts, and make the needed corrections.  

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

The National Day of Prayer

Today was the National Day of Prayer.  I hope you prayed for our country, and the world, and the church.  Prayer is a way that we can access the grace that God has lavished upon his people.  Of course, this grace is only granted to us because of the righteousness of Jesus.  Jesus earned that righteousness by obeying God’s law for every moment of His life.  The Holy Spirit applies the benefits that we receive from Christ.  

In today’s cultural and political climate you do not hear too much about the rich Christian traditions of the United States.  We live in a politically correct, pluralistic society, and many aspects of our national life are utterly anti-Christian.  Take two extreme examples:  abortion and same-sex marriage are incompatible with a Christian worldview.  Our idolization of entertainment personalities and sports figures is abhorrent, especially today when so many of them are blatantly hateful of the church of Christ.  

Are you aware that it is a law that the President make a proclamation of the day every year? 

The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals. 

(36 U.S.C. § 119)

It’s not a suggestion; it’s a law.  It is a generic call for peoples of all religions to pray.  But you’ll never hear from the mainstream media that many of our Founding Fathers advocated for such public demonstrations of faith.  And in the context of the founding of the Republic, Christianity was basically the only religion around.  Yes, there were a few Jewish synagogues around, but when the Fathers spoke about God or religion or providence, it was in the context of a Christian worldview.  

I’m not asserting that all of the Founders were Christians.  Indeed, many were not.  But even Thomas Jefferson, who was not a professing Christian by any reasonable standard, and who was considered a “free-thinker” in his day (not a compliment back then), called for a day of thanksgiving and prayer when he was governor of Virginia.  The Second Continental Congress established days of prayer and fasting!  I underlined the word “fasting” because it highlights another aspect of religious life.  Fasting is often found in the context of mourning, lamentation, and repentance.  So the members of the Second Continental Congress were not looking for a limpid ceremony.  They wanted the people—including themselves— to dig deep.

I wonder what the Founding Fathers would think about the current religious culture of this great land of ours.  

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

All The Bible Is For You

One of the most tragic methods of biblical interpretation that has arisen in church history is a school of thought called Dispensationalism which arose in the 19th Century in the British Isles and the United States.  Even if you’ve never heard the word before, I guarantee you’ve heard some of its teachings.  I do not wish to delineate the many flaws of the system.  But I will highlight its fundamental error.  This disorganized and unorthodox methodology places a monstrous wall between Ancient Israel and the Church.  This means that God has two people–ethnic Israel and the Church, and therefore has a separate plan for each group.

The Bible knows nothing of this dysfunctional system.  God has one people–His People.  Taken to its logical conclusion Dispensationalism could teach that a Christian can learn nothing of abiding doctrinal value from the Old Testament.  This is not only folly, but it borders on interpretive madness, and forces readers to initially decide if a text has relevance to them as a Christian.  Hopefully you recall from my post on April 16, A Text Can Never Mean What It Never Meant (and my teachings over the years) that asking the question “What does this text mean to me?” is a disastrous misstep.  Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16 that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.  Every passage in the Bible is profitable for a Christian to study.  We derive profit from Genesis to Revelation.  Of course, some passages are more important and other passages are more practical that others.

If you read a passage of scripture that is rife with complicated issues, and unfamiliar technical language–so much so that you simply cannot make heads or tails of it–is it possible for you to derive any benefit from it?  Hearken back to 2 Timothy 3:16.  If the verse is true–and it is–then the answer is an unqualified “yes”.

But what benefit is there in studying a passage without understanding it?  For starters such a situation reminds us of our limitations, and the reality that we do not know everything, and this should cause humility in our minds, and praise in our hearts to God who, indeed, knows everything.

This is another reason why the Wisdom Literature is so valuable to a Christian.  Remember that the category of Wisdom literature includes Psalms. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, and Job.  The Wisdom Literature is fairly easy to understand.  In the original Hebrew language, these writings contain copious amounts of poetry that sometimes isn’t discernible in English.  Take Psalm 119, for example.

Psalm 119 is magnificent.  It is an acrostic poem–a poem where each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and proceeds in order.  The psalm’s basic theme is the glory of God’s Word & Law.  Here’s a golden nugget from it.

119.9 How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.

We need to realize that this was written roughly 3000 years ago, so it is naturally written from a male point of view.  But both genders have similar problems, so if a young man can learn great things from this verse, then so can a young women!  Furthermore, those of us who are no longer young can still learn the same lesson from the verse.

The verse is in question and answer form, and the question involves cleansing one’s way.  Paraphrasing is a legitimate way to unpack a verse, if it aids our understanding.  What the question is asking, in contemporary language, is “How can a person repent and live a righteous life?”  The answer demands no paraphrase.  The term heed in this context entails at least two concepts.  Firstly, we must understand a law in order to obey it.  Secondly, once we grasp it, then we must obey that law.  Actually, all of us are accountable to God in obeying His law whether we know of a law or not.  Ignorance is no excuse in human court, and it holds no water in God’s.  By trusting Christ for salvation, we trust that his perfect obedience, and the merit He gained by the obedience, is granted to us.

Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm.  Read it slowly and ponder it.  Here’s three pointers:

  1. These terms– law, statutes, commandments, precepts–refer to the the same idea, God’s written law.
  2. Notice the excitement and exuberance of the writer.  He revels in God’s words and he loves God’s love.
  3. Pray that God would give you, and those around you the identical attitude.

Happy reading, and may God bless your studies.

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

It’s Going To Be Okay

This is a slightly different post.  Many of us are beginning to feel the effects of cabin fever and those effects aren’t very pleasant.  I want to encourage you.  Pure and simple.  I’d like to do that by giving you a list to consider.  I imagine a few of you are skeptical at this juncture.  A few of you might be falling asleep (just joking). Seriously, though–read the list.  Then read it again.  Then think on the ramifications of it.  I want you all to know how much I love and miss you.  Especially those of you whom I’ve not seen in some time.  Please stay safe, and keep the faith.  Everything is going to be okay.

Here’s your list.  It’s only a partial one at that.  

Middlesex Presbyterian was founded in 1799, when… 

John Adams lived in The White House. 

We were here for the War of 1812. 

We served communion during the Civil War. 

We called to God when President Lincoln was assassinated. 

We looked to heaven as World War I raged. 

We asked for mercy when the Spanish Flu laid waste to the world. 

We remained standing when the market crashed in 1929. 

We survived the Great Depression. 

We ministered as World War II enflamed the earth.

We kept the faith during the Korean War.

We mourned when President Kennedy was assassinated. 

We prayed during the Vietnam War.

We cheered when President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” 

We were astounded when that wall– The Berlin Wall–fell to the ground.

We felt amazement when the Soviet Union imploded.

We wept at the savagery we witnessed on 9/11. 

We looked for heavenly wisdom as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. 

We relied on God when the financial world erupted in 2008. 

We wept as we saw our country’s culture and history degraded. 

And now, in our seclusion, we wait upon God to deliver us from evil.

He will. He has promised us His divine protection. 

And that is why I can assure you that… It’s Going To Be Okay.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

What Time Is It?

The Book of Ecclesiastes is part of the Wisdom tradition in the Old Testament.  Judeo-Christian tradition has ascribed this writing to the renowned King Solomon.  It bears the clear strokes of the king’s quill.  On one hand, Solomon is the ideal display of wisdom, and on the other hand he is the ultimate example of foolishness.

Solomon’s career as king started with trial and triumph.  He then had an extended period of well-earned fame, and received untold blessing for the hand of the Lord.  But later in life he blew those blessings away as if they were nothing more than ashes in a hearth.  The Book of Proverbs is best seen as Solomon’s writing at the earlier stages in his kingdom.  Brimming with hope, dispensing sage advice, and offering wise counsel–counsel on practical matters.  If a card carrying atheist employed the larger framework of Solomon’s proverbs that person would avoid many pitfalls in the area of substance abuse, romance, and finance.

Ecclesiastes is a different item on the menu.  Ecclesiastes has a distinctly negative tone to it.  Solomon wrote this book after his halcyon days.  On these pages you can hear an older man’s regret, an older man’s sorrow, and an older man’s resignation; the dread realization that his moment has simply passed.  Ecclesiastes deals with the brutal realities of “life under the sun”, that is, what occurs in this life and in this world.  If you’re looking for a fresh breeze of hope, then Ecclesiastes is not really the place to begin your journey.

There’s a famous passage in Ecclesiastes that the folk-rock group The Byrds loosely paraphrased and employed as part of a famous 1960’s anthem–“Turn, Turn, Turn.”  The first time I read Ecclesiastes I recall hearing the song in my mind repeatedly.  If you’ve never read Ecclesiastes, but you know the song, then you’ll recognize the verses from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8…

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

Read over Solomon’s words and you’ll receive great wisdom.  Change is a constant in the universe.  God alone does not change; He is immutable–He is pure existence.  We cannot make the same claim, can we?  Change is a state of existence that demands our attention.  If we do not pay it heed then the change will occur, without our consent, and we’ll look back, as Solomon did, with a bellyful of lamentations.

Some of my old classmates from high school were discussing recently on Facebook how fast the 40 years has elapsed since we graduated.  The first of the famed Millenials were just being born as we spread our youthful wings and began to attempt our ascent in the adult world.  I imagine those early Millenials are currently pondering how they could possibly be as old as they are, and are horrified at how those of us born from 1946-1964 (yep The Boomers) have ravaged and savaged the world.

Where are you at in life?  Are you young, old, or somewhere in the middle?  Are you hopeful of the future, or wincing at the recollection of what might have been?  Are you filled with joy, or weighed down by sorrow?  Have recent events brought fear into your home?  Eventually, most of us will experience all of these emotions.  The wisest action in dealing with the trials of life is to heed the words of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus gives us the only genuine antidote to the pain of this world.  That antidote is Christ Himself.  He offers us hope where none exists, and He promises to lighten our load.  Hear the Master speak, and do as He says.  You will not regret that course of action.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

A Text Cannot Mean What It Never Meant

Continuing with our study of biblical interpretation, let us think of the Psalms.  The Psalms are clearly a primary example of Wisdom Literature.  They are a cornerstone of the genre.  There are also a variety of psalm types.  So, upon reflection, we have at least five interpretative tasks when we read any psalm.  

1.  We need to interpret any psalm as example of wisdom literature—its primary purpose in this regard is to instill in the believer practical wisdom that he or she can then apply to concrete situations in everyday life.  

2. We need to determine what type of psalm we are reading.  If we read an historical psalm about national, ancient Israel as some type of symbolic foreshadowing of the crucifixion experience of Jesus Christ we will come to the wrong conclusion.

3.  We need to be conscious of, and remove, our personal “interpretive sunglasses”.  By that I mean we may not begin by asking the question “What does this mean to me?”  The psalms weren’t written for you, nor for me; they were written in specific situations.  We must first seek to discover, as best as we can, the intent of the author.  What was he trying to convey to the original hearers?

4.  Once we have learned what the author’s intent was, then the question of “What does this mean to me?” fades into obscurity.  Why is that?  Because what the original point of the psalm was is still the point for you and me!

5. Then, and only then, may we proceed to practical application.  Too many contemporary Christians begin with personal application.  This is an improper reading strategy.  Application follows meaning, not vice versa.  Memorize this saying— A Text Cannot Mean What It Never Meant.  Yes, it’s a tongue twister.

One of the chief literary types we find in the Psalter are called Lament Psalms.  In our modern day parlance these would be referred to as “complaints”.  Psalm 13 is a good example:

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?                                                                             How long will You hide Your face from me?                                                                                     How long shall I take counsel in my soul,                                                                                    Having sorrow in my heart daily?                                                                                                     How long will my enemy be exalted over me?                                                                          Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;                                                                                           Enlighten my eyes,                                                                                                                                   Lest I sleep the sleep of death;                                                                                                             Lest my enemy say,                                                                                                                                   “I have prevailed against him”;                                                                                                         Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.                                                                      But I have trusted in Your mercy;                                                                                                        My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.                                                                                               I will sing to the Lord,                                                                                                                  Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Without going into an elaborate discussion of the psalm’s background let’s see what we can gain just by paying attention to the words of the psalm.

What can we learn from the epigram?  The epigram is the brief inscription that in our English bibles is offset at the beginning of the psalm.  In the original Hebrew these epigrams are considered part of the psalm.  So we must start there.

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

If the epigram informs us that David wrote the psalm to someone called Chief Musician  then we can reasonably say that the psalm was originally to be sung.  Why else would it be addressed to a musician?  So, if it was meant to be sung in the Hebrew, but you don’t know Hebrew, does that mean the psalm has no application for you?  Of course not, the psalm is meant to be used in worship.  So we may use this in worshipping God.

Here’s the first section of the psalm:

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?                                                                             How long will You hide Your face from me?                                                                                     How long shall I take counsel in my soul,                                                                                    Having sorrow in my heart daily?                                                                                                     How long will my enemy be exalted over me?    

We can readily understand that David wrote this when he was feeling deserted by God, that he was alone, that his circumstances were against  him.  We can also determine that complaining to God is not necessarily a sin.  It might be in a specific circumstance, but it is not always.  So David wrote the psalm as a hymn to be set to music for corporate worship.  This means that David wanted people to understand that these desperate feelings should be expressed to God as a form of worship.  Did you ever think that complaining to God could be (in the proper frame of mind) an acceptable aspect of worship?  It is.  Psalm 13 alone proves that.

Here’s the second section:

Enlighten my eyes,                                                                                                                                   Lest I sleep the sleep of death;                                                                                                             Lest my enemy say,                                                                                                                                   “I have prevailed against him”;                                                                                                         Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.    

Here we have specific requests.  The first is that he be enlightened.  He’s asking God for wisdom, and he wants us to ask God for wisdom.  He also doesn’t want his enemies to have the chance of gloating.  He’s asking for victory–but indirectly.  The essential request is for wisdom.  So that must be our essential request.

We come to the third section:

But I have trusted in Your mercy;                                                                                                        My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.                                                                                               I will sing to the Lord,                                                                                                                  Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

This is a resolution passage.  First we have the past tense– But I have trusted in Your mercy– so this psalm is encouraging us to trust God in the midst of harsh situations.  Second, we come to two uses of the future tense–My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.                                                                                               I will sing to the Lord– here David is resolving to act in a certain way, he’s resolved in his heart to praise the Lord despite his situation.  We do not do enough of this in our day.  And we need to move in this direction.  Third, David gives us the reason for his trust and praise– Because He has dealt bountifully with me– this might seem like a contradiction to the first section but it is not.

The foundation of the Christian life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  You can do this even during rough times.  In fact, the rough times are when we most need to do this.  Read this psalm slowly two or three times and see if you can’t find some additional details.  We’ve done the basic broad strokes.  Then ask God how you can apply its truth to your life.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2020 in Uncategorized