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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"... the eleventh Commandment."


“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)


Imagine with me, it’s the night just before you are arrested for a capital crime that you did not commit, your last meal is set on the table before you. Got the picture? You look around, see the traitor that is going to betray you. Now, may I ask you, what would be the last thing on your mind at a time like that? Wash his feet? Come on, give me a break. That man is a piece of scum, a thief (of long standing), and now a snitch. Wash his dirty feet? Not on your life! The rascal deserves at least a good beating, certainly not a foot washing or to share a meal with him.

Yet, this is precisely what Jesus did, knowing all along what lay ahead.

Now, before we get too far in our story, let me pause for a moment to interject that although Jesus modeled what it is to be a servant that was not what motivated him. His motivation was love, pure and simple. To put it another way, because of who He was and is, there was no other alternative. It was his nature. In short, everything Christ did is an example, not that He is a purposeful showoff, demonstrating what a good fellow he is, but rather that because He is the essence of love, He could have done no other.

This nature stretches all the way back into eternity, spanning the course of history, and reaches into that same eternity past our last tomorrow.

This is not a dead nature, either. Acts fade. Love endures. Through thick and thin and all the in-betweens, love is persistently present. Always. It never fails. Even in the darkest hours, it never fails.

Now, what is so beautiful to me about this truth is that love always communicates. It is never silent. It never takes an “I’ll just stand by and see what happens” attitude. No, Love get involved.

This is one of the reasons that Jesus is called the logos, or Word. Not only does He speak, He acts. He communicates, always. Look at Jesus, and what do you see? Well, if you don’t see the Word, then you are looking at the wrong Jesus. Everything He did and does, tells you who He is; and, more importantly, who we are not without Him.

This is not just preacher talk, either. It’s a challenge. A challenge to look at the real Jesus and understand what He is all about, and how that affects you.

It does not matter how good you are, or think you are, when you look at Jesus you will always see room for self-improvement. Love does that to you. His love. Not some mamsy-pamsy sentiment, either; but the very essence of love.

It is for these reasons that Maundy Thursday must always precede Easter, not just in the life of Christ, but in ours also; because without love there would have been no Easter, no resurrection for Him or us, either.

Want a sure ticket to Heaven? Try love. It works every time.

Once again, I am with you on this journey; more importantly, however, Love walks alongside us.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

". . . suffered under Pontius Pilate."

The Apostles Creed, speaking of Jesus Christ, states that He “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” A rather innocuous inclusion some would say, just a matter of history, a paltry statement, nothing more.

I say, however, think again. It is not enough, in my opinion, to simply say that He died, was buried, and rose again; it is of utmost importance to know the conditions under which He suffered, and died.

Granted, the Jewish system wanted Him dead, but that is not the tragedy of this event. The real tragedy is that it was not only the Jewish system, but, indeed the world system. Rome wanted Him dead, also. For Pilate, therefore in was all a matter of power, politics as usual. Justice had nothing to do with it as far as Pilate was concerned. Maintaining a position of power, however, did. Pax Romana was first on the agenda, justice was incidental.

Sound familiar? Count the votes, Mr. President, and you win, but at what expense? Here’s some sobering stats on those who will never have a chance to vote, or even enjoy one breath of fresh air, Mr. President:
United States this Year 240,172.0
In United States today
US since 1973: Roe vs. Wade
US this Year after
16 weeks gestation
By Planned Parenthood since 1970
By Planned Parenthood this year
US this Year due to rape or incest
Black babies since '73 in US
Worldwide since 1980
Worldwide this Year
Worldwide Today
62,180 average
Worldwide Average
About 1 per second

You will also notice, Mr. President, that included in these statistics are not only of your own race, but those of other nations, since you, too, are responsible for advancing your public agenda of Planned Parenthood through the various international agencies, including the UN with the use of our hard earned taxpayer dollars.

“…suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

At just the right moment in history, the Scripture declares that the incarnate Son of God was sent to redeem us (Galatians 2:4-7). However, in order for the Son to do that, He must first suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, buried, and rise triumphantly, to conquer evil and to bring eternal life to all those who believe on Him.

That is the purpose of history. The sole purpose, I might add. All else is either preliminary or subsequent to that great event. History flows in and through Calvary as the seminal event of all ages, and, indeed, spans history to the far reaches of eternity.

Heaven is, and will never be the same because of Calvary—and this is not just religious talk, either; this is a fact.

But why Calvary, and why Pontius Pilate? Could not have God done it another way. The short answer is no. Not for a perfect God, that is. Calvary is the perfect answer of a perfect God.

How so, you say?

Well, first of all, at Calvary, God disarmed the Devil and his henchmen and made it public by triumphing over them through Christ (Colossians 2:15). 

Earlier Christ had said, “My Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)” and Calvary was God’s final answer to those that thought otherwise.

Calvary was the convenient answer to an inconvenient problem—the problem of evil. Calvary was therefore God’s way of exposing the expediency of politics. Calvary was God’s perfect answer to the problem of evil.  Calvary is God’s theodicy—His answer to the problem of evil; Calvary not only tells us why, but how. Evil exists because of choice, and choice because of freedom, and freedom because a God of love did not create automatons. Robots are incapable of love. Only a free moral agent is capable of that. I say, free because of obvious reasons, I say moral because love is a moral choice, and therefore a responsibility—and, reasonably so, I might add.

God is the essence of love. God is love, and those who are in harmony with God reflect that quality. Thus when we love our neighbor as ourselves we are in synch with God, and as such expressing our moral responsibility.

Calvary, the Passion of Christ, and, yes, even His temptations are permeated with Christ’s love—His love for humanity, for God, and for Himself.

Love is inextricably tied in with who we are, and who we are is inextricably tied in with our Creator in whose image we have been made. Anything of the opposite can only lead to an evil chaos.

So, it must be understood that the world is in the political shape it is today because without God moral responsibility has no beacon of certainty. Not only is that true, but man is incapable of love outside of God. We must first love God, and then, and only then, does the love for our neighbor attend. Thus, we can reiterate,

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20 (NIV)

How then can anyone say, “I’m a Christian,” but in fact destroy the innocent and pass it off as just so much bio-mass that has been extracted from the womb. Is this not hatred of our brother, our sister? Most certainly it is.

Unfortunately, the history of this pseudo-Christianity, or false morality that disguises itself under the umbrella of a woman’s choice and one’s freedom is patently ungodly.

This is, of course, in line with the tenor of Scripture reminds us that:

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. (Timothy 3:1-9 (NIV)

I am, as usual, yours for the journey, but, more importantly, He walks alongside of us.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

A Song of Ascent . . .

Dear Friends, prayer and financial partners,

Today, I gave the last lecture on World Religions and the Christian Witness, the last master’s degree class for me this semester; and, I must say that like a good Alka-Seltzer tablet, “Oh, what a relief it was!” Great students, brilliant by any standard, I must say.

As expected, Islam generated the most interest—particularly the jihadist mindset that some Muslims have, and of which others have a hard time understanding. It would be easy—too easy—to just chalk jihadism up to the Devil’s shenanigans and leave it at that, but then that would be leaving out the willful and depraved nature of man, wouldn’t it? In that regards, I reminded them that Christ called Peter Satan on one occasion, not because he was possessed, but because he had taken the Devil’s side of the argument. Had Peter persisted, no telling where he would have ended up—perhaps, in Judas’ camp, who knows? The upshot of the whole point is that it doesn’t take demonic powers for anyone to do the work of the Devil, man is perfectly capable of doing it for him.

So, in understanding jihadism, and fanaticism in any form for that matter, one must understand the capacity of man to absorb evil and act out evil intentions with the precision of intellect and cunningness that baffles the imagination. Burning a captured Jordanian pilot is just child play for them; as is burying little innocent children in the sand, suffocating them to death, just because they happen to be Christian with parents standing conveniently by to witness the slaughter as a caution deterrent to ever even think about opposing ISIS and the agenda of these mad men.

Granted not all Muslims are jihadists, nor are all Christians complacent, either; so, I am not trying to paint the picture any darker than it already is—all I am saying is that it is already dark enough! Hell is at our gates, and yet we leave our doors wide open, and all in the name of fairness and political correctness. Our borders, ports and airports are like sieves, full of holes that our Congress and President cannot—better yet, will not fix.

And, of course, this is only part of the problem we face.

Racial tension is at a new all-time high, gun related homicides rates are astronomical, our financial systems seem to be sound … but, the cautious are warning us of another meltdown. I am no pundit, but I can say one thing, I am so happy that I can put my confidence in the Lord, from which comes my strength, and joyfully join the Psalmist in singing—
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
The Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
The Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
Both now and forevermore.

And, to that I can add a hardy, Amen!

If all goes as planned, you will receive this newsletter when Bonnie and I are processing through immigration here in Colombo to board our flight which will take us to Singapore (with a 24 hour layover), then on to Doha, Qatar (for another 8 hour layover), then on to Dallas, where we will arrive after almost 60 hours in transit.

We ask for your prayers, and once again thanks for helping us make this ministry possible.
Blessings, and remember we are not alone, He is with us each step of the way.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Works or Grace?

Paul writes,
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11:6 KJV)
For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8 KJV)
Then James seem to contradict him with the rejoinder that,
You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:24 KJV)
In light of this, Joseph Mizzi, writes, in opposition to what he perceives to be Catholic doctrine by taking a broadside at the former Pope, Benedict XVI by accusing him of substituting the works of faith for the works of the Law and thereby effectively negating the necessity for sola Grace altogether. In other words, according Benedict XVI, Mizzi says,
Thus when Paul says that we are not justified by the works of the Law, he was really saying that we are not justified by the Law of Moses, but he does not exclude that we are justified by the works of love.
“That’s the Pope’s argument in a nutshell,” writes Mizzi. “The Pope,” he continues,
“Rightly points out that in his epistles Paul discusses the division between Jews and Gentiles, and that now all believers are united in Christ irrespective of the ethnic background. But that was not his only concern. Paul also addresses the universal human tendency to self-righteousness, that is, our attempts to gain favor with God on account of personal works and merits.
That’s not all, Mizzi, continues,
The Law of Moses served the purpose of keeping God’s covenant people, Israel, distinct from pagan idolatry, as the Pope said. But the moral aspects of the law, whether written on tablets of stone or on the human conscience, also served to expose our depravity, guilt and helplessness. ‘Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Romans 3:20).
Moreover Paul could not have limited the concept of ‘works of the Law’ to the Torah. He presented the Patriarch Abraham as the primary witness to his doctrine. He wrote:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Romans 4:1-5).
Thus, Mizzi concludes, that
In this context ‘works’ could not refer exclusively to obedience of the Torah, for Abraham lived many centuries before Moses. It is therefore wrong to force Paul’s concept of ‘works of the Law’ exclusively to the Law of Moses. Clearly Paul applies the same principle to works in general. Abraham could not boast before God because he was justified faith and not by works. The same applies to us all.
This argument would be convincing, indeed, if, however, the former Pope had advocated works without grace can save us. This he did not. All he was saying was that neither faith nor works operate in a vacuum—Grace, God’s grace, is foundational to all.

In that regards it should be said that each time the former Pope or any other theologian expresses an opinion on matters of faith, it is not necessary to include an elementary introduction to presumed beliefs.  Grace, and the doctrine thereof being one of those.

Now, what Benedict XVI may have been alluding to is prevenient grace which according to the Cornelius paradigm is that affirmed when—
Peter opened his mouth, and said, "‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.’” (Acts 10:34-35)
Now, that’s a pretty hard one for Mizzi to wiggle himself out of; since, it should be said, God’s grace is operative here also, as I am convinced Benedict XVI would agree.

Monday, February 09, 2015

How's God's grace, working for you?

In my last correspondence, I mention that it was my belief that salvation is a process, rather than a kind of quickie—similar, I would say to a Las Vegas marriage. Just say the right words, go through the act, and whoopee! — we’re married with all the rights pertaining thereunto. Commitment? Yes, for sure; but you know a man can be tempted, but I’ll not cross those bridges until I get there. Right now, I’m in love. Surprisingly, some of these marriages do work out, but the majority don’t.

Conversion can be that way. I like to think of this as what I call “decisional regeneration.” A person accepts Christ, say at a highly emotional revival meeting when some preacher scares the daylights out of them, and then offers a remedy. Just step forward, brother. God is here to meet you at the altar. Accept him as your personal savior, and the rest is as good as history because there is absolutely no way you can ever lose your salvation. Once saved, always saved. It in the Bible. Believe it. That all you need.

Now, permit me the privilege of not splitting the fine hairs between Calvinism and Arminianism, and just simply say this—neither side believe that just mouthing the words, or going through the actions will ever save anyone. Both sides agree that the proof is in the walk; that is, what takes place afterwards.

Now, I can’t speak for the Calvinists, because that is simply not my tradition or theological position, but I can speak from my perspective. And, from my perspective, I think the Bible makes it perfectly clear that good works is all part of the package. No, good works cannot save us, only God can do that. I’ll take you one step farther, too, neither can your baptism, nor by reciting some creed. Only God can save you; and He will. But, you must do your part.

Perhaps, I can best illustrate it this way: I taught at two fine institutions--one, North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the other in North Dakota called Trinity. In both of the schools, each had a student to die before graduation, one in a car accident, and the other with cancer. Neither had completed their course work; however, when graduation time came both were awarded their degrees posthumously. They had been faithful to the best of their abilities right up to the end, and were rewarded as such. Had either of them dropped out or flunked, neither would have received the degree, but since, however, such was not the case, both were posthumously granted the degrees.

I would suggest that, perhaps God operates similarly. So, as the journey continues; so does our commitment.

Yours for a better journey!