…or just being a good person will do (?)

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A recent interview added one more piece to the less-than-orthodox portrait of the current pope.  Theology has not been Francis’ strong suit.

Taking questions from a group of children, the pope was confronted with a question no one enjoys answering, about the fate of a loved one who died separated from the Lord.  Specifically, a young boy asked about his deceased atheist father.

This is a question that should be answered with great sensitivity and care, and with an unswerving devotion to the truth.  Pope Francis answered with great sensitivity and care.  But as regards truth…well, he told the boy that even though his father was an atheist, since he was obviously a good father God would not keep him away from Himself.

Orthodox Protestantism maintains that we are justified by faith alone.  Orthodox Catholicism maintains that we are justified by faith and works (a savvy Catholic can say faith alone, but they mean faith and works).  For Pope Francis, it would seem, just works will do.

Jesus is the only way, and apart from Him there is no eternal life.  To give false hope to those who are grieving may seem merciful, but it is poison for lost souls.

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Identity in Christ

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How often do we, as Christians, think about our identity in Christ?  It is a marvelous thing, and I suspect that we would be stronger in faith, holier in life, and firmer in hope if we dwelt more on the glorious gift of newness God has given us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

See how the apostle Peter describes it:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

Those are remarkable words.  In a culture struggling for identity and finding it in all kinds of shallow, destructive, and misguided ways, God offers a new and wonderful identity to those who come to Him in Jesus Christ.

Instead of being lost we become part of the chosen people; instead of insignificance and separation from God we are made into a royal priesthood; instead of being fallen and alone we are built into a holy nation; instead of being enemies of God we become His special possession.

This new identity comes with a new calling, the vocation of praise.  We have been given newness and lifted up in order to declare God’s praises and worship our Savior.  And this calling to praise reflects the new life and hope we have entered, having been called out of darkness into his wonderful light.

This is a glory the world cannot match or comprehend, an identity that should make us supremely grateful and shape every aspect of our lives.

Faithful

Do you ever worry that you might fall away from God’s grace?  That your faith will fail?  That God will give up on you?

“I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, CSB)

Those are words of the apostle Paul to the Christians in the ancient city of Philippi, and they have a message for us today.  Our hope is not in ourselves but in God, and in God we have a sure and certain hope indeed.

The wonderful message of the gospel is that even though we are utterly lost in the darkness of sin and unable to save ourselves, we still have hope because God’s light pierces any darkness and He is fully able to save all of those who will turn to Him in faith.  The gospel (“good news”) is all about God, His grace, His strength, His faithfulness.

That means that no matter how weak we are, we can still have hope in Him.

And this hope rests in God through and through.  God doesn’t just draw us to Himself, He holds onto us in His love and grace.  That doesn’t mean that we aren’t called to draw near to God and to follow Christ each and every day—we are.  But it does mean that we never need fear that God will abandon us.

God is faithful.  God finishes what He begins.  Praise be to God for His boundless and wonderful love.

Risen Indeed

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Apologies that I am posting these Easter reflections late…but someone has said ‘better late than never’:

Christ is risen!

This is the joyful proclamation of Easter, the center of Christian faith and hope.  A miracle that took place two millennia ago means life and peace with God for us today—for anyone and everyone who places their faith in the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

On that first Easter Sunday, certain women who were followers of Jesus came to His tomb.  They had seen their Master crucified and buried, and all hope seemed to have died with Him.

Imagine the surprise and confusion when they found the great stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, and that Jesus’ body was nowhere to be seen.

Imagine the wonder and joy when a pair of angels appeared to them and said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!” (Lk. 24:5-6, NIV).  This is the news that changed the world, and has shaken it for two thousand years since.

This is the message we must receive and believe.  Why look for the living among the dead?  Why count Jesus Christ merely among the figures of history, when He lives and reigns today?

Why continue living in darkness and futility, when Christ has risen in glorious light?  Why live this life alone, when you can know Him, the one who died to save you from death and rose to bring you eternal life?

Christ is risen, and that changes everything.

Christ is risen!  Risen, indeed.

Hosanna!

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Palm Sunday marks the beginning of holy week, and it is a day strange in joy.  Strange, because we know that the cross still lies between this day and the immortal victory of Easter.  Rejoicing will turn to sorrow before sorrow to rejoicing.

But so it was, and so Jesus knew when He rode into Jerusalem on the humble royal mount, a donkey’s colt, receiving the praises of the people.  But He came for the cross, He came because He had resolutely set His course to the sacrificial death that would happen at Jerusalem, and by which we would be healed.

Knowing the solemnity of Good Friday, still we rejoice on Palm Sunday.  Because the King has come.  God has sent our deliverance, in Jesus Christ–who is God our Deliverer.  Praise God Almighty, who has fulfilled all His promises.

Hosanna!  Lord, save!

Going Back

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I saw an advertisement for New Orleans, a celebration of LGBTQ+ gains, where the message was something like “we’re never going back.”  There probably wasn’t any connection to the fact that Bermuda has just gone back (sort of), but the timing was interesting.

In any case, it was a statement of defiance against those with more traditional views, intended to promote tourism–thus, monetarily motivated.  This will probably be the case more and more, as LGBTQ+ groups lobby for economic rewards to cities and states that are outspoken in support of their agenda, and punishments for places that oppose it–tolerance at its finest, if you will.

But there is something especially tragic about the defiance displayed in New Orleans’ advertisement.  You can make it as colorful as you will, but persistence in hard-heartedness only leads to broken lives.  When we have turned away from God and gone our own way, there is one merciful hope left: we can go back.

In Christianity, we call it repentance.  Going back, when you have strayed into sin.  Returning from idols to the Lord of Life.  Stumbling out of the darkness and into His light.  We might even say, going home.

When you determine to never go back, you cut yourself off from hope and life and light.  If you never go back, you will never get home.

The Vocation of Praise

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Hallelujah!

Give praise, servants of the LORD;

praise the name of the LORD.

(Psalm 113:1, CSB)

 

God is great, and worthy of all our praise.  He is holy and righteous, compassionate and merciful, awesome in power, majestic in beauty, wondrous in love.  Take time to give Him praise.  Lift up not only your voice but your heart; glorify Him and dwell on His greatness.  Praise the Lord, your God.

 

Let the name of the LORD be blessed

both now and forever.

(v.2)

 

This is our vocation, to praise the Lord and glorify Him in all we do.  This is our purpose.  We live in a world of rebellion, fallenness and corruption.  Our mission is to carry forth the truth and call people to repent and be saved.  But we live even now partially in the life to come, and we live out our true purpose, praising God our Savior.

 

From the rising of the sun to its setting,

let the name of the LORD be praised.

(v.3)

 

For God is all-worthy, deserving of endless worship in every place and by every voice.  The anthem of the redeemed is praise to God, and as the gospel goes forth, the name of the Living God, Father, Son, and Spirit, is lifted up and exalted.

One day the darkness will be finally cast away.  God will finish His work, and be praised in all the earth.

Strangely Beautiful

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I was just observing my cup of tea–which is a wonderful thing in any case–more wonderful by the lighting that enables me to see the steam swirling about, wispy as a ghost.  Isn’t steam a lovely thing, playmate of the air?  And it makes me reflect on God the artist, who fills this world with ordinary things strangely beautiful.

An atheist could appreciate the beauty, but only so deep, for the beauty of coiling steam above his cup would only be an accidental side-effect of the laws of nature.  And surely it is a side-effect of those laws.

But I can’t help thinking that God might have designed a more pragmatic universe, a world where function did not bring about such superfluously lovely forms, or a world without beings who had a sense of aesthetics, beings who saw strange beauty in ordinary things.

Here, then, a mug of tea testifies to an extravagantly generous and artistic God.

But it is my seminary mug.

Above All

“Grant me, O most loving Lord, to rest in Thee above all creatures, above all health and beauty, above all glory and honor, above all power and dignity, above all knowledge and subtilty, above all riches and art, above all fame and praise, above all sweetness and comfort, above all hope and promise, above all gifts and favors that Thou canst give and impart to us, above all jubilee that the mind of man can receive and feel; finally, above angels and archangels, and above all the heavenly host, above all things visible and invisible, and above all that Thou art not, O my God.  It is too small and unsatisfying, whatsoever Thou bestowest on me apart from Thee, or revealest to me, or promisest, whilst Thou art not seen, and not fully obtained.  For surely my heart cannot truly rest, nor be entirely contented, unless it rest in Thee–Amen.”  (Thomas a Kempis, quoted in Great Souls at Prayer, 14)

If Only God Had Spoken About This…

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Like many Protestant denominations these days, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (a small denomination that broke off from the SBC during the conservative resurgence) is considering whether to ditch what God has said about homosexuality in favor of our culture’s standard.

This is not really surprising coming from the CBF, but reading an article about the discussion they’re having over this issue did bring something interesting to my notice.  Consider this statement, describing the goals of the CBF committee on this issue, in the words of denominational communications representatives:

“The committee has sought to faithfully hear and feel the Holy Spirit moving among the priesthood of all believers and focused on holding opposing viewpoints on matters of human sexuality in tension to develop a third way forward.” (reported from Baptist Press, via the Southern Baptist Texan, November 2017 issue, p.6)

There are actually several interesting observations one could make about that statement, but to grab just one, it is a curious thing to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit precisely on a matter where you are rejecting what the Spirit has clearly said.  The Scriptures are God’s Word, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21, NIV).

The Scriptures are not vague about the issue of homosexuality.  The Holy Spirit has not been ambiguous or sent mixed signals about the issue of homosexuality.  It sounds so pious to say, ‘we are seeking the guidance of the Spirit on this issue’, but if what you’re doing is rejecting what the Spirit has said and asking Him to kindly affirm what you want to hear, it turns out to be a lot less reverent than you pretend.

It turns out to be rejection of God’s truth in favor of what you want to believe.  We call that idolatry.