Power and Purpose

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In Luke 9:42, Jesus frees a boy from demonic possession.  Once again His divine power is displayed, and people respond with awe: “And they were all amazed at the greatness of God” (v.43).

But it is interesting that this demonstration of the power of God is followed by a statement of the unexpected plan of God.  “While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men'” (vv.43-44).

How could that happen?  He’d just shown that He could send a demon packing!  Surely a human betrayal–and one that He saw coming–would be no threat.  But it was going to happen because it was the purpose of God, it was why Jesus came, that He should be condemned for us and bear the penalty of our sins.

The power and the plan of God go hand in hand.  We must respect not only His might, but also His wisdom.  It can be hard to suffer knowing that God could take your suffering away.  But He has a plan.  His purpose involved sending His own Son to die in your place.  His purpose involves Christ coming once again, and raising to life eternal all who are united with Him by faith.

And He has the power to do it.

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White Robes

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.  I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.  But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.  They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white.  I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:1-6, NIV).

            Recent times have seen a bit of a dust-up over the Trump administration’s attempt to root gender in biology.  Sensible and scientifically-valid though this is, it met with outrage from advocates for transgenderism.  Andrew Walker offered a sound response to the pro-transgender objections (see further here).  On the lighter side, the ever-incisive Babylon Bee has given a couple of good replies: “‘Anti-Science’ Trump Administration to Revert Definition of Gender to Objective, Scientific Standard,” “On Gender, Left Steps Up Effort Against Notorious Hate Group: Reality”.

            To these responses, I wish to add only a specifically theological observation.  Transgenderism represents a profound confusion about the nature of humanity.  It is the sort of confusion that is scientifically indefensible, but it is not surprising to find it in the world, which is lost in darkness and shuts out the light of truth.  What is worse is to see this sort of confusion about humanity among professed Christian teachers.  What are we to make of certain “transgender Christian leaders” expressing dismay about the idea that gender be defined in accordance with God’s design?

            Our response must be that loving your neighbor does not mean lying to them, and that sanctification is not an optional add-on to the Christian faith.  Christians are saints, those who have been sanctified by Christ, and are called to grow in sanctification.  There is such a thing as a Christian who struggles with gender dysphoria, but there is no such thing as a transgender Christian.  If cross-dressing is a sin (Deut. 22:5), it is most assuredly a sin for a man to claim to be a woman or to hormonally and surgically mutilate his body to appear female.  Our response to “transgender Christian leaders” is, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7).  The day of judgment is coming; repent and be saved.

            It has been the concerted and very effective strategy of the LGBTQ+ movement to hijack the civil rights movement, to portray perversities as oppressed minorities.  The rainbow revolution has only succeeded to the extent that it has deceptively seized moral high ground.  Once again, it must be stressed that this is expected of the world, which is in the grip of the evil one; but it should not be seen or tolerated in the church.  Any “Christian leader” who dons a rainbow stole must face the truth that believers are called to walk before God dressed in white.

            That comparison brings to mind a scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.  Gandalf has come to meet with his companion Saruman, unaware that Saruman has gone over to the enemy.  “I looked and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.”  Purity no longer pleased him. 

This is a terrible thing to see infiltrating the church.  Christianity is not compatible with the LGBTQ+ revolution.  We must choose between rainbow garb and robes of white.

Listen to Him

In His incarnate ministry, Jesus’ glory was usually veiled.  He is fully God and fully man, but most people saw only a remarkable man.  This is a special theme of Luke 9, where the people recognize that Jesus is a great prophet (He is), and the disciples acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ (He is), but the fullest revelation comes on the mount of transfiguration, where the veil is torn away for a moment, and three disciples are confronted with the divine majesty of the Son of God.

“As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus” (Lk. 9:29-30).

Even so, their full understanding of His identity mostly waits until His resurrection.

In that story of the transfiguration, Peter blurts out how useful he and the other disciples can be, building bungalows for Jesus and His esteemed companions.  But God has something else in mind.  He covers the mountain with a cloud–bringing the shelter Himself–and speaks to the disciples:

“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (v.35).

How often we have our own plans for how things should be done in Christ’s kingdom.  It might be useful to contemplate the connection here between the glory, majesty, and authority of Christ, and the command to listen to Him.  The Christian life is lived in submission to Christ.  The Church is to follow her Lord.  We must learn to listen to Him.

About that hex…

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“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death” (Rev. 21:8, NIV)

A recent item in the news has detailed the plans by certain modern pagans to put a hex on Justice Kavanaugh.  There are two possibilities for interpreting such behavior: it is either impotent and silly wickedness, or it is demonic wickedness.

If the former, if this is a powerless display of the folly people will engage in when they have rejected God, the rise in witchcraft in contemporary America should remind us of the epigram attributed to G.K. Chesterton, which is something to the effect that “when people cease to believe in God, the danger is not that they will believe nothing, but that they will believe anything.”

If the latter, if these witches are engaging in real sorcery (i.e., trafficking with demons), then it should suggest to us that secularism is a farce.  When a culture rejects Christ, they will not arrive at some neutral and ideology-less open space; they will open themselves to pagan superstition or atheistic dehumanization–in our case, both.

In either case, this gathering ought to remind us that witchcraft is not the benign, life-loving, spirituality that it tries to sell itself as these days.  Cursing your enemies was a major element of ancient paganism.  While witchcraft needs to appear benign because of society’s suspicion, it will; let it become acceptable, and do not be surprised if the mask falls off.

God said to Israel:

“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD” (Dt. 18:10-12, NIV).

Witchcraft is wickedness, and God will judge those who practice it.  But this is the time of His mercy, the time to repent of all such evil and receive the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ the Lord.

Cruciform Living

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There are places in this world where it seems like Satan tries to stamp out the church by force; where Christianity is hard because it is so dangerous.  North Korea, for instance, would fit this description.  But in the West, where we have enjoyed not only a tremendous amount of freedom but also unparalleled prosperity, I wonder if the enemy takes a different mode of attack.  Here the church is not to be pressed in the vice of persecution, but rather, seduced.  We are told that we can enjoy ease, luxury, and popularity in this life and still be faithful to our Lord.  Christianity need not involve self-sacrifice to any uncomfortable degree.

We in the American church need to reflect on the words of Christ: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Lk. 9:23-25, NIV).

The world has long offered the American church a more comfortable path of discipleship.  But that is not, actually, theirs to offer.  Only the Lord can call disciples, and only He can show us the way to follow Him.  He has called us to cruciform living.  We must learn to see the lies of the world for what they are.  The call of Christ remains the same: ‘take up your cross daily and follow me.’

Contra Molech

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The Supreme Court of Alabama has advanced the cause of life and truth.  As reported at the Christian Post:

Alabama’s highest court has recently released a decision that recognizes the personhood of unborn babies, and includes a concurrent opinion that calls for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

In the case of Jessie Livell Phillips v. State of Alabama, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld a murder conviction for a man who in 2009 killed his pregnant wife and their unborn child in a ruling released last week.

Justice Michael Bolin, author of the court opinion, said in the ruling that since one of the victims of the 2009 homicide was an unborn baby, he felt an obligation to “expound” on why the court considered an unborn baby a “person.”

“… under the criminal laws of the state of Alabama, the value of the life of an unborn child is no less than the value of the lives of other persons. The trial court’s additional commentary that this country is founded upon equal protection and due process for all of its persons is also based upon constitutional law,” wrote Bolin…

You can read the full story here.

Justice Bolin’s comment is precisely what America needs to acknowledge: “the value of the life of an unborn child is no less than the value of the lives of other persons.”  Abortion is the greatest evil in our society, the slaughter of over 50,000,000 innocent lives since Roe v. Wade.

For some time now, the religious left has tried to convince evangelicals that the battle with abortion is hopeless and that we ought to concentrate on other issues.  This simply is not the case.  Alabama is carrying forth the standard, and this is a battle that, by God’s grace, can be won.

It can be won, and it should be fought, because we are talking about the lives of millions of babies who will be killed if we do not put a stop to this evil.  So we must call evil what it is, and condemn it, and urge our society to repent.  Abortion is a terrible sin, but God is merciful, and the blood of Christ atones for the sins of all who come to Him in repentance and faith.  His blood can wash clean even the bloody hands of the abortionist, if they will turn from evil while there is still time.

As for certain religious leaders who are so shameless as to bless an abortion clinic, I can only assume they are praying to Molech.  Certainly they cannot think to have the blessing of Jesus Christ, who said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14, NIV)

 

A Banquet in the Wilderness

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It is so easy to worry.  We are constantly confronted with situations well beyond our control.  In contemporary society, we employ a whole industry, the media, to bombard us every morning with updates of all the terrible things that have happened or may happen, most of which are quite beyond our control.  It’s easy to worry.

But nothing is beyond God’s control.

The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 reminds us of this very comforting truth.  With that great crowd gathered and evening coming on, Jesus’ disciples suggest that it’s time for a benediction and sending the people out to the sandwich shops.  Jesus turns the tables, tells the disciples to feed the crowd.  They look at the situation and say just what we would say in their shoes: how?  It looks impossible.  Humanly speaking, it is impossible.

But Jesus is not just a man.  Fully human, He is also fully God.  What is impossible for us is not impossible for Him.  He takes the little they have–five small loaves of bread and two fish–and multiplies it to feed the whole horde.

The miracle is narrated in such a subtle and understated way:

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them.  Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Lk. 9:16-17, NIV).

There’s no flashy display of divine power.  The bread and fish don’t immediately become huge stockpiles of food in front of everyone’s eyes.  But that meager bit of food multiplies, and becomes enough for a 5,000 man feast–with more leftovers than they had to begin with!

Jesus gives a banquet in the wilderness.

He can deal with the things that frighten us, too.  Nothing is beyond God’s power.  No cry of His child is hidden from His sight.  There is a tremendous peace for us, waiting for us to grab hold of it, if we will meditate on God’s ability to provide, and learn to rest in Him.

“Martyrs’ Song”

 

“Death is short, and life is long;

Satan is strong, but Christ more strong

At His Word, Who hath led us hither,

The Red Sea must part hither and thither

At His Word, Who goes before us too,

Jordan must cleave to let us through.”

Christina Rossetti[1]

 

[1] Christina Rossetti, “Martyrs’ Song”, The Works of Christina Rossetti, Cumberland House, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1995, p.268.

The Kingdom of God

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In Luke 9, we read about what may be called the ‘little commission,’ the sending of the disciples to preach before the death and resurrection of Christ and the Great Commission that followed.  “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9:1-2, NIV).

The kingdom of God.  That’s one way of describing the gospel message.  The good news is that God reigns and that His kingdom is here, now, for those who come to Christ in faith.  Any who will repent and receive Christ may cross from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light and life.  This is the grace and glory of the gospel.

The kingdom is not fully present yet; this world is still afflicted by demons and diseases.  But the one day God’s rule will be complete, and there will be no more sin or pain or death.  The kingdom will come into fullness when Christ returns, to call the dead to life and bring the new heavens and new earth.  Kingdom life now is a foretaste of the life to come, the blessing of peace in the midst of chaos, the hint of what life will be when all is peace and Christ is all in all.

So we pray, Maranatha: our Lord, come.