The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: March 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Businesses to Court: Yes to Same-Sex Marriage

O Preacher“Many of America’s largest companies rallied behind the gay marriage cause on Thursday as the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments for April 28 on the contentious social issue that promises to yield one of the justices’ most important rulings of 2015.”  You can (and should) read the entire article at http://fortune.com/2015/03/05/hundreds-of-companies-urge-the-supreme-court-to-back-gay-marriage/.

WHAT’S THE THINKING?  I’m not a lawyer (though I was a Perry Mason and Matlock fan—TV lawyers for you under 40).  But I don’t understand the thinking behind 379 businesses and “groups”signing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of same-sex marriage.  According to the article, “The justices will consider whether same-sex marriage bans are prohibited by the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. A ruling is due by the end of June.”  In other words, the Court’s decision is based on the Constitution.  So how do the desires of businesses (or anyone else) figure in?  Either the justice’s interpret the Constitution to allow for same-sex marriage or they interpret it not to.  It’s the U.S. Constitution, not the wishes of American businesses.

WHAT’S THE REASON?  Why are businesses trying to persuade the Court?  “‘Allowing same-sex couples to marry improves employee morale and productivity, reduces uncertainty, and removes the wasteful administrative burdens imposed by the current disparity of state law treatment,’ the brief says.”  I don’t know what “reduces uncertainty” refers to; but “improves productivity” and “removes wasteful administrative burdens” clearly refer to money.  If the Court allows same-sex marriage, expenses will shrink and profits will rise, according to these U.S. companies.  All heart, aren’t they?

WHAT WILL BE THE OUTCOME?  What does profit-margin have to do with interpreting the U.S. Constitution?  Is the Constitution’s stand on same-sex marriage an economic issue?  Of course not, but given some of the Court’s decisions, who knows?  The Constitution’s “guarantee of equal protection under the law” sounds like it can include virtually anything.  Why wouldn’t two men and two women all marrying one another be considered a legal marriage under the “equal protection” clause?  My crystal ball tells me the Supremes will ban state bans on same-sex marriage, thus legalizing it in all 50 states.

WHAT ARE WE TO DO?  In doing so, they will violate a Higher Law than the Constitution.  I’m not going to write a dissertation on one-man-one-woman marriage.  Suffice it to say that the LORD God’s creation ordinance makes his plan plain . . .

Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife,
and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:23,24).

 Sadly we’ve fallen so far from grace in this country that the Scriptures have no place in the courtroom.  They’re padlocked in the church building, filed under “religion–DO NOT REMOVE!”  Atheists applaud, because they believe many of the world’s problems are religion-caused (unwilling to consider that one might actually be true).  But the problem isn’t just with atheists.  Many professed Christians argue for same-sex marriage on the basis of the separation of church and state, revealing both their ignorance of what the Constitution means by “church” and what the framers were out to prevent by that concept.  Of course, what the framers meant matters little to many these days.  They see the Constitution as a “living document” which must be interpreted according to societal changes.  Follow that to its logical conclusion and you’ll realize that current societal norms dictate what the Constitution says rather than the Constitution dictating what should be societal norms.  That’s rather like the inmates running the institution.

Meanwhile, what are we left with?  First, prayer.  Pray that God will intervene for righteousness sake.  Second, obey.  Be a minority that lives faithfully to God’s commands—especially the command to love our neighbor as ourselves (even if our neighbor is a same-sex couple).  And third, be encouraged.  The darker the night of immorality becomes the closer we get to the coming of the Day.

The night is far gone;
the day is at hand.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.
Let us walk properly as in the daytime . . . (Romans 13:12,13a)

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GOOD God?

P.AllanPardon my doubts.  It’s just that sometimes my mind demands answers I can’t find.  I don’t doubt God or his existence or his being as the Scripture describes him.  I just don’t get certain things.

I recently read a blog by an Arminian.  Simply defined an Arminian believes humans have a free will to choose for or against Christ.  This stands in stark contrast to a Calvinist who believes God elects or chooses to save some.  Apart from God’s choice a person is dead in sin and unable to chose for Christ.  His nature is bent against Christ.

The blog I read criticized Calvinists for believing that by choosing to save “the elect”, God created the rest of humanity to suffer hell forever.  How, the blogger asked, can such a God be good?  I agree this is a question Calvinists must answer.  I’ve read some:  we don’t know how God could create the bulk of humanity for eternal hell and still be good because God hasn’t revealed it to us . . . God’s goodness in this case is a mystery beyond our capacity to understand . . . God is sovereign, so he possesses the right to do whatever he wants and call it whatever he wants—in this case, no one deserves to be saved.  God sovereignly shows mercy to some.

It’s here that the Arminian presumes to prove Calvinist theology wrong.  None of its answers sound satisfactory.  I have to agree.  How can we continue to proclaim “God is good” if we believe he chose to save only some and damn the rest to hell forever?

As I think about it, though, things aren’t better for the Arminian.  He believes humans can freely choose for or against Christ, thus for or against eternal heaven or hell.  But he also believes God knew beforehand who would choose what.  The Arminian may enjoy a bit more wiggle room, but his end result is virtually the same.  God created, knowing who would reject Christ and be doomed to hell.  As Jesus said in another context, “It would have better for that man if he had never been born (or created).”  Yet God created him knowing his eternal destiny.  How can such a God be considered “good”?

Suppose my wife and I had two children.  As they were growing up, we realized they were rebellious little urchins.  We decided to keep one to enjoy our luxurious lifestyle with us, but put the other in the state foster home system.  Would we be considered good parents?  Or suppose before we had either child we somehow knew the first one would freely choose to submit to our parenting, while the second wouldn’t want to have anything to do with us and would end up in prison.  Would we be good parents if we decided to conceive that second child anyway?  The analogy isn’t perfect, but is quite like God and his relationship with us, whether we lean toward Calvinism or Arminianism.

Of course, both systems contain many more points of doctrine than Total Depravity (man can do nothing to save himself–Calvinism) and Free Will (God has given man the ability to freely choose to believe in Christ or not–Arminianism).  There’s also much more to be said about this point.  But this is the question looming large in my mind right now.  Not which theological system is correct, but how God can be considered good whichever we believe.

I’m not losing my faith–just wrestling with what’s for me a tough question.  For now, I have to leave it with our infinitely wise God who can answer all dilemmas and explain all apparent contradictions.  And one more thing:  if you have any thoughts on this, I’d very much like to read your comments.

Let me end with a somewhat “simplistic” old Gospel song.  It mentions other experiences in life we question, but applies also to how God can be good and still have created many for hell or at least knowing that would be their destiny.

Trials dark on every hand, And we cannot understand
All the ways that God would lead us to that blessed Promised Land
But He’ll guide us with His eye, And we’ll follow till we die
We will understand it better by and by.

Oft our cherished plans have failed, Disappointments have prevailed
And we’ve wandered in the darkness, heavy-hearted and alone
Bu we’re trusting in the Lord, And, according to His Word,
We will understand it better by and by.

Temptations, hidden snares, Often take us unawares
And our hearts are made to bleed for some thoughtless word or deed
And we wonder why the test, When we try to do our best
But we’ll understand it better by and by.

By and by, when the morning comes
When the saints of God are gathered home
We will tell the story how we’ve overcome
We will understand it better by and by.

(You have to listen to this.  Well, you don’t have to.  It may not be your kind of music, but it’s mine.  Give it a click, then click on “Farther Alone” with Sandi Patty (the third video).  And rejoice in the understanding that’s coming!

https://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&fr=ytff1-w3ind&p=we%27ll%20understand%20it%20better%20by%20and%20by&type=W3i_YT,222,8_4,Search,20130414,19850,0,8,0

 

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Charismatic Straw-Men

P.AllanA Presbyterian worships standing with hands in his pockets trying to stifle a yawn while stealing a glance at his watch.  Fair?  Of course not.  Neither is it fair to imply that all Pentecostals/Charismatics worship by working themselves into spiritual ecstasy, then flop on top of each other while speaking in tongues.  Yet, while acknowledging not all evangelicals worship that way, one author in a recent book on Reformed worship implies that such carrying-on is rather typical, especially among charismatics. He also criticizes how we’ve lost “objective” worship in favor of “subjective” worship.  By that he means we are making worship something we experience, instead of something we offer to God.  (I’m not naming names, because I want to answer the criticism not the critic, who is my brother in Christ, though I don’t know him personally.

DISCLOSURE.  I grew up and was originally ordained in a Pentecostal church. I am a continuationist;  all the New Testament gifts of the Spirit are available today and should be exercised according to biblical guidelines. I consider myself sort of a Reformed Charismatic (though I’m tired of titles and wish we all could just be Christians). Some of our members in a church we planted years ago were significantly influenced by the Charismatic Movement.  I’ve seen excesses that have angered me; I’ve read of others that disgusted me.  That’s why I find it ironic to be defending Pentecostals/Charismatics.

OFFERING VS. EXPERIENCE.  I agree completely that worship is something we offer to God.  When we gather to sing, pray and hear his Word, we are offering our songs, prayers and lives to our Father in heaven.  Worship is about him.  An old charismatic-type praise chorus says it well . . .

We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord,
We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.
And we offer up to you the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And we offer up to you, the sacrifices of joy.

How simple that is compared to “Holy, Holy, Holy”!  Here’s just the first verse . . .

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

Despite the differences, both help us offer God-centered worship.  And both engage us in worship.  We can’t truly worship with music like that and not be emotionally caught up in the goodness and holiness of God.  In other words, we experience the presence of the God to whom we sing.

Why does worship have to be either offering or experience?  Why can’t it be both?  In fact, I would argue—due to the awesomeness of the God we are worshiping—it must be both.

DISCLAIMER.  I’m not suggesting we design worship for our experience.  Do that and we get experience-without-God.  But if we design worship as a whole-mind, whole-heart offering to God, we get the experience of enjoying God.

STRAW-MEN VS. REAL-MEN.  In the book I referred to above, the author (in my opinion) sets up “straw-men”.  That is, he appears to use extreme examples of charismatic misconduct as characteristic of all.  That’s simply not fair.  I have no survey to offer, just my own experience in a Pentecostal church.  Sure, our services were more “casual” than a Reformed Presbyterian one, but far from disorderly.  No Spirit-slaying.  No dog barking.  No how-to-get-rich-quick prophecies.

I hope that when we compare forms of worship (or whatever) among our churches, we present the “other” position honestly (not citing the extreme as the example) and that we speak of our “different” brothers and sisters in love and with respect.  Besides, when all believers in Christ get to heaven, I think we’ll find that all our systems and forms had a few holes in them!

DIFFERENT STROKES . . . I agree that the Scripture teaches us how to worship God.  But within the boundaries of those instructions lie considerable freedoms.  Is a worship order modeled after the Reformation more God-pleasing than one modeled after a freer, more spontaneous style?  Or vice versa?  Choose the one you believe most biblical (without condemning other choices) and the one in which you can best offer praises to God and enjoy his presence (without the spiritually superior attitude)!  When it’s all said and done, though, maybe C.S. Lewis said it best . . .

“The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of;
our attention would have been on God.”

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Charismatic Straw-Men

P.AllanA Presbyterian worships standing with hands in his pockets trying to stifle a yawn while stealing a glance at his watch.  Fair?  Of course not.  Neither is it fair to imply that all Pentecostals/Charismatics worship by working themselves into spiritual ecstasy, then flop on top of each other while speaking in tongues.  Yet, while acknowledging not all evangelicals worship that way, one author in a recent book on Reformed worship implies that such carrying-on is rather typical, especially among charismatics. He also criticizes how we’ve lost “objective” worship in favor of “subjective” worship.  By that he means we are making worship something we experience, instead of something we offer to God.  (I’m not naming names, because I want to answer the criticism not the critic, who is my brother in Christ, though I don’t know him personally.

DISCLOSURE.  I grew up and was originally ordained in a Pentecostal church. I am a continuationist;  all the New Testament gifts of the Spirit are available today and should be exercised according to biblical guidelines. I consider myself sort of a Reformed Charismatic (though I’m tired of titles and wish we all could just be Christians). Some of our members in a church we planted years ago were significantly influenced by the Charismatic Movement.  I’ve seen excesses that have angered me; I’ve read of others that disgusted me.  That’s why I find it ironic to be defending Pentecostals/Charismatics.

OFFERING VS. EXPERIENCE.  I agree completely that worship is something we offer to God.  When we gather to sing, pray and hear his Word, we are offering our songs, prayers and lives to our Father in heaven.  Worship is about him.  An old charismatic-type praise chorus says it well . . .

We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord,
We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.
And we offer up to you the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And we offer up to you, the sacrifices of joy.

How simple that is compared to “Holy, Holy, Holy”!  Here’s just the first verse . . .

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

Despite the differences, both help us offer God-centered worship.  And both engage us in worship.  We can’t truly worship with music like that and not be emotionally caught up in the goodness and holiness of God.  In other words, we experience the presence of the God to whom we sing.

Why does worship have to be either offering or experience?  Why can’t it be both?  In fact, I would argue—due to the awesomeness of the God we are worshiping—it must be both.

DISCLAIMER.  I’m not suggesting we design worship for our experience.  Do that and we get experience-without-God.  But if we design worship as a whole-mind, whole-heart offering to God, we get the experience of enjoying God.

STRAW-MEN VS. REAL-MEN.  In the book I referred to above, the author (in my opinion) sets up “straw-men”.  That is, he appears to use extreme examples of charismatic misconduct as characteristic of all.  That’s simply not fair.  I have no survey to offer, just my own experience in a Pentecostal church.  Sure, our services were more “casual” than a Reformed Presbyterian one, but far from disorderly.  No Spirit-slaying.  No dog barking.  No how-to-get-rich-quick prophecies.

I hope that when we compare forms of worship (or whatever) among our churches, we present the “other” position honestly (not citing the extreme as the example) and that we speak of our “different” brothers and sisters in love and with respect.  Besides, when all believers in Christ get to heaven, I think we’ll find that all our systems and forms had a few holes in them!

DIFFERENT STROKES . . . I agree that the Scripture teaches us how to worship God.  But within the boundaries of those instructions lie considerable freedoms.  Is a worship order modeled after the Reformation more God-pleasing than one modeled after a freer, more spontaneous style?  Or vice versa?  Choose the one you believe most biblical (without condemning other choices) and the one in which you can best offer praises to God and enjoy his presence (without the spiritually superior attitude)!  When it’s all said and done, though, maybe C.S. Lewis said it best . . .

“The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of;
our attention would have been on God.”

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“Invasion”

P.AllanC.S. Lewis once wrote that he liked to take his Christianity the same way he took his whiskey—straight.  That’s what we get in the Gospel according to Mark.  The Gospel straight.  No frills.  Few details.  A news bulletin.

Today in Mark’s Gospel  we come to a section I call “Invasion”. Historically invasion has been how a belligerent nation took control of another.  In  democracies “invasion” is done by spending millions to persuade citizens to vote for you.  Mark 1:9-13 starts an “invasion” news report like this:  “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee . . . ”  Not an invasion that makes you run for cover!  Why call it an invasion then?  Because shortly Mark will report what Jesus proclaimed:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand . . . ” (1:15a).  A kingdom alien to the world’s is on the horizon!  A king is about to take over!  Yet Mark records his arrival so ordinarily:  “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee . . . “

Mark’s “invasion” news divides into two sections:  Jesus baptized by John (1:9-11) and Jesus baited by Satan (1:12,13).

JESUS BAPTIZED.  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (1:9-11). 

Four points Mark makes are worth nothing.  One, Jesus came “from Nazareth of Galilee”—a poor village 180 miles north of big-city Jerusalem.  I’M FROM NAZARETH t-shirts didn’t sell well.  No “big names” came from there.  If Israel had been a democracy, presidential candidates wanting to impress voters with their humble beginnings would have bragged to  crowds, “I grew up in Nazareth.  We lived in a tiny house with the goat and ate fish daddy caught with string and nail.”  Jesus’ Nazareth-boyhood shows his humble distance from the world of “movers and shakers.”

Two, Jesus “was baptized by John in the Jordan”.  Why, when John’s was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:40)?  Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He had no sin to repent of and be forgiven of.  So why be baptized by John?  To identify with us sinners.  He was taking his place as one of us who need to repent and be forgiven.  Instead of slaughtering us “little nobodies”, this invading king became one of us to save us for his kingdom!

Three, when Jesus came up out of the Jordan “he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”  A scene of sharp contrasts!  Like clouds being blown apart by raging wind, the sky was ripped open and from it, like a gentle dove, the Spirit came down on Jesus.  It was an anointing with power for his mission (Acts 10:38).

Fourth, “a voice came from the heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased'”.  Did everyone at the Jordan hear the voice?  We’re not told.  If only Jesus heard it, the voice assured him that what he was doing was well-pleasing to God the Father.  And for us who “hear” it now in Mark’s news report, the voice identifies Jesus, not just as a humble and good man, but as God the Son.  Every Jew, if they heard the voice, and every Jew afterward who read Mark’s news report, would have thought of messianic Psalm 2:7:  “I will tell of the decree:  The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you””.  So the news of Jesus baptized, far from being an insignificant sidebar, revealed Jesus humbly identifying with us sinners and, at the same time, being anointed with power and assured of the Father’s pleasure with him.

JESUS BAITED.  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.  And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him (1:12,13).  The wilderness was a desolate, deserted, lonely place—a place fitting for the cosmic battle that took place there.  The Spirit, who anointed Jesus with power, “immediately” (euthusone of Mark’s favorite words) “drove him out into the wilderness.”  The battle lasted 40 days, as Israel had been in the wilderness 40 years, dying for their unbelief (Exodus 14:1-35).  Wild animals, not just Satan, were a danger.  But—and this suggests the intensity of the battle for Jesus—“the angels were ministering to him.”

“Why this temptation by Satan?”  Several reasons have been suggested.  Here’s mine:  to prepare Jesus for his ongoing battles with Satan.  Talk about the devil, and people begin quietly backing away from you.  But have you noticed how often we hear the word “evil” used to describe ISIS?  Try as we might, we sophisticated 21st century Americans, can’t escape the reality of evil.  Satan is evil personified.  And, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s works” (1 John 3:18).  This “cosmic battle” was the first of many.  This one prepared Jesus for what lay ahead as he inaugurated the kingdom of God in this world which lies under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).  By the way, though Mark doesn’t tell us (!), Jesus won.  That’s implied by Mark’s next report—that Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God” (1:14,15).

JESUS FOR US.  I recently subscribed to “The Wall Street Journal”.  Often I come away wondering what some of the complex financial news means to me.  What does Mark’s “invasion news report” mean to us?  That the Son of God, humbly identified with us sinners by being baptized as one of us.  That Jesus, assured of the Father’s pleasure and empowered by the Spirit, was baited for us by our deadly enemy Satan.  That we were the object of history’s strangest invasion.  That this is a revelation of divine love and grace.  And that a brief, seemingly insignificant news event like this is why the news Mark reported is called good.

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Bizarre Baptist

O PreacherHe was a TV journalist’s dream.  A perfect light (oddball?) moment to close out the newscast.  He came clothed in camel’s hair and smelled like it.  His favorite food:  locusts with a side of wild honey.  Hey, Caleb, cameraman!  Pull back and get a wide angle shot of him standing by the Jordan with the desert for a backdrop!  I can hear the teaser now, just before commercial:  “You don’t want to miss our closing story tonight.  Stay with us after the break for ‘Bizarre Baptist’.

Of course, Mark’s news report “of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) came without TV, cameraman and commercials.  It came in Greek writing on papyrus or parchment,  It was then circulated to mid-first century churches to be read aloud.  But it was new of that “Bizarre Baptist.”

HE HAD BEEN PROPHESIED.   As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,
0the voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (1:2,3).

If this were done as a TV newscast, the producer might have scrolled these words on the screen with the Jordan and the wilderness as a background.  What does this part of the news tell us?  That John the (bizarre) Baptist himself fulfilled prophecy.  Seven hundred years earlier Isaiah (and Malachi) foretold the coming of this “messenger”.  He would come like a herald of an ancient king who would proclaim to a city that the king was about to visit and they had better get ready.

HE APPEARED BAPTIZING.  John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins (1:4,5).  After the scroll prophecy, the screen would show the Bizarre Baptist himself urging massive crowds to be baptized as a sign of repentance so their sins could be forgiven.  It would be a weird shot:  the Baptist shouting out his repentance sermon even while dunking under the river the line of the willing.

HE PREACHED ABOUT A MIGHTIER ONE TO COME.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:6-8).  His clothes and food would have made him look like a Saturday Night Live skit spoofing biblical prophets.  But his preaching was anything but funny.  A man would come after him, a mighty one more powerful than the Baptist, a majestic one so exalted the Baptist wasn’t even good enough to untie his sandal straps.  And just as the Baptist immersed men in water, this mighty one would immerse men in the Holy Spirit.  What that meant the Baptist didn’t explain.  But to be engulfed by the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of the Holy God—could either be wonderfully life-transforming or fearfully life-taking!

What are we to take away from Mark’s news report about the Bizarre Baptist John?

THAT MARK INTENDED READERS TO REALIZE THE BAPTIST AND THE MIGHTY ONE WERE PART OF THE LORD GOD’S ONGOING WILL IN THE WORLD.  For 400 years the Lord had been silent.  No prophetic voice had been heard since Malachi.  Now Mark—whose news source was the apostle Peter—claims the Baptist’s appearance fulfills Isaiah’s prophetic voice!  It reminds us that from Genesis to Revelation, from Abraham to Jesus, God has one plan.  Jesus doesn’t replace Judaism, he fulfills it.  The New Testament doesn’t cancel the Old, it completes it.

THAT GOD SOMETIMES USES PECULIAR PEOPLE TO SPEAK FOR HIM.  John dressed like an Old Testament prophet, because he was a prophet.  He wasn’t being counter-cultural, he was personifying Elijah to fulfill the Lord’s words through Malachi:  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Malachi 4:5).  Even so, he must have seemed like a throw-back to the long-gone “old days”.  Kind of like looking at photos of when you were 12.  Sometimes the one who seems an oddball to us is the speaker for God.

THAT REPENTANCE IS REQUIRED TO RECEIVE THE MIGHTY ONE’S FORGIVENESS.  The Greek verb “repent” means “to change one’s mind” and then (implicitly) one’s direction in life.  If you’re walking north to get to Main Street and ask a passerby for directions and he points south and you change your mind and turn around, that’s repentance.  Listen to some well-known preachers today and you’d think repentance went out with the Puritans.  Yet even most versions of the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” (arguably the simplest salvation prayer) refers in some fashion to repenting.  This is because Jesus’ basic call is “Follow me”—and inevitably, despite our firm belief, we’re headed the wrong direction.

THAT THE MIGHTY ONE BAPTIZES WITH THE HOLY SPIRITSome Pentecostals and Charismatics assert this refers to an experience in the Holy Spirit “subsequent to salvation.”  I argue the Baptist is referring to the entire working of the Spirit in the life of a believer (though he almost certainly didn’t understand regeneration, sanctification and glorification!).  I base that on Old Testament prophecies such as Joel 2:28,29 where the Lord promised to “pour out my Spirit on all flesh”, Isaiah 32:15 where the prophet spoke of the time when “the Spirit is poured upon us from on high”, and Ezekiel 39:29 where the Lord promised, ” . . . I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.”  Connecting those prophecies to baptism, the Baptist mysteriously refers to the mighty one coming after who will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  This progressive, life-transforming “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is what the Mighty One offers us today.

Had this appeared as a light moment to close out a TV newscast, few would have imagined how far-reaching the news of the Bizarre Baptist at the Jordan would be!

 

 

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Who Are You?

O PreacherBlogging is so different from preaching!    I can’t see the traffic-tunnel-size yawns or the glazed-over eyes in the congregation.  I hear no “Amens” or sanctuary doors opening as someone streaks to the restroom.

I know how many people are reading on any given day but not who they are.  Most don’t send back a comment.  So, unlike preaching, with blogging there’s virtually no interaction.  I miss that.

So here’s my request:  Would you take a minute and reply with a simple comment like, “I’m here!” or “I’m reading!” or “How did you get my address anyway?”  And, if you’d rather not reply on the blog, just email me at Allan@SonRisecc.com with the same message.  It’s not much interaction, but it’s something.  And I’d really appreciate it.

(If this doesn’t work,  I may have to offer free cruises to the Caribbean for the first ten responders.  Just to be clear, though, I’m not offering that this time.)

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The Gospel Starts

P.AllanThe Gospel is news.  Old news.  But still news.  History, if you prefer.  As FOX News says, “Before it’s history, it’s news.”  The Gospel is news turned history.

Mark makes the topic of that news unmistakeably clear . . .

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God (Mark 1:1).

THE GOSPEL (Greek euangellion—“good news”) is the news “of Jesus Christ the Son of God”—who he was (is) and what he did and said.  This morning I read a story in the “Wall Street Journal” headlined, “Hillary Clinton Says It Would Have been ‘Smarter’ to Use Government Email”.  It tells who Hillary is and what she said at her news conference yesterday concerning what she did with her emails as Secretary of State.   The Gospel is news about who Jesus is and what he did and said.  It’s helpful, then, to read the Gospel according to Mark more as a “holy newspaper” than theological treatise.

Know who the Kurds are?  The WSJ refers to them today in another news report. Often when I don’t know a people’s identity (the Kurds) or a word’s meaning, I ignorantly skim over it.  Of course, I risk losing a significant fact, but it’s easier.  Mark uses a few terms in the Gospel’s “headline” which are easy to skim because the terms aren’t unfamiliar.  But like lazy me in my reading, we risk losing significant facts about the news if we’re not precise about what the terms mean.

JESUS was a common Hebrew name.  For example, the apostle Paul mentions a fellow worker in the Gospel, “Jesus who is called Justus”
(Colossians 4:11).  “Jesus” is a transliteration (look it up!) of the Hebrew name “Joshua” and means “the Lord (Yahweh) saves.”  At this point “Jesus” becomes a weighty name.  The angel told Joseph “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  Arrested and interrogated by the Jewish court because they preached Jesus resurrected, Peter and John boldly answered, ” . . . there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  And the apostle Paul declared, ” . . . God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).  The common name “Jesus”, then, refers to a uniquely uncommon person.  The Gospel Mark wrote is about him.

CHRIST is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Messiah.”  Both mean “the God-Anointed One”.  Surprisingly, the Hebrew Scriptures don’t contain that title.  But, as the ESV Study Bible says, “‘Messiah’ is a summary term that gathers up many strands of OT expectations about a coming ‘anointed one’ who would lead and teach and save God’s people.”  One “strand” is 2 Samuel 7:12, 13b)  where the LORD instructs the prophet Nathan to tell King David . . .

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers,
I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
. . . and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

Another “strand” is Psalm 2:1-6 . . .

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cord from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill”

 A third “strand” is Isaiah’s familiar prophecy (9:6,7) . . .

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

“Christ”, then, is a term pregnant with significance because it pulls together the many strands of Old Testament expectation of the coming Savior-King for God’s people.

SON OF GOD doesn’t mean “male child” of God; it means “the one who shares the nature of his Father.”  Listen to Paul explain . . .

“[Christ Jesus] though he was in the form of God
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped . . . ” (Philippians 2:6).

Two works are key.   “Form” (Greek morphe).  Since God is spirit and, thus, without form, morphe must mean something like the embodiment of God.  “Equality” (Greek isos).  The word means “identical, same in essence.”  As “Son of God”, Jesus was the same in essence and the embodiment of God.

Peter, from whom Mark learned the Gospel, made it even plainer . . .

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours
by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1).

Peter called Jesus God.  The writer to the Hebrews did the same when in Hebrews 1:8 he quoted Psalm 45:6,7 . . .

But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever . . . ”

“Son of God” correctly leads us to call Jesus the “God-Man” or “God-in-the-flesh.”  Now what is this all about?

THIS IS YOUR INVITATION to read with us the news about the most captivating person who ever walked this earth—Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll be reading the Gospel according to Mark.  Jesus, Mark writes, is where the Gospel starts.  And because of who he is, no matter how often we’ve read the news about him, reading won’t leave us unchanged.

 

 

 

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Meeting Mark 2

P.AllanLast week we left Mark sailing east with the south shore of Asia Minor sinking into the horizon.  It may have been the lowest point of  his young life.

THE DESERTION.  It happened early on Paul and Barnabas’ first mission trip.  “Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia (south Asia Minor—today’s Turkey).  And John (also known as Mark, Barnabas’ younger cousin) left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).  “Left” was a kind word.

Some time after that mission trip ended Paul suggested to Barnabas they return to the newly-planted churches.  “Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.  But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn (the Greek word implies “deserted”) from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.  And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other” (Acts 13:37-39a).  Imagine two early church leaders so provoked they openly argue and split!  Mark’s “leaving” must have been desertion.  That’s why (together with Mark likely belonging to a well-to-do family) I see him as a somewhat-spoiled, direction-less young man.

THE DECADE.  Ten years pass.  The apostle Paul has been imprisoned in Rome.  He ends a letter to the Colossian church:  “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus.  These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me” (Colossians 4:10,11).  Mark has become a commended fellow worker with Paul!  About the same time Paul ends a letter to a friend named Philemon:  “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers (Philemon 23).

Apparently Paul soon was freed from imprisonment in Rome and resumed his missionary ministry.  Then he was re-arrested and imprisoned and sentenced to death.  In his final letter Paul gave closing instructions to his young associate Timothy:  “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica, Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Luke alone is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:9-11).  A decade earlier Paul had sharply argued against Mark’s presence on a mission trip.  Now he wanted Mark with him in Rome, because “he is very useful to me for ministry”

THE DIFFERENCE.  What changed Mark?  The transforming power of God the Holy Spirit.   “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  As we “behold the glory of the Lord” in his Word and in our new nature, the Spirit progressively makes us corrupted sinners  into image-bearers of the Lord.  But the Spirit also works through the influence of other believers.  For Mark, they were probably . . .

Cousin Barnabas.  After Paul and Barnabas split, “Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus” (Acts 15:39b).  It was a mission trip on which Barnabas the Encourager certainly mentored Mark in faithful, courageous ministry.

The Apostle Paul.  Before Mark had deserted he, Paul and Barnabas had evangelized the island of Cyprus and spent days traveling on board ship.  It’s not unlikely that a bit of Paul “rubbed off” on Mark.

The Apostle Peter.  About the same time Paul wrote his “prison letters” from Rome, Peter wrote letters to the churches.  He ended the first with these greetings:  “She (the church) who is at Babylon (a “code” reference to Rome), who is likewise chosen, send you greetings, as does Mark, my son” (1 Peter 5:13).  Peter’s relationship with Mark had grown so close Peter called him “my son.”   From this relationship came the Gospel according to Mark!  According to Eusebius, an early 4th century church leader, “In the same reign of [Roman Emperor] Claudius (died 54 A.D.) the Providence of the universe . . . guided to Rome the great and mighty Peter . . . preaching the Gospel . . . But . . . the hearers of Peter . . . were not satisfied with a single hearing . . . but with every kind of exhortation besought Mark . . . seeing that he was Peter’s follower, to leave them a written statement of the teaching given them verbally, nor did they cease until they had persuaded him, and so became the cause of the Scripture called the Gospel of Mark” (ESV Study Bible).  Mark, once rejected by Paul, was chosen and inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Gospel—in part because as “Peter’s follower” he had learned it from the apostle.

WHAT MEETING MARK MEANS FOR US. Assuming my supposition that early on Mark was direction-less, we might ask, “Is there a “Mark” in my life?  A young man with no clue about what to do with his life?  An old, lonely widow who thinks she’s of little use to anyone?”  If so, maybe we can be Barnabas or Paul or Peter to them.  Maybe we can speak encouragement or “rub off” or teach.  Maybe we can pray the Holy Spirit will work through us to transform that young man or older woman into an image-bearer of Christ at this point in his or her life.  Our young person or senior citizen won’t write a gospel.  But if he or she hears and responds to God’s call in Christ, then the Spirit will have done a “Mark” again—this time, at least in part, through us!

 

 Traditionally <b>Mark</b> is thought to have been founder and bishop of the ...

 

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Dear Andrae

O PreacherI hesitate to write this letter.  First, since you went to be with Jesus January 8th, I don’t know for sure you can read it—or even if you’d want to because of the glory of Who captivates your attention now.  Second, I don’t know how many who read this even know of you.  So, how can they relate?  And, third, what I write may sound too sweetly sentimental.  Oh well, here goes . . .

I was strangely sad to read last month about your death.  Back in the 70’s and 80’s I enjoyed your music often.  I was a young pastor then, and you were part of my formative pastor-years.  Then I kind of lost track of you.  Maybe it was because I didn’t like nearly as much what your later music evolved into from your earlier days with the Disciples.  Anyway, your death drove me to my computer to read details, and then to listen to some Youtube recordings.

And finally to buy some of your CD’s.  (I confess:  I never bought any before.)  Lois and I listen to them over and over.  How they lift our spirits!  Your music fills our home and hearts.  I know your style isn’t for everyone. (What’s wrong with people?)  But we love it.  Makes me wish I was black.  No matter how I try, this white boy can’t sound anything like you!  It’s a reminder that it takes the varied music of God’s ransomed people from every tribe and language and people and nation to begin to give you the highest praise!  (In heaven the “worship wars” will be over!  We’ll be singing every kind of worship music then!)

I’m writing this to tell you (better late than never) how the Lord has blessed me through you and your music.   (I’m listening to it now and can hardly sit still.)  Probably we have minor doctrinal differences.  But the worship of “My Tribute” (“To God Be the Glory”) and the truth of “Through It All” and the anticipation of “Just Like He Said He Would (He’s Coming Back for Me)” swallow up those minor differences with major joy.  The words you composed, the chords you played, the harmonies you wrote continue to touch my soul and turn me again and again to rejoice in the Christ who gave himself in love so we might have life to the full.

Thank you, Father, for the eternity of music that awaits us!  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for gifting this man to encourage us and to move our hearts to sing for joy to you.  And thank you, Andrae, for faithfully serving us for Jesus’ sake with those gifts.

Your brother in Christ who can’t wait to hear your music again in heaven,
Allan

<b>Andrae</b> <b>Crouch</b>

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSXUZDO3i2I

 

I have a reason for writing this letter besides honoring Andrae.  We all have people in our lives whom the Lord has used to show us his love.  It may be a well-known Christian musician.  Or it may be our mostly-unknown wife or husband.  Maybe a Christian friend or neighbor.  Why not encourage him or her by telling that person now how the Lord has blessed you through him or her and how you thank the Lord for him or her?  Years pass without our recognizing God’s gifts in the lives of the people he’s given us!  This is a good time to change that!

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