The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: October 2015 (page 1 of 2)

A Question of Authority

P.AllanEver since LSD-loving psychologist Timothy Leary popularized his “Question Authority” slogan in the 60’s, apprehension about authority has marred the American psyche.  In his Gospel, Mark writes about authority to which we must submit, not question.

Jesus’ Authority Questioned. It’s Tuesday after the Monday Jesus angrily shut down temple business.  Official representatives of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) approach in the temple court and question his authority to do such a thing.

They (Jesus and the Twelve) arrived again in Jerusalem and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:27,28).

They’re not on an information-mission; it’s an interrogation.  Next to the Roman Empire, they are the authority (both religious and civil) in Jerusalem.   Jesus could answer, “I am Messiah.  I have all authority.”  For that, they would have seized him.  But his time hadn’t quite come. So instead . . .

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism– was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’ . . .” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mark 11:29-33).

You see their predicament.  The temple court is crawling with Passover visitors, many of whom surely had stopped to see the confrontation.  The priests, scribes and elders fear a riot.  They can only plead ignorance.  But Jesus (not so “meek and mild”) won’t let them off that easy . . .

Jesus’ Authority Exercised.  And he then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.  At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully.  He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.  “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.  “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.  Haven’t you read this scripture: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;  the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”  Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away (Mark12:1-12).

A parable is an everyday-life story.  Hearers identify with its people. The story typically ends with a “punch” line—a “gotcha” point.  In this parable the Jewish authorities would have identified God as the vineyard owner and Jesus as the son. The “gotcha” point:  they are the rebellious tenant farmers who will forfeit the vineyard.  Rightly they perceive Jesus told the parable against them.  But, because of the crowd, they can only slink away in defeat (for the moment).

Mark begins his Gospel, ” . . . the kingdom of God is at hand” (1:15a).  The Greek word is bahsalaya, meaning “reign” or “rule”.  Jesus’ proclamation meant (in my paraphrase) “God is about to take over the world”.  His takeover is atypical, characterized by love and forgiveness and grace and mercy.   But also by authority. “The authoritative reign of God is at hand.”  Sinners must bow to  receive God’s grace through Messiah or unequivocally receive God’s condemnation for eternity.

Jesus’ Authority Doubted.  Talk like that draws dissing.  We’ve outgrown religious fairy tales.  Besides, matched against corporations’ control, nuclear bombs, military weapons, even Youtube videos, God’s power to control anything seems absent.  Where is his sovereign authority?  Don’t you know the Sanhedrin had authority to seize Jesus and have him nailed to a cross?  Don’t you know that the world turns a deaf ear to the church’s “authoritative” pronouncements?  Don’t you know that choosing to believe in Jesus is little more than a “nice” religious decision for some comfort and inspiration, not unlike picking chocolate or vanilla?

Maybe Jesus’ parable was just an empty-threat story.  Maybe he was just “lucky” to escape the Sanhedrin’s wrath.  Maybe his claim to be the “capstone” of God’s building work in the world was braggadocio. Maybe Friday after this Tuesday will end with Jesus crucified by Jewish rebellion and Roman authority.  Or maybe, just maybe this coming Sunday Jesus’ tomb will be empty—and it will be blatantly clear that rejecting Jesus’ authority could be deadly.

Jesus’ Authority Accepted. Let’s not question Jesus’ authority in the name of our own.  Let’s  bow in submission to his.  The King is graciously willing to make peace.  Let’s accept his offered amnesty.  Now.

Yeshua (Jesus) is Lord: April 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Planned Parenthood: “It’s so cute!”

Fishing for Organs Called “Cute” While Delivering Intact Brains is “Something to Strive for” in Latest CMP Video

October 29, 2015

By Cheryl Sullenger

Washington, DC — Just days after the Texas Inspector General’s office raided four Planned Parenthood facilities, the Center for Medical Progress released its eleventh undercover video summary on October 27, 2015, which shows prima facie evidence of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood.

The latest CMP video, “Planned Parenthood TX Abortion Apprentice Taught Partial-Birth Abortion to ‘Strive For’ Intact Heads” focused on Planned Parenthood’s practice of conducting illegal Partial Birth Abortions on living babies and altering abortion procedures to ensure that organs are available for sale.

Featured in this summary video is Amna Dermish, who is a second-trimester abortionist with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas in Austin.

Dermish explained that the Austin Planned Parenthood does abortions up to 21 weeks, 6 days, and that she uses digoxin during the abortions after 20 weeks. Prior to that, at 18-20 weeks, no digoxin is used and the abortions are done on living babies in violation of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.

While demonstrating with her hands and arms, Dermish describes her grisly practice of removing the lower extremities of larger babies first then grasping the spine and pulling the rest of the baby out with torso intact.

While the Austin Planned Parenthood clinic did not seem to be selling organs at the time the undercover footage was made, the admission that partial birth abortions are used is evidence of criminal conduct.

Partial Birth Abortions were outlawed in 2003 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2007 Carhart v. Gonzales case.

“Dermish is quick to admit that he aborts living babies at 18 to 20 weeks, sometimes converting to the breech position. This is an exact description of a partial birth abortion and should be enough evidence further investigate and bring her up on charges,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, who also serves on the Board of the CMP.

The video also features Deborah Nucatola, Senior Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who trained Dermish. She discusses training other abortionists on procedures for “research cases.” Nucatola indicated that she only allows her trainees to do the abortions that will involve organ harvesting as the trainee gets “better” at doing them.

In “cases” that are selected for organ harvesting, no Digoxin or other drug can be used to induce fetal death prior to the abortions. The procedure described by Nucatola is the nationally-banned Partial Birth Abortion method, where a baby is converted to the breech position and brought down with forceps then killed during the birth process.

Dermish told undercover CMP journalists posing as representatives of an organ procurement company that the Austin Planned Parenthood where she works conducts 25-30 abortions per day for ten days per month.

When asked if Dermish was able to provide an intact calvarium (head) for the purpose of harvesting the baby’s brain, she indicated she had not, “But that gives me something to strive for!”

Dermish shared that one of their “POC” workers is “really into organ development.”

“Yeah, she’ll pull out like kidneys and heart – and like heart we frequently see 9 weeks and she always looks for it,” related Dermish.

“Oh, just for fun?” asked the CMP actor.

The Whole Women’s Health abortionist replied, “Well, it’s cute. It is cute.”

Dermish went on, “It’s amazing! I sort of have do much respect for development. It’s just incredible!”

“That’s an appalling thing for an abortionist to say. She has ‘so much respect for development’ yet has no problem cutting short that development in one of the most brutal ways possible,” said Newman. “It’s like the torn remains of babies are just playthings to her. It’s a sick way to view the dismemberment death of defenseless human beings.”

Meanwhile, the Inspector General’s office seized abortion records and other evidence from the Planned Parenthood clinics in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Brownsville. It also served subpoenas demanding “five years of records from a dozen clinics, including patient charts, laboratory tests and clinical notes as well as facility visitor logs, financial information and rosters of the names, credentials, salaries and home addresses of all employees,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

“Texas does have hard evidence showing Medicaid fraud as well as violations of federal and state law concerning abortion procedures,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during an interview with Fox News.

“We have a whistleblower who worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years who has come forward to us and alleges that substantial violations have occurred,” said state Health Inspector General Stuart Bowen, who mentioned that his investigation included several ongoing audits of Planned Parenthood.

“We anticipate that criminal charges will be forthcoming,” said Newman.

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Is “In God We Trust” Religious?

O PreacherOr is the phrase—on coins, bills and now police cars—just patriotic? 

In a recent blog (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/10/19/police-in-god-we-trust-first-amendment-column/73891658/?csp=opinion), Ken Paulson (president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors), argues that it’s clearly religious.

A 1970 federal court decided otherwise . . .

“It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character,” the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in Aronow v. United States.

With all due respect to the court, that’s empty-headed.  While it “has nothing whatever to do with the establishment of religion, of course it’s religious.  God of “In God We Trust” is the Deity, the Supreme Being, the Sovereign Lord.  Methinks to declare him just another word for “flag” is not to his liking!

Paulson argues that, since the phrase is religious (despite the court’s ruling), putting it on money and police cars violates the first amendment.  Now Mr. Paulson’s credentials far outshine mine (“BA, in Bible”—Wow, that’s impressive!).  So dare I say that I think he misunderstands the first amendment?  Its pertinent part is here . . .

“The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion.’ This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.”

I agree that police cars plastered with “In God We Trust” implies the government prefers religion over non-religion (unless we make a case that atheism is a “religion”—which, in fact, we can).  But I disagree that by the motto the government is establishing “an official religion” or unduly favoring “one religion over another.”  Or, to use Mr. Paulson’s words, the “government cannot promote a specific religion.

To my knowledge (which admittedly is limited), I know of only one major world religion that has no God.  Some religions have hundreds. 

As I see it (I first tried to take the log out of my eye!), “In God We Trust” is a religious statement that the vast majority of the world’s religions can agree with.  And therefore it does not prefer one religion over another.  And it’s quite a stretch to argue that the government is preferring religion over non-religion.

Anyway, I’m sure Mr. Paulson will never read this, nor will I have set his academic pot boiling.  In fact, unless God works some totally unexpected miracle (he has been known to do such), this post will pass largely unnoticed.  But I just had to get it off my chest.

paulson101915

P.S.  I’m thinking that if all us folks who sit safely at computers critiquing every little thing had to face life-and-death violence, we too might publicly declare our trust in God!

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Word of Faith–the Third

O PreacherQuiz:  Find the sentence in Mark 11:20-25 that doesn’t seem to  belong.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.  Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”  “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.  “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:20-25).

I picked verse 25 (“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins”.)  To me, it  seems like a leftover Mark had to stick somewhere.  Why not here?  (And since this is my blog, verse 25 is the correct quiz answer.)

What did Jesus say? And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (11:25).  I stand praying (typical posture for Jewish prayer).  “A still, small voice” in my head reminds me I haven’t forgiven Toby for wrongly criticizing me before two friends.  (I picked “Toby” so as not to create trouble.  I know no Toby.)  “Forgive him!” Jesus commands.

The original Greek word translated “forgive” is apheeame.  In 4:36 it’s translated,  “And leaving the crowd . . . “.  In 7:8, “You leave (set aside, reject) the commandment of God . . . “.   And in 11:6, “And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go” (11:6).  “Forgive” suggests a sense of leaving behind a vengeful attitude, letting go of the idea that our offender owes us something, setting aside the wall we’ve allowed between us.  When we pray and remember we’re holding something against someone, Jesus commands us to let it go, to forgive.

Why did Jesus say it?  ” . . . so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  Seriously, this is a shocker!    Jesus will “give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45b).  But we forfeit that freedom if we refuse to forgive someone who’s wronged us.

[S]o that” explains Jesus’ purpose for forgiving others.  We open the way for our Father to forgive our sins.   Don’t forgive and we close the way to our Father’s forgiveness.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant?  His master wrote off  his trillion dollar debt (I’m thinking U.S. here), but he refused to forgive a fellow-servant who owed him lunch at McDonald’s.  When the master heard, he threw the merciless servant in prison.  Then Jesus warned (this should scare us), “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

Lest we think this is just a leftover stuck on, remember Jesus taught disciples to pray, ” . . . and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  And added, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14,15).

I know of families who profess faith in Christ, but refuse to speak to sons or parents.  Having pastored 44 years, I’m sure there are Sunday Lord’s Supper–partakers holding grudges against other partakers.  Are these folks forgiven of their sins?  Jesus commands “forgive” so they–and we all–could be.

Why did Jesus say it here?  Usually when I assembled one of our children’s toys, I found a part leftover.  In the context of 11:20-24, verse 25 seems a leftover stuck on.  It’s not, of course.  So why did Jesus say it here?  I’ve got three (hopefully educated) guesses . . .

First, Jesus presumes his followers will pray for forgiveness of sins.  Sin-forgiveness is one of the “whatevers” (11:24).  It’s true that in Jesus’ death all our sins are forgiven; forgiveness doesn’t depend on our confessing each sin each night.  However, pray seldomly for forgiveness and we begin to regard our sins (and therefore Jesus’ sacrifice) lightly.  It’s good to remember our moral bankruptcy before our holy God and our absolute dependence on his mercy through his crucified Son. And “whatever” our sin, it’s forgiven (as long as we are similarly merciful to others)!

Second, Jesus calls us to follow him together.  After Jesus’ ascension, the Twelve would set out in different directions to make disciples.  Wherever they would go, they would plant churches  and believers would live in relationship with one another.  To maintain unity and bear effective witness of Christ, the believers would have to forgive one another as God in Christ had forgiven them (Ephesians 4:23).  And the Father would enable them to do that, making this another “whatever” Jesus has in mind.

Three, only the Lord knows what “whatever” might include. I don’t want to limit God in my thinking.  I want, like a child, to believe our Father will do full-of-wonder “whatevers” in response to our prayers.  But neither do I want to trivialize Jesus’ “whatevers” to mean a convenient parking space or a pretty dress.  He may give both .  But in this promise Jesus is focused on “whatever” we need to follow and serve him in this anti-Christ world into which the kingdom of God has come near.

 

Come to think of it, forgive isn’t a command stuck on.  It’s a command that sticks out!

 

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Word of Faith–the Second

P.AllanIf you read “Word of Faith–the First” (http://theoldpreacher.com/?p=3763&preview=true), you know that now we want to untwist the text.  Here it is as Mark wrote it . . .

In the morning (Tuesday on the same road to Jerusalem as the day before), as they (Jesus and his disciples)  went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.  Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”  “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.  “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Let’s take Jesus’ words in bite-size pieces to understand the remarkable promise of verse 24.

“Have faith in God.”  Peter marvels at the Jesus-cursed, now withered, fig tree.  Why at that moment does Jesus encourage the disciples to trust God?  Because, as we saw last time, the fig tree-cursing prefigures God’s judgment on Israel.  It marks the leveling of everything these Jewish disciples have believed in.  Also, because in three days Jesus, whom they now follow and believe to be the Messiah,  will be crucified, and the disciples’ dreams will die.  And, because in a few weeks the risen Christ Jesus will send these men to preach the good news of the kingdom  in a violent, hostile world.  Finally, God’s kingdom will come, not in obvious power (as expected), but quietly in meekness.  Virtually everything will be shaken as that fig tree has withered.  With all that in mind, Jesus encourages to have faith in God!

Here Jesus addresses us.  Following Jesus hasn’t brought heaven to earth.  In fact, in some ways following Jesus has added to this fallen world’s harshness.  Fig trees have unexpectedly withered.  Traditional structures have been shaken.  Christian persecution increases.  To us, also, Jesus urges, “Have faith in God.”

“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”  I hear my old college friend winding up a “twist that text” performance.  ” . . . believes that what he says will happen” begs for a “name-it-and-claim-it” routine.  We gotta believe it will happen and please, please, don’t let a negative word of doubt sneak into your heart or escape your lips!

“Mountain”, of course, represents an impossible obstacle, an overwhelming and immovable weight.  But we can tell it to go jump in the lake and if we believe what we say will happen, it will.  I admit Jesus’ words made me think, “Hold positive thoughts!  Envision you have what you asked for!  This is name-it-and-claim-it “theology”!  Now, however, I realize I wasn’t thinking right.  The question isn’t, “Is Jesus teaching name-it-and-claim-it stuff?”  The question is, “How can I have such undoubting faith?”

Before trying to answer, notice the parallelism as Jesus emphasizes the same “pure” faith twice in slightly differently words . . .

“If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea . . . ‘”
” . . . whatever you ask for in prayer . . . “

” . . . and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen . . . ”
” . . . believe that you have received it . . . “

” . . . it will be done for him.”
” . . . it will be yours.”

Jesus isn’t teaching mind-control; he’s calling for undoubting faith!  Nor is Jesus urging, “Believe I can do it!”; he’s insisting, “Believe I will do it!”  Again, then, the question is, “How can I have such undoubting faith?”
I know only two ways.

One, by the Holy Spirit impressing on us that he will do whatever it is we’ve asked.  I think this may have happened to me twice.  “May have” because on both occasions I was so desperate for God to act, my “faith” may have been my subjective desires and not the Holy Spirit’s objective gift of faith.  There is such a gift (1 Corinthians 12:9a).  And I think the Holy Spirit gifted me with that undoubting assurance.  The “jury” is still out, because God hasn’t fully answered either prayer yet.

Two, by God’s promises and will revealed in his Word.  Objection:  But my Bible doesn’t say, “Take this job!” or “Buy this house!”  That’s true.  (I’m pretty convinced that, while God wants us to pray about significant choices, many he leaves to our being-sanctified mind.)  But my Bible does contain many promises from God and many revelations of his will.  They are objective.  They are black-and-white.  I can open my Bible and point to  ” . . . seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33) and “remind” Jesus of his promise.  And by his grace undoubtingly believe he will do the adding.

Out of many, many more, here is one more example.  I hesitate to cite it because, when I’m cynical, I think this is God’s “fine print at the bottom” that covers every unanswered prayer.  (“Well, you didn’t get what you wanted because God knows that wasn’t best for you!”)  But in my better moments, I know this is God’s true and wonderful promise:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Of that promise, John Piper says, “This is the greatest and most far-reaching of all the promises in the Bible. The effect it has on prayer is tremendous. It means that when our specific requests are denied, God is preparing something better for us. He never stops working for the best interests of his children. And therefore, in every prayer we pray we can have complete and undoubting confidence in this, ‘God will give me what is best for me in response to my prayer.’  Don’t ever doubt that.”

* * * * *

Text-twisters bend Jesus’ “whatever” into a materialistic promise for more goodies.  The context reveals their ignorance.  It’s a promise for all the “whatevers” we need as we follow Jesus in this anti-Jesus world.

Text-twisters also bend Jesus’ undoubting faith into positive thinking or mind-control.  Only God can give undoubting faith—sometimes by the Holy Spirit’s impression, but always by the promises of his Word.

So:  no back-aching twists, no pretzels, no knots.  Just the straight, stunning word of faith-promise from Jesus who is all we need.

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Word of Faith–the First

P.AllanI had a college friend whose cynical humor always made me laugh.  He pretended to host a TV show called “Twist That Text”.   Contestants infamously twisted the biblical text to make it say what they wanted it to say.  We have a text that’s been twisted like that:  “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).

“Whatever” is a key word.  We want it to mean, well, whatever.  We want Jesus to be promising a Mercedes or a better job or a thinner waist.  A look at the context, and the promise itself, will straighten us out.  We have time to look only at the context today.

First, Jesus curses the fig tree (11:12-14). 

The next day (after the triumphal entry) as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.  Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Jesus sounds like a spoiled kid who can’t get what he wants.  “No figs for me?  Bang!  You’re dead!”  He also sounds unreasonable.  Why look for figs when it isn’t fig season?  But Jesus is neither petulant or irrational.  Something else must be going on here.

In the Old Testament, a fig tree symbolized  Israel (Jeremiah 8:13; 29:17; Hosea 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7).  If Jesus means this fig tree too,  Israel is fruitless.  According to the prophet Micah (around 700 B.C.) Israel has been for generations.

What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave.  The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains. All men lie in wait to shed blood; each hunts his brother with a net.  Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire– they all conspire together.  The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen has come, the day God visits you. Now is the time of their confusion.  Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words.  For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– a man’s enemies are the members of his own household (Micah 7:1-6).

This day of Jesus cursing the fig tree signals a time of divine judgment for the nation’s long-lasting fruitlessness.

Second, Jesus cleanses the temple (11:15-19). 

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves,  and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.  And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”  The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.  When evening came, they went out of the city.

Six hundred years earlier, through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord had condemned Israel’s leaders for making his holy temple a thieves’ den.  “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 7:11).   The temple was the LORD’s holy house.  But the Jews had made it a “den of robbers”.  They charged Passover visitors from throughout the Empire exorbitant prices for sacrificial animals and for “clean” offering-money in exchange for “unclean” Roman money.  The Lord intended his temple to be a place where his people could meet him in prayer, but to the chief priests and law-teachers it offered big business profits.

Angry, Jesus abruptly shut business down that day.  And  his temporary “mini-judgment” pointed toward maximum judgment.  Forty years later the Roman General Titus would lead his army over city walls and destroy the temple once and for all.

So this day witnessed the Lord’s wrath against the greedy sins of the nation’s leaders.

Jesus teaches the disciples (11:20-25). 

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.  Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”  “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.  “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

We’ll study Jesus’ words here next time.  Until then, it’s important to remember Jesus gave this remarkable prayer-promise on a day of wrath—a day that, in turn,  would fuel great Jewish hostility against him.

And aren’t times like that when we need a remarkable prayer-promise like this?  When we’re comfortable, our greed  for even more rises up.  And we twist the text toward more “stuff.”  But this promise is made for days when the world’s on fire and kingdoms are clashing  and we feel tiny and defenseless.

With that in mind, we’ll turn to Jesus’ gracious promise next time.

prayer photo: Prayer image00111.jpg

 

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Praying Puritan Prayers

O PreacherPuritans’ prayers shame me.  I wish I could pray like them.

Before quoting one prayer (and assuming many of us know little about them) here’s what J.I. Packer wrote about the Puritans in his book, A Quest for Godliness . . .

“California Redwoods make me think of England’s Puritans . . . . Between 1550 and 1700 they too (like the Redwoods) lived unfrilled lives in which, speaking spiritually, strong growth and resistance to fire and storm were what counted . . . the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans shine before us as a kind of beacon light, overtopping the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age of crushing urban collectivism, when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill and puppets on a string
. . . affluence seems for the past generation to have been making dwarfs and deadheads of us all.”

Many of us presume 16th to 18th century Puritans have little to say to us.  Certainly we’ve advanced far beyond those old guys!   I heartily recommend Packer’s book as a cure for that presumption and for compelling lessons about the Christian life.  Hardcover is available from Amazon for $7.67  (http://www.amazon.com/Quest-Godliness-Puritan-vision-Christian/dp/0891075798/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1445189177&sr=1-1).

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_11?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=the+valley+of+vision&sprefix=The+Valley+%2Cstripbooks%2C176).  In there I found this prayer (I’ve changed Elizabethan English to modern.)

O LORD,
In prayer I launch far out into the eternal world,
and on that broad ocean my soul triumphs
over all evils on the shores of mortality.
Time, with its happy amusements and cruel disappointment,
never appears so inconsiderate as then.
In prayer I see myself as nothing;
I find my heart going after you with intensity,
and long with vehement thirst to live to you.
Blessed be the strong gales of the Spirit
that speed me on my way to the New Jerusalem.
In prayer all things here below vanish,
and nothing seems important
but holiness of heart and the salvation of others.
In prayer all my worldly cares, fears,  anxieties, disappear,
and are of as little significance as a puff of wind.
In prayer my soul inwardly exults with lively thoughts
at what you are doing for your church
and I long that you should get yourself a great name
from sinners returning to Zion.
In prayer I am lifted above the frowns and flatteries of life,
and taste heavenly joys;
entering into the eternal world I can give myself to you
with all my heart, to be yours for ever.
In prayer I can place all my concerns in your hands,
to be entirely at your disposal,
having no will nor interest of my own.
In prayer I can intercede for my friends, ministers, sinners,
the church, your kingdom to come,
with greatest freedom, ardent hopes,
as a son to his father,
as a lover to the beloved.
Help me to be all prayer and never cease praying.

Admittedly, this is not a spontaneous prayer.  It was almost certainly edited and revised.  Even so, do you see why Puritans’ prayers shame me?  These words surely don’t describe my prayer life!  So much of my praying time is taken up by that one line, “In prayers I can place all my concerns in your hands . . . ”  Yes, I can ask about what concerns me.  What a  gracious blessing; that is!  But that first line captures a concept of prayer I rarely experience:

In prayer I launch far out into the eternal world,
and on that broad ocean my soul triumphs
over all evils on the shores of mortality.

“I launch far out into the eternal world”.  How often my prayers leave me sitting in my familiar chair at my same old desk!  Instead of my soul triumphing “on that broad ocean over all evils on the shores of mortality”, too often I feel squeezed by  all the stuff of this mortal life.  No fresh breeze of victory.  No sense of triumph.  My prayers may have reached the eternal world, but I have no sense I have.

That’s why from time to time I return to the prayers of these “dead saints” (John Piper’s term).  After being a Christian for more than a half-century, I still find myself saying, “Lord, teach me to pray.”

And this Puritan prayer (like many others) kindles a spark that will one day hopefully soon launch me into the eternal world when I pray.

sunrise over ocean photo: Sunrise StKittsSunrise.jpg

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Triumphal Entry Bloopers

O PreacherHad I been Jesus’ public relations guy, I would have insisted on two changes.  One, can the donkey.  Two, take over the town.

Read how Jesus ran it and see what you think . . .

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,  saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'”  They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.  When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.  Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!”  Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve (Mark 11:1-11).

This starts the climax of Mark’s Gospel.  He’s covered almost three years in 10 chapters.  Now he’ll use 6 chapters to cover one week.  Obviously this week is the core of his report.  It starts with Jesus doing something completely out of character.  Up to now he’s tried to stay “under the radar.”  He’s warned recipients of his miracles to say nothing.  But this Sunday he directs an entrance into Jerusalem sure to make headlines.

At Bethany, about two miles outside Jerusalem, he sends two disciples to get a donkey.  Frankly, the details Mark writes are a bit tedious, especially since he records Jesus instructing the disciples in the donkey-getting details, then records the details of them actually getting the donkey.  Not nail-biting drama.  Mark, why not just write, “Jesus sent two disciples to get a donkey and shortly after they returned with one”?

Of course, if I’d been Jesus’ PR man—no donkey!  I mean, is this animal appropriate for a king?  Jesus sat on this poor little thing and his feet almost dragged on the ground!

  CHOCOLATE JENNY DONKEY | Spalding, Lincolnshire | Pets4Homes

Now this, this white stallion, this would have been the way to go!  Impressive.  Stately.  Kingly.  From nose to tail this one says, “Conqueror”!

 

I wondered why Jesus insisted on a donkey “which no one has ever ridden”.  Later I found out a never-ridden donkey was considered to be “set apart for a special purpose.”  Even obtuse me knew then that Jesus was making a statement using that donkey!  What, I wonder, was it?

Now the parade, that went well.  Of course, it was Passover season.  Jerusalem’s population swelled as faithful Jews from all over the country—all over the Empire—made the pilgrimage.  Gossip about Jesus’ powerful works and words spread.  So when he started the two-mile trip into Jerusalem, he rode a road packed with pilgrims.  The nearer to the city, the bigger the crowds.

And what they shouted was genius—“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!”  Messianic words from Psalm 118:25,26!  They were cheering Jesus as Messiah!  Man, I bet that grabbed the attention of some of the self-centered, stuffy old Jewish priests!  And that must have stirred reporters with dreams of high ratings!  This was BIG NEWS!

But then—I couldn’t believe it—just when he enters the city and the cheering crowds are biggest and loudest and even the priests are chewing fingernails about what he’ll do next, he just goes to the temple, looks around, glances at his watch, sees it’s getting late, and he turns around and leaves town.  Doesn’t confront the priests.  Doesn’t threaten the Romans.  Doesn’t give an “I’m-taking-over” spellbinder of a speech. He lets the critical moment fizzle.  He just walks out of Dodge.  Not even an, “I’ll be back!”  A PR man’s nightmare.  Make’s you doubt he’s Messiah.  All show, no action.

Of course, Jesus directed the whole event.  So why the fizzle-ending when it looked like the whole world had gone after him?

I’m just a PR guy and, like I said, I would have done the entry-thing differently.  Even so, I’ve got two guesses why Jesus did it the way he did.  One, the donkey.  If a white stallion stood for pride and power, that little donkey stood for humility and weakness.  For some reason Jesus, his feet dragging at the side of that little animal, was saying, “I’m humbling myself and coming to Jerusalem in weakness.”

Two, the fizzled-ending.  If Jesus had dragged King Herod by the ears and thrown him into the gutter, his aim to throw out the corrupt politician and take over would have been unmistakable.  But by just sliding off the donkey, dismissing the crowd, looking around and then leaving town, he must have left everybody—friend and foe alike—with a nagging mystery:  What will this Jesus do next?

 

 

Prayer for <b>Sunday</b> of the Passion: <b>Palm</b> <b>Sunday</b>

 

 

 

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“Don’t Help Her Die!”

O PreacherGod created us in his image.  The sanctity of human life stands firm on that theological foundation.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image,
after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26a.).

The Hebrew word for “man” (adam) is the generic term for mankind, “mankind” including both men and women as the next reference makes clear.

When God created man, he made them in the likeness of God.
Male and female he created them, and he blessed them
and named them Man when they were created (Genesis 5:1b,2)

So we argue that every human life has value and, therefore,  even the terminally ill should not be assisted to commit suicide.  Who are we to take the life of one created in the image of God?  I write that not having a loved one cruelly suffer day after day with no hope of recovery.  I know that only in my imagination, not in my experience.  Nevertheless, I say, “Don’t help her die!” because her life was created in God’s image and therefore sacred.

Here is a posting from “The Federalist” ( http://thefederalist.com/2015/10/06/my-mom-just-died-of-brain-cancer-heres-why-she-opposed-assisted-suicide/ in which a daughter, Mary Karner, saw her mother slowly die from brain cancer—and still opposed assisted suicide.  You’ll find her words compelling—a miracle, really, of the faith and hope and peace and  joy only Christ can give.

My Mom Just Died Of Brain Cancer. Here’s Why She Opposed Assisted Suicide

My Mom Just Died Of Brain Cancer. Here’s Why She Opposed Assisted Suicide

I’ll admit it, I’m an adrenaline junkie. And judging from the plethora of new TV shows like “Trauma: Life in the ER” or “Code Black,” most of America is too. Except that’s my life. I’m a Trauma Nurse. I eat, sleep, and breathe trauma.

Every time I walk into work with a French Vanilla Swirl Latte from Dunkin’ Donuts in my hand, life and death are waiting for me. And up until this week I thought I’d seen just about everything. I’ve performed CPR till I thought my arms would fall off to keep blood pumping through a child’s body. I’ve administered life-saving medication to a patient having a stroke and seen the joy on his face when he regained his speech. I’ve had a patient fall through a ceiling onto another patient (I can’t even make that up.) I’ve held the hand of patients as they’ve taken their last breath, and I’ve hugged family members so tight I couldn’t breathe. I really thought I’d seen it all.

And then last week, my mom died. She had a glioblastoma brain tumor. I knew all about it, even cared for patients with her same diagnosis. I knew what was going to happen. But no matter how much I thought I was ready, I wasn’t. Death stings. And my beautiful, 52-year-old mother’s grave is freshly dug.

But my mom’s name was Dr. Maggie Karner. And she was the textbook definition of awesome. Don’t take my word for it, Google her.  She devoted her entire life to helping others and spreading Christ’s beautiful gift of mercy for all. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard my mom speak more passionately then when she was talking about the word “mercy.” And that’s why my mom used her last days on Earth to campaign against a very dangerous use of that word. A “merciful death” some would call it, or a “right to die.”

My mom is most famous for a YouTube video that went viral entitled “A Letter to Brittany Maynard.”  In the video my mom pleaded with Brittany, who had the same diagnosis, not to commit assisted suicide. Unfortunately, Brittany eventually chose to end her life, but my mom never stopped advocating for life. In her words, “How long will it be before the right to die quickly devolves into the duty to die? What does this mean for all who are elderly, or disabled, or just wondering if they’ve become a burden to the family?” Even while she was receiving chemotherapy, my mom spoke at the Connecticut state house to lobby against a “right to die” bill. The bill did not pass.

Difficulty Does Not Justify Suicide

That’s why my heart breaks tonight to learn the news that California’s governor has just signed legislation allowing residents of the state to take their own lives in the face of terminal illness. This makes five states in our nation allowing assisted suicide.

Believe me, terminal illness sucks. There is no way to sugar coat that. It stole my mom from me along with so many others. But it also gave me something that I could never begin to describe, the opportunity to serve her. My family and I cared for her when she could no longer care for herself. We were her left arm when hers was paralyzed. And when that became too much, we had the distinct privilege of being able to visit her at her hospice facility during the last month of her life. She was not herself, and many times confused, but she could laugh. Even up until the day before she died. We laughed about seagulls that she thought were drones. We laughed about how much she loved chocolate and McFlurry’s from McDonald’s. We laughed about all the stupid things I did as a kid. And then when she could no longer laugh, we sang to her and we prayed with her.

My mom said it best in an op-ed in the Hartford Courant: “My brain may be cancerous, but I still have lots to contribute to society as a strong woman, wife and mother while my family can daily learn the value of caring for me in my last days with compassion and dignity.”

I’m here to say that she was right. No matter how hard it was and still is. She was so right. And the greatest honor of my life was to care for my mom in her last days. I hope and pray that her legacy will continue to inspire caring American voters to support those choosing to squeeze life for every drop that it has to give. Support hospice and palliative care programs that give true meaning to “death with dignity.” Let those fighting illness and disabilities know that they are precious, no matter what. They should never have to feel for a second that they might have a “duty to die” just because the option is available.

Mary Karner is a Registered Nurse currently working in Connecticut.

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Blind Faith

P.AllanHow did a 1st century A.D. blind man get faith to be healed?

The Role of Faith.  Before we try to answer, let’s look at the important role of faith in the healings Jesus performed.   Typically, it was the sick person’s faith to which Jesus responded:  the leper’s (Mark 1:40), the bleeding woman’s (5:28), crowds of sick in Gennesaret (6:55), etc.

On other occasions, Jesus responded to the faith of someone associated with the sick: the friends of the paralytic (2:1-12), the Syrophoenician mother whose daughter was demonized (7:24-30), the crowds who brought a deaf man to Jesus (7:32), people who brought a blind man to Jesus at Bethsaida (8:22), the father of the boy with an unclean spirit (9:24).

Then, at least twice Jesus healed without anyone believing.  Such was the case of the man with a withered hand (3:1-6) and the demoniac in Gerasene country (5:1-20).  But Mark also reports that in Nazareth “he could do no mighty work . . . And he marveled because of their unbelief” (6:5,6).  However we try to understand that seeming contradiction, we can at least say that Jesus had no “cookie-cutter” approach when it came to the matter of faith for healing.  But we also are compelled to say that normally faith was required.

Interpretation of the Text.  That brings us to the incident about a blind man Mark recorded in 10:46-50 . . .

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”  Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road (Mark 10:46-52).

Before returning to our original question, a couple of interpretation issues.  First, the original Greek word the ESV translates “made you well” is sozo.  In general it means “save, preserve, rescue from danger.”  It’s the usual word that refers to salvation.  For example, Paul uses it in Ephesians 2:8—“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God . . . ”  In relation to sickness word is translated “heal, make well, restore to health.”  The ESV translates it “made you well.”  The NIV, “healed.”  Jesus’ statement, “your faith has made you well”, makes faith the active contribution for healing from Bartimaeus.

That Bartimaeus had faith is obvious.  For one thing, at least twice he shouts. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  “Son of David” here is a messianic title, so Bartimaeus is expressing faith that Jesus is the Messiah who can open blinded eyes (“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened . . . “—Isaiah 35:5).  For another thing, when Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”, Bartimaeus’ answer, “Rabbi, I want to see”, implies faith that Jesus could open his eyes. 

Final interpretation issue:  Bartimaeus’ faith was in Jesus.  It wasn’t “the power of positive thinking.”  It wasn’t “name it and claim it”.  It wasn’t an emotion Bartimaeus worked up within himself until he could just see himself seeing.  It was faith in the person of Jesus as Messiah who, therefore, was able to open blind eyes. 

Question & Answer.  Now to our original question:  “How did that 1st century A.D. blind man get faith to be healed?  He couldn’t read Scriptures about Messiah’s power.  He couldn’t see the miracles Jesus performed for others.  We might quickly answer that, according to Ephesians 2:8,9, faith is God’s gift:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  However, there’s a bit of ambiguity there:  does “it is the gift of God” refer only to being saved or also to faith? 

I suggest Bartimaeus’ faith came from hearing what others “gossiped” all over the place about Jesus.  He was undoubtedly the topic of water cooler conversation!  Bartimaeus’ eyes were broken, but his ears worked just fine.  And thus Bartimaeus fulfilled Paul’s words in Romans 10:17—“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” So that day, having heard about Jesus of Nazareth, he heard conversation that told him Jesus was right there!  That’s when he cried out.  And about a minute later, that’s when he saw Jesus.

* * * * *
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.
Enable me to believe that you still stop and listen when I cry.
Enable me to believe you still want me to tell you what I long for you to do for me.
Enable me to keep asking when everything around me and in me says, “Give it up!”
Enable me to believe you still open blind eyes and make a cripple walk.
And give me a quiet, rock-like confidence to believe
that if you don’t answer me today, on that Day, you will.
Amen.

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