The Good Old Days

“These all died in faith… having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

(Hebrews 11:13 ESV)


As Alistair Begg asks in his recent book Brave by Faith: God-Sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World, “What does it look like to live as a Christian in a society that does not like what Christians believe, what we say, and how we live? How are you going to live in this new normal?” As I noted the last time, this is a great question, one that the Bible has an answer. Over the few months I’ll be providing the answers both from Begg’s study of Daniel and gleanings from my own study of 1 Peter.

The first thing for us to remember is that no matter how good the “good old days” were, America has never been a “city on the hill” where we as a nation at one time enjoyed a special status before God as did Israel. Contrary to “pop theology,” unlike with the ancient nation of Israel, Yahweh never made a covenant with the USA. The unique blessings God covenanted with the ancient theocratic nation of Israel are not translated or transposed in the current experience of our national identity as Americans. Unlike Daniel, we never grew up in Jerusalem. America was never Jerusalem. The UK was never Jerusalem. Where is Jerusalem? Theologically speaking, Jerusalem is in heaven. If Jerusalem is in heaven, then where are we? Theologically speaking, all Christians are living in Babylon. Like Daniel, all Christians are in exile, exiled from our home which is actually the kingdom of heaven! This is what we have mostly in common with Daniel. Like Daniel (and all Old Testament saints according to Hebrews 11:13), we are resident aliens living as strangers and exiles on earth from our true home, i.e., the kingdom of heaven. The apostle Peter says it this way:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you (1 Peter: 1:1-2)

So even in the best of times, we Christians have never been and should never feel like we are at home. In the best of times, America was a God-fearing nation. In the best of times, our society, leaders, institutions reflected the ethos of a Christian world-view. However, Christianity is no longer dominant. As our culture and society and institutions (including Western civilization) are experiencing further spiritual and moral declension, the greater our sense of exile will be.

However, this awakening isn’t bad. It reminds us of the reality that all along America has never been Jerusalem, but Babylon. And second, this awakening isn’t bad because it forces us to long for heaven, especially for the creation of the new heavens and earth when Christ returns to bring heaven to earth after He has destroyed every kingdom of man. As D. L. Moody noted in the late 18th century this world is ship wrecked. The only hope for survival is to get into the lifeboat. The lifeboat is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the only hope for safe passage is Jesus! Next time when I come back to this subject, we’ll talk about how and where we must “draw the line” as we engage our society and culture. But I hope this short message has encouraged you and has set your mind straight and at ease.

In Christ

Pastor Carl

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Strangers and Exiles

“These all died in faith… having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

(Hebrews 11:13 ESV)

Some of you may remember singing this as a child:

This world is not my home,

I’m just a-passing through.

My treasures are laid up

Somewhere beyond the blue.

For generations and generations of Christians, in the West, this world has felt like home, and our treasures were stored in this present age: things we could taste, touch, feel, hear, and see. We, and our forefathers, lived in a world where being a Christian meant, not only laying up treasure in heaven, but also enjoying earthly treasures: treasures of the many social benefits of being a Christian. Now we are living in a Post-Christian era where there is a social cost to being a Christian. No longer is Post-Modernity and Post-Christian thought limited to the academia and cultural elites as it has been for a generation or more. Now it’s becoming mainstream. From one degree to another our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian faith: e.g., belief in the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, belief in sin, belief in absolute truth, belief in heaven and hell, even belief in natural law where it was taken for granted that marriage was between men and women, that there are only two God given genders, etc.—these are being eclipsed by neo-pagan beliefs and worldviews that are not only incommensurable and incomprehensible to one another, but also our culture is producing people for whom Christianity is offensive, where our beliefs are bigoted, and our Scriptures are full of hate-speech.

As Alasdair Begg asks in his recent book Brave by Faith: God-Sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World, “What does it look like to live as a Christian in a society that does not like what Christians believe, what we say, and how we live? How are you going to live in this new normal?” This is a great question, one that the Bible has an answer. Over the few months I’ll be providing the answers both from Begg’s study of Daniel and gleanings from my own study of 1 Peter.

In Christ,

Pastor Carl

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More Loved Than We Dare Dream

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:4-6

C.S. Lewis famously said: “The highest doesn’t stand without the lowest.” This makes sense. Case in point, what makes the height of Mt. Everest so spectacular is the depths of the Grand Canyon. What makes the height of the Freedom Tower possible is the depth of its foundation.

This is true, especially true of the gospel. The height of the good news of the gospel does not stand without the depths of the bad news. R.C. Sproul notes: “The gospel is only good news when we understand the bad news.”  If someone says to you— “I have bad news and good news”—if you are like me you may prefer the bad first (to get that out of the way) then the good. As a child I would prefer first my bland vegetables so I could in turn enjoy my dessert.

This is true of the gospel. Tim Keller says that: “In the gospel, we discover we are far worse off than we thought, and far more loved than we ever dreamed.” In other words, the good news is the love of God, that we are loved beyond our wildest dreams, that we are accepted beyond what we can ever imagine, that we are embraced with breathtaking love! This is the height of the gospel that takes our breath away!

However, many take this for granted. Many in the churches across America today assume they are loved by God. God’s love is too domesticated, too tame, and too familiar. Such an understanding of God’s love is far from breathtaking, it’s more stale, arid, and old. Such a heart has never experienced the true love of God.

Ironically, what makes the height of God’s love so breathtaking to a true believer is coming to an understanding of the depths of our sinful nature, a biblical understanding that we (apart from Christ) are far worse off than we thought. Unconverted man hates this notion. Because of this he creates man made religions. Examples are legalism and humanism. The man- made religion of legalism tells us that the glass of our human goodness is half- empty. We are good, but not good enough. So, because of this, we must keep striving to increase our half-empty glass to being two-thirds empty or three-fourths empty with emphasis on the empty, the not quite good enough. The religion of legalism is fatally pessimistic. The other extreme is the man-made religion of humanism. It tells us that the glass of our human goodness is half-full. We are good, and getting better. We must strive to increase our half-full glass to being two-thirds full or three-fourths full with emphasis on our fullness; we are good and getting better all the time. The religion of humanism is fatally optimistic.

However, the gospel of God concerning Christ (the only God-made religion) is neither pessimistic, nor superficially optimistic. It’s realistic. Scripture tells us that the glass of our human nature is dirty with sin, that our dirty glass of sin nature contaminates the water of our so called good works. The bad news is not that our glass is full or empty, but dirty. It doesn’t matter how little or how much water we have. It is still dirty.

But the good news is this: if we would fall on the mercy God and trust and repent of our sins and stop looking to our accomplishments (whether half-full or half-empty) and look to what Christ has accomplished on the cross, then God will do what is impossible for us to do; God (as Paul says to Titus) will wash us, and renews us, and pour out on and in us His Holy Spirit. In short, He will pour out our good works, wash the glass of our hearts, and renew us by pouring his presence and power within us, replacing the foul water of our righteousness with the pure water of the righteousness of Christ. Beloved, this is the breathtaking height of the gospel!! This is the Easter message of Resurrection Sunday. As Christians may we soak this in! Though we are far worse off than we dare to think, remember that we are far more loved than we dare to dream.

In Christ

Pastor Carl

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A Biblical Notion of Justice

‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”

(Lev. 19:15 ESV)

If you recall a few months ago, I made the case that sin is not only personal but is also structural and systemic. Then I gave a summary analysis of Critical Race Theory, a theory that I argued is contrary to a biblical notion of justice. As I promised, I want to share with you a biblical notion of justice, a notion that refutes CRT.

Distinguished Dutch Reformed theologian, Herman Bavinck, argues that there are three basic demands of biblical justice that are reiterated over and over again in the Old Covenant dispensation:

(1) the guilty person may by no means be considered innocent (Deu. 25:1; Prov. 17:15; 24:24; Isa. 5:23; (2) the righteous may not be condemned (Exod. 23:7; Deut. 25:1; Pss. 31:18; 34:21; 37:12; 94:21; Prov 17:15; Isa 5:23); and (3) the rights of the poor, the oppressed, the day laborers, the widow, and the orphan especially may not be perverted but, on the contrary, must be uplifted for their protection and support (Exod. 22:21f.; Deut. 23:6; 24:14, 17; Prov. 22:22; Jer. 5:28; 22:3, 16; Ezek. 22:29; Zech.7:10).[1]  

Bavinck says that these three demands of justice are grounded “…in the fact that God is the God of justice and righteousness, who upholds the rights of the poor and the afflicted, the widow and the orphan.”[2]

There is much to say, but there are two things I want to emphasize. First, a biblical notion of justice is grounded in God: i.e., true justice is what God demands; and true justice is based on God’s righteous standards, that is the Ten Commandments. Second, God demands that the “rights” of the poor and the afflicted, the widow and the orphan be upheld. Who are the poor and afflicted, the widow and the orphan? In the Old Testament these were the “oppressed,” oppressed not because of their condition, but because of their condition people in power tended to take advantage of them. In other words, the poor are not oppressed by virtue of being poor; on the contrary, the poor are usually oppressed because they are poor. When you are poor, people who are not poor can easily take advantage of you.

What the poor as widow, orphan, and sojourner had in common was a precarious social status. In the case of the widowed and the orphaned it was the death of a husband or father; in the case of the sojourner, it was social and political dislocation due to her or his alien status of not belonging. The concern for these groups was not poverty per se as absolute poverty, but oppression. What I mean is that economic poverty, in the sense of a lack of subsistence, was par for the course in the ancient world of the Old Testament. However, if one were economically disadvantaged due to any one of these categories, then one was liable to oppression; that is, the wealthy— with their political clout and connections (social and political and economic capital)— could (and would) use their advantages over-and-against those with no such social capital. The plight of which the Old Testament most often speaks is not the plight of hunger or lack of shelter; it is their inability to maintain their rights, so that it is possible for others to oppress them. The rights that the widow and the orphan had was a right to her husband’s and a right to his/her father’s resources. The widow had certain “independent legal rights” that a married woman did not have. Case in point, the gleaning laws mandated that what was left in the fields were to be left to the sojourner. Also, because the widow and the orphan lacked sufficient “muscle power,” and the resident alien lacked equal opportunity, certain provisions were legislated: e.g., the gleaning of the fields; every three years a tithe was brought to the local town; and every seven years the land was left uncultivated so that the poor could harvest whatever grew on it.

This biblical notion of justice is contrary to CRT and other secular/pagan notions of justice. In what ways? Let me give you two: first, regarding CRT there is no notion of God; God is not the foundation of justice and righteousness. CRT rejects traditional authority. However, Scripture teaches us that all authority is on loan from God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1 ESV). CRT and other secular/pagan notions of justice reject this. Second, regarding CRT in its notion of “intersectionality” if you are poor, a woman, a person of color etc., then your minority condition or status by definition means you are oppressed. And by definition if you are not in any one of these minority conditions or statuses you are the oppressor; you are the problem. This too is contrary to a biblical notion of justice. A biblical notion of justice looks to the rights of the poor, the widow, the orphan, etc. being protected and supported. In short, a biblical notion of  “social justice” looks to the equity of law (equity meaning what the Westminster divines meant by General Principle), that is to say no matter your condition or status in life—e.g., rich or poor, male of female, black or white, etc.—everyone has an equal, impartial standing before the law. As Moses says: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Lev 1:15 ESV).

In conclusion, both the poor and the mighty are to be treated the same under the law; both the poor and the mighty are to judged by the same standard under the law. CRT teaches the opposite: the poor and oppressed are given preference over the mighty. That’s just as unjust as the mighty given preference over the poor and oppressed. We live in the times of a pendulum shift: we have gone from the injustice of the mighty being preferred over the oppressed (e.g., Jim Crow of previous generations) to the oppressed being preferred over the mighty (e.g., CRT’s notion of justice). A biblical notion of justice rejects both of these forms of injustice. In short, impartial or equitable judgment is a major facet of a biblical notion of justice.  


[1]. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, v. 3 (Grand Rapids: Backer Academics 2008), 162.  

[2]. Ibid.

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The First Christmas Promise

 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

What is the meaning of Christmas? Christmas is about the birth of Jesus! The birth of Jesus Christ (what we culturally know as Christmas) is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith and one of the most important events in salvation history. Sceptics will ask “If the birth of Jesus is one of the most important events in history, then why is it only mentioned in the gospels, and in only two of the gospels: viz., Matthew and Luke and only in the first two chapters, never to be mentioned again? If the birth of Jesus is so important, shouldn’t it be referenced throughout Scripture?” It’s true that the birth narrative is only recorded in the first two chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke . However, we would be misguided to think that Matthew and Luke are the only two places that the birth of Jesus is alluded to in Scripture. Case in point is Genesis. That’s right! The first reference to Christmas is in Genesis. Genesis 3:15 is a Christmas promise of Christ’s victory at the Cross. Genesis 3:15 is the promise of a Deliverer who would be the promised offspring in the godly line of Eve.

The birth of Jesus was the partial fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. What do I mean? When Jesus was born it was a fight to the finish between Satan and Jesus. Satan knew very well, in part, the general meaning of the prophesy. He knew that Jesus came to crush his head (win the war) and that at best all he was predicted to do was to bruise Jesus’ heel (win the battle). Satan, I’m sure, said “Nonsense! I’m going to crush his head before he can crush mine.” So as soon as the eternal Son of God became a little helpless baby in the manger, Satan said, “Finally, I got him! Finally, God is within my grasp.” We all know the story of this conflict. King Herod the Great (one of the spiritual offspring of Satan) lashed out at Jesus, doing Satan’s bidding. Herod’s demonic enmity resulted in the murder of all male children ranging from the ages of two and under. God warned Mary and Joseph of Herod’s infanticide, and they were able to escape to Egypt. 

Satan came back again and again and again throughout his public ministry. Finally, Satan had whittled down Jesus’ support, so much so that the spiritual offspring of Satan was greater in number than the offspring of the godly, so great that even Jesus’ inner circle abandoned him. In fact, Satan had one of his spiritual offspring operating as a double agent: Judas Iscariot. At the right moment Satan stirred Judas to betray Jesus. And Finally, Satan had him right where he wanted him. Things unfolded according to Satan’s plan: arrested by night, trial before a kangaroo courts (one by night and the other by day). He was then flogged; he was sentenced to death. He was forced to walk to Golgotha where he would die, forced to carry his own cross (an instrument of torture and death); they nailed him to that rugged cross; and there he died. It finally looked as though Satan had won the war, that he in fact had crushed the head of Jesus. But something happened; on the third day Satan realized that he hadn’t crushed the head of Jesus (the promised deliverer). He realized that he had only bruised Jesus’ heel, that he had not defeated Jesus once and for all, crushing his head via the cross. Satan realized that the death of Jesus on the cross was just a bruising for Jesus, while it was a crushing defeat for him. John Gerstner wrote this about Satan’s momentary triumph:

“Satan was majestically triumphant in this battle. He nailed Jesus to the cross. The prime object of all his striving through all the ages was achieved. But he had failed. For the prophecy which has said that he would indeed bruise the seed of the woman has also said that his head would be crushed by Christ’s heel. Thus, while Satan was celebrating his triumph in battle over the Son of God, the full weight of the Atonement accomplished by the Crucifixion came down on him, and he realized that all this time, so far from successfully battling against the Almighty, he had actually been carrying out the purpose of an all-wise God.”

Beloved, this is the gift of the first promise of Christmas way back in the Garden of Eden. That gift was the gift of salvation secured at the cross. At the cross Jesus defeated Satan, crushing his head, while only bruising his heal: that is, at the cross Jesus won the war of redemption by losing the battle through crucifixion! 

Christmas is not about gifts, and food, and parties, and Hallmark cards and movies. Christmas is about a promise kept long ago in the Garden of Eden, a promise to save us “from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” A promise of “glad tidings of comfort and joy.” If you have not trusted Jesus as your Lord and savior—if you have not trusted in Jesus as Adam and Eve, and as all of the other godly offspring have throughout sacred history— I bid you to do so now! Amen! 

In Christ

Carl

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Critical Race Theory: An Empty Philosophy

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (1 Col. 2:8 ESV).

Paul (in Col 2:8) warns us against “empty philosophies” that take people captive. Case in point, last time, I broached the subject of “structural or systemic sin” that dominates our cultural conversation from News headlines, political commentators, and political activists. I asked, as Christians, what are we to make of all of this “social justice” talk? Is structural or systemic sin real or Marxist ideology? Last time I made the case that sin is structural and systemic. However, much of what we hear today about social justice isn’t formed and informed by a biblical notion of justice. What we hear today is contrary to Scripture. What’s contrary to Scripture?  Marxist ideology under the rubric of “Critical Race Theory” is contrary to Scripture. What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)? CRT is a secular metanarrative that seeks to explain all of reality apart from God. A metanarrative is a theory that gives a wide-ranging interpretation to events and experiences based on universal truth. A metanarrative is a worldview that tells us about human origin, human meaning, human morality, and human destiny. In the case of CRT it provides a postmodern metanarrative or worldview that seeks to replace the metanarrative or worldview of Scripture.  

There are generally five pillars of CRT: oppressive hierarchies, ever-present racism, non-traditional morality, anti-free markets (anti-capitalism), and social revolution. The first pillar is oppressive hierarchy. A hierarchy is simply a chain of command; there is always someone in authority above us. CRT teaches the higher you go in the chain of command the more oppressive ascending authority becomes. The necessary implication is that all authority is evil and oppressive. In short, the first pillar is the CRT’s doctrine of authority. The second pillar is ever present (i.e., ubiquitous) racism. Racism is the original sin of CRT; racism is the worst of all oppressive hierarchies; racism is both universal and systemic. The “White (male)” systems are inherently oppressive of minorities of all kinds. In short, the second pillar is CRT’s doctrine of man. The third pillar is non-traditional family. CRT believes that the nuclear family is a threat to society. If you go to the organization Black Lives Matters’ website (not the slogan; we all agree that all lives of black people matter.), they unambiguously state that the nuclear family must be dismantled, that heterosexuality is oppressive. CRT teaches that “heteronormativity” (that is heterosexuality is the normal and normative mode of sexuality) is an expression of oppressive hierarchy in the family. This is why CRT pushes for the disintegration of the nuclear family. In short, the third pillar is CRT’s doctrine of morality. The fourth pillar is anti-free markets. CRT teaches that the free-market is one of the most heinous forms of oppression. Pitting the “haves” and the “have- nots” is a classical Marxist way to express “oppression.” In short, the fourth pillar is CRT’s doctrine of economics. The fifth pillar is social revolution. Social revolution is the method by which one dismantles authority, racism, the family, morality, and free-markets. And one of the methods of social revolution is violence. CRT justifies violence as an acceptable means for social change.  In short, the fifth pillar is CRT’s doctrine of social change.

Next time I’ll share with you how CRT is contrary to Scripture and the Christian faith. But in conclusion, for now I merely want you to be aware of what CRT is about. CRT has long ago taken over the minds of academics across disciples from law to liberation theology. What’s different today is that it’s becoming mainstream, that it’s being pushed, for example, in certain progressive government school districts via the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project curriculum basically teaches our children that America was founded on evil, that our Founders were oppressive racists, that America must undergo a social revolution, a “fundamental change” must take place by any means. (Sound familiar?) Let me be very clear: peaceful protest is a civic virtue!! What was done to George Floyd was a travesty, a great miscarriage of justice! However, rioting and burning and looting are not civic virtues but vices! As Christians, we must be aware of this counterfeit notion of justice and empty philosophy of CRT vs. the biblical notion of justice. Next time, I’ll share with you the biblical notion of justice.

In Christ

Carl

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In Sin My Mother Conceived Me.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
(Psalm 51 ESV)

We hear a lot these days in our cultural conversations the terminology of “structural or systemic sin” from News headlines, political commentators, and political activists. As Christians, what are we to make of this? Is structural or systemic sin real or Marxist ideology? The short of the answer is both yes and no.
Sin is first and foremost personal. King David, as he confesses his personal transgressions of adultery and murder in Psalm 51, also acknowledges the radical nature of his sinfulness. David was born a sinner, conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity in his mother’s womb. David is saying that he was a sinner, not because he sinned; David sinned, because he was a sinner. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it this way:

Q25. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate into which man fell?

A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.

What both Scripture teaches and the Westminster divines reiterate is that man was created righteous, but because of Adam’s first sin, man fell from his original righteousness, making him both guilty of Adam’s first sin and making him corrupt. When the divines say that all of humanity is guilty of Adam’s sin, they are speaking of the doctrine of Imputed Unrighteousness. One of the Scriptures the divines used as a proof-text is from Romans 5:12, 19:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. … For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Imputed Unrighteousness means that even though you and I did not personally commit Adam’s transgression (i.e., we did not partake of the fruit offered by Satan), we are nonetheless guilty of Adam’s transgression, treated as though we had done it. And not only are we guilty of Adam’s sin, we are also personally corrupted because of Adam’s sin; this personal corruption is called Original Sin where we are “wholly inclined to all evil….from which do precede all actual transgressions.” In short, each and every sinner is held responsible for his or her own personal sin and will give an account of that sin on the Day of Judgment. This is bad news, but there is good news. The good news is that God has accomplished salvation through Jesus on the cross. On the cross, our sins were imputed to Jesus (Jesus was treated as though he committed our sins, judged for our sins), and Jesus’ perfect righteousness was imputed to us by faith, and faith alone. That’s the good news of the kingdom of God: we are forgiven and set free from the penalty of sin.
This is the personal notion of sin in relation to the gospel taught in Scripture. However, related to the personal is the social: sin is also pervasive within social structures and social systems. When we sin we not only sin personally, but also corporately. Personal sin pervades every sphere of human life and society. Sin (like cancer) metastasizes, spreading to everything we touch in human life and society; laws, politics, policies, customs, ideologies, etc.—everything is corrupted by sin. The Bible calls this institutionalization and routinization of sin the World or this present Age. A good example of the structural and systemic notion of sin is abortion. The murder of a baby in the mother’s womb not only involves the personal sins of the mother and the abortion doctor, but also the corporate and structural sins of institutions and larger systems such as Planned Parenthood, the legal decision of Roe v. Wade, etc.  Sinful systems in the past were Antebellum Slavery, Jim Crow,  the Indian Removal Act, etc. As Al Mohler says, “The relationship between individual sin and structural sin is thus reciprocal. Individual sin eventually takes structural form. The structures then both facilitate and rationalize ongoing and expanding individual sin.” In short, personal sin and corporate sin feed upon each other. Scripture calls this evil tandem the world and the flesh.
In conclusion, the biblical notion of structural or systemic sin is real. We, the church, must speak against evil in all its forms, both personally and structurally. On judgment Day, Jesus too will destroy both the world and all sinful flesh, but until then we must proclaim the gospel. The gospel is the only answer to sin. Next month, I will discuss the unbiblical notions of structural or systemic sin that is rampant in our culture and on our news today, and relate this to the truth of the gospel.
In Christ
Carl

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COVID19

fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(Isa 41:10 ESV)

How do we trust God when fear is a greater pandemic than COVID19? How does the Spirit of God’s power, love, and self-control overcome the fear of our age (Zeitgeist)? I want to give you three words of encouragement, the same words of encouragement that the company of pastors, led by John Calvin in the midst of the Black Plague, gave to those who were on their sickbeds, dying from the Black Plague!
1. Death does not have power over the Christian.
The first thing to remember is that the power of death over the Christian has been taken away. The power of death is the fear of death that the devil holds over man. The author of Hebrews says, “ 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb 2:14-15 ESV). Jesus’ death destroyed Satan’s power of death which is our fear over death. This is why Paul could say “To live is Christ, but to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). And we can say the same thing. Take courage in this, that even in a worst-case scenario, like contracting COVID19, you and I have nothing to fear! The best is yet to come when the “roll is called up yonder!”
2. Remember the message of the gospel of grace: confess your sins and flee to the mercies of God
Scripture teaches that the greatest existential threat to man is not a plague, or virus, or cancer, or natural disasters, etc. The greatest existential threat is sin and its effects on humanity. At most all COVID19 can do is destroy our bodies. Jesus said don’t fear that. What should we fear? Jesus’ warning is this: “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mat 10:28 ESV). The cure for the spiritual disease of sin is the gospel. God sent his Son into the world to save us from sin and sin’s wages. Through faith in Jesus we receive mercy, righteousness, and eternal life. In order to receive this gift, we must repent of our sins and trust in Jesus where we are safe in His arms.
3. God protects, loves, cares, and watches over His people
Revelation teaches us that throughout history— i.e., between the first coming of Christ to His second coming—God sends judgments: 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed1 the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. (Rev 16:9 ESV). The purpose of these judgments is to warn sinful man of the impending Day of the Lord. On that Day (when Jesus returns) there will be a total destruction of this “evil age.” This will be the end of human history (this present age) and the beginning of the “age to come,” of the New Heavens and Earth. What we see in Revelation is God’s patience and long suffering: His slow, incremental increasing of judgment. Each vision (seven in all) is a snapshot or picture of God’s judgments on every generation until Jesus returns for The Judgment, called the Day of the Lord! What does this mean for our world today? It means that our world is under God’s judgment, that COVID19 is God’s wakeup call (a trumpet) for sinful mankind to repent before it’s too late. Eschatologically speaking, COVID19 (like all plagues, diseases, natural disasters, etc.) is a warning! But, alas, the world (as it says in Revelation) will not repent and give God glory. The question for us, the Church, is how do we fit into all of this? Revelation was written to address that question. Revelation’s basic message is that God is in control, that the Lamb of God is victorious, that the wicked will not repent and glorify God, but will continue to curse God who has power over these plagues (including COVID1). However, in the midst of all of this we, the Church, are protected, loved, and cared by God, that God is watching over us!
Dear Christian, remember that death does not have power over you; remember the gospel of grace; and remember God is in charge; He’s protecting you, loving you, caring for you, and watching over you in the midst of this global pandemic! As the prophet Isaiah says, Fear not!
In Christ
Carl

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I Am The Life

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Joh 14:6 ESV)

Philosopher Herbert Fingarette, while musing about death, said that “In my arrogance, I thought that I could conquer death with logic. But now I know that I only used logic to suppress my fear of death.” Dr. Fingarette lived and mused his way through most of his 97 years of life that death was nothing to fear, that he could muster enough arguments as a buffer to blunt the fear of death! It was only now at his dark stage of twilight, that is while the dusk of death was falling rapidly, that Dr. Fingarette realized his arguments were only a defense mechanism to suppress his fear of death. Fingarette had good reason to fear death. The Bible teaches that the fear of death has real power over our lives, a power that subjects us to “lifelong slavery.” The tragedy of Fingarette is that it wasn’t until he was near his end that he realized his human “logic” only served to numb him from the fear of death. It didn’t conquer his fear of death as he arrogantly thought all those years in his “ivory tower.” Because of that, he treated the most important existential issue in all of life with an escapist attitude! This escapist attitude contemplated that “since life is short, let’s just enjoy it!” The power of death does that: it has the power of dread and it has the power to create an escapist attitude to avoid such dread. But either way, dread is real! Who has this power of dread over humanity? Scripture says the devil: 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise apartook of the same things, that bthrough death he might cdestroy dthe one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who athrough fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:14-15 ESV)

But the good news is that Jesus destroyed the power of Satan who has the power of death. How? Jesus’ death on the cross destroyed death and the power of death which is the power of dread! When Jesus says that he is the “life,” that’s what he means: that is to say, he’s the only way that can deliver man from the power of dread; He’s the only truth (Fingarette’s logic) that can deliver man from the power of dread! All the other ways and truths that man uses to deliver him from the power of dread are arrogant, merely ivory tower approaches of escapism doomed to fail in this age and in the age to come.

As I write this, we are all hearing the tragic news about Kobi Bryant and his untimely death as a young and extremely accomplished man. Our prayers go out to his family and friends, as well as others whose family members died in the helicopter crash. Whether we live a long full life like Dr. Fingarette, or our life is cut short like Mr. Bryant, may we prepare for a long eternity after this life! However, there is only one way to prepare: in Christ alone, through Christ alone, and by Christ alone!

In Christ,

Carl    

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Small World Where God Matters

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. (Rev 14:1 ESV)

 

We live in a big world where God doesn’t matter, where bigger is better, power is impactful, and influence is all that matters. This sort of thinking can easily permeate the church and seep into our psyche, distorting our view and expectations of God. Recently I read a blog from a pastor, pastor Mark Loughridge. He said this:

“We live is a world where size matters. But God wants us to live in a small world where He matters. Consider Naaman’s maid…. Healing and salvation came to a pagan warlord because of 10 words. That’s all that is recorded, a nameless girl, with ten words—impacting eternity…. The power of God can inhabit smallness just as easy as vastness. Ten words, from a small nobody. World changing.”

This is true, true regarding not only smallness but also weakness. When we consider Revelation 14, we notice a contrast. The contrast between the Beasts of Revelation 13 vis-a-viz the Lamb of Revelation 14. The Beasts represent the sum total of all political and military power, as well as false apostate religious systems that are against Christ and his Church in this present/temporal evil age, an age that is under the power of Satan (the Red Dragon) who is the god of this present evil world/age. Compare this to the Lamb (who is Jesus) who is currently ruling and reigning in heaven (Mount Zion) in the eternal age to come with the 144,000 (which are all the elect saints of God). There is much we can ask of this text. However, there is one question I want us to ponder: why isn’t Jesus depicted as a lion? In Revelation 5:5, Jesus is depicted as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Why is Jesus depicted as a sacrificial Lamb as opposed to a powerful reigning Lion? In part, it’s because Jesus reigns in weakness. That is to say, through the weakness of the cross Jesus conquered and was triumphant over the Dragon and his cronies (the Beasts).

Let this permeate and seep into our minds. Paradoxically, smallness and weakness are the ways of God. God can do (and does) great things through ordinary people like you and me. In this present evil age unbelievers live in a big world where God doesn’t matter. However, as pilgrims in this evil age we long for heaven, for the age to come. In the meantime, let us live in a small world where God does matter!

In Christ

Pastor Carl

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