Your Story & Your Scars?  The Scars of God and His Healing Story

No matter how dull or uninteresting we might think ourselves to be, we all have a story. That story also says a lot about us and is rich with triumph and tragedy.

For better or for worse, we live through it. With it secretly playing in the background of our consciousness, it unfolds in the caverns of our psyche like a movie soundtrack.

Like all stories, content is critical. The story told determines plot and themes affecting our decisions and how our personal story unfolds. Not unlike an author, who casts characters, we continuously cast and recast ourselves in the image of the narrative that we believe about ourselves. As the author makes decisions for the characters that will affect the ultimate outcome in the story, so do we based upon what we already believe about ourselves.

It is by this story through which we typically interpret our sense of reality. How you see yourself, the shadow you cast, is often who you grow into, for better or worse.

Your Story and Your Scars

I have said before that where there is a story, there are scars. Scars can run deep and have the power to define or redefine us. Folks that have suffered immense tragedy, abuse, violence, and so on often become defined by that story. Through no fault of their own, that story of abuse or alienation becomes our own. This can have a tyrannical power steering us into a downward spiral to a diminishing sense of self.

Our self-worth, how we view ourselves, suffers when it is defined by anything less than God and his Gospel. This is in itself, idolatry. A life story other than the Gospel of Christ is a False Gospel.

To have any other narrative through which we get our self worth other than the unshakable love and character of God is a fragile place to be. Our self-worth suffers all the more when what defines is not only NOT God, but also something negatively committed against us. That story can be nothing less than a demonic false god.

Without the Gospel as the center, our scars then become an anti-story giving birth to more chaos. Instead of weaving the tatters of life into a tapestry of grace, they can further diffuse, dissipate, and make our life story seem more senseless and purposeless.

The Gospel — A Better Story

In the Cosmos, gravity gives unity, consistency, and predictability to all things celestial. It is gravity shared in our solar system that establishes times, seasons, days, months, and years. Outside our solar system is a host of random floating space debris. Few of us know it, but Astronomers and Astrophysicists know that the immense gravity of Jupiter continually sweeps our solar system of earth ending events by sucking massive celestial menaces into the tractor beam of its gravitational pull.

The Gospel story is not unlike Jupiter. It slurps-up the seemingly random, and pointless scars of our present life into the orbit God’s cosmic love story. Our scars are no longer random junk that makes us likewise feel like junk. We have purpose; we are here for a purpose. Like gravity, the Gospel brings order and symmetry out of the chaos.

When we see ourselves as disconnected tissue deposits slogging through life’s suffering only to disappear from history’s horizon just to make room for others, it is hard to make sense of pain. It is harder to see that we are here for a purpose—that we have dignity, and that we are made in the image of God.

Those horrible scars do not have to define you. Through the Gospel, the scarred God comes and offers us his hand to the renewal of us, and of all things.

The God of Scars and the Scars of God

In the upper room, after the resurrection, Jesus came to meet his disciples. They were scarred men, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The Bible ironically never paints a “saintly” picture of the saints. They were fallen men, and yet Jesus comes to stand among them and stand with them.

Even after the resurrection, the disciples did not encounter a sterile and saccharin Jesus, all washed-up with no backstory. He was a savior with scars. Thomas protested: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Jesus neither rejects nor shames him. Jesus stands before Thomas saying:

“Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

For Thomas, the scars became sacramental; touching the scars in Jesus’ hands and side is the path of faith. Jesus condescends with his own flesh and scars to heal the rot of disbelief in Thomas’ affected soul. By his scars, Thomas’ doubts are healed.

Thomas responds with new faith. Rising from the dead of disbelief, Thomas cries: “My Lord and my God!” In his confession, Thomas is in Christ, he is the body of Christ, and he shares in the glory of Christ. Jesus’ scars are now Thomas’. Through the resurrection of the dead, God’s scars became your scars and they are the very food of life for us.

Proud of the Scars

One thing that may be unique to boys over girls is their absurd tendency to brag of their scars. Only a group of young men can bring “one-upmanship” to new heights of absurdity as they compare scars. “Oh you think that’s bad, you should hear how I got this one…”

With the right story, we often eventually become proud of our scars. The Gospel renews the center. Like the Sun, it reorders the solar system of our personal narrative and relocates us in the universal story of God. Now our wounds have new meaning in the light of Jesus’. So the next time we are comparing scars, we can now say, “Oh you think that’s good, wait till you hear what Jesus did for me!”

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LIFE TOGETHER

At our last Council Meeting, Superintendent Todd lead the Devotion Time by presenting a portion of a book entitled Community – Life Together. Here is a portion of what was shared at the meeting:

“ The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. Longingly, the imprisoned apostle Paul calls his “dearly beloved son in the faith,” Timothy, to come to him in prison in the last days of his life; he would see him again and have him near. Paul has not forgotten the tears Timothy shed when last they parted (II Tim. 1:4). Remembering the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul prays “night and day …… exceedingly that we might see your face” (I Thess. 3:10). The aged John knows that his joy will not be full until he can come to his own people and speak face to face instead of writing with ink (II John 12).

“Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the Sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual-physical creatures. The believer, therefore, lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God. Visitor and visited in loneliness recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body; they receive each other’s benedictions as the benediction of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Submitted by Bill Sexton, Archdeacon

 

P.S. “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

(George Eliot)

 

REACHING OUT WITHOUT COMPROMISE

In the early Third Century A.D., Constantine became the emperor of Rome. Claiming to have seen a vision of the cross in a dream, he emblazoned the shields of his legions with the sign of the cross. After his decisive victory, he consequently attributed this victory to Christ and eventually made Christianity the official Roman state religion. 

Constantine gave much to the Church, most notably the Council of Nicaea which in turn gave us the Nicene Creed. Peace & safety poured through empire for the Christian masses. From the fourth century A.D. on, and up until the last century (20th) the western Church existed in a very safe bubble called ‘Christendom.’ Christianity simply enjoyed a privileged status in western civilization. 

In the last hundred years, this privileged status has eroded. The world grows more and more like the world into which the apostolic Church was birthed. The Greco-Roman world was both secular, but spiritual. Every day our world becomes more like that one. Ask any folks today if they are religious, and the majority will answer, “no I am not a religious person, but I do consider myself spiritual.” 

This effectively works out to:: Religion = bad; Spiritual = good.

ADAPTATION OR ORTHODOXY

In this climate, the Church has not known what to do. One of the key responses has been adaptation. 

What do I mean by “adaptation”? That is a technical social-scientific term meaning when a group “adapts” its message to be more palatable to the ears of those who may disagree. 

This has been the path that most mainstream Protestant denominations have taken. Chilled by the potential blowback of maintaining the prickly thorns inherent to the historic Gospel, Protestantism began to file down the sharp corners of orthodox doctrine. The Protestant Episcopal Church here in the US of which Church of the Apostles was formerly a member, is a prime example of ‘adaptation’ in action.

THE PROBLEM WITH ADAPTATION

The problem with adaptation is simply a  matter of degree. When you begin to compromise on one small thing, it may seem innocuous enough at first. But this undermines the authority of Scripture as a source of truth. In time, all doctrines become up for debate.

Many of Scripture’s ideas seem out of date, antiquated, and perhaps simply out of touch. But at the heart of them is wisdom—the wisdom of God that alone understands his creature, mankind. 

The more one adapts the message, the more this historic message is chipped away at. If we cannot trust the Word of God on this point or two, why should we trust it on this one too? And so it goes.

THE LOSS OF IDENTITY

Adaptation ultimately blazes a direct path to a loss of identity. People are shaped in community by the belief system of the social group. This is a universal principle. People normally learn their values in a primal community called the family. If a young person moves away from this system, it comes from two fundamental reasons: (1) they were accepted into another community (peers, school, college teachers, etc) that presented an alternative, and (2) that their family’s values had self-contradictory elements that demanded questioning. 

As a belief system is adapted, it over time ceases to have the identity it once had. In fact, the inevitable outcome of adaptation is for it to eventually become what it is adapting too. Any group that surrenders its founding principles also surrenders itself. 

This reminds me of a conversation I once had in a Starbucks with a young Ivy League Math professor. In our chat, after indicating to me that she was “spiritual” and not “religious,” I asked her that if she were to look for a church, what would she be attracted to? She thought for a minute and said, probably the Unitarian Universalist Church. But then she paused and made a great concession admitting that however was really contradictory because the Unitarians don’t really believe anything! Well put! The  Unitarians do not believe anything because they adapted their entire belief system to popular sentiment during the age of Romanticism.

THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINE OF LOVE

The question that remains is this: How do we as orthodox, bible-believing Christians, reach out with a Gospel that has edges on it? How to we bring a Gospel to the world that is often offensive and unwelcome to the warm and empty platitudes of pop-spirituality?

We reach out with an expression of Jesus’ message and ethic in action!

First, anyone can say love your neighbor. But Jesus told us to love our enemies. This remains a radical message, still today. Jesus calls us to love those who hate us, those who reject us, and those who abuse us. 

Second, we apply this ethic in the context of christian community. One of the great things lost during Christendom was authentic Christian community. The Church always lives between two poles, according to Roberta Hestenes, the institutional and the relational. When she gets too institutional she becomes stale, rigid, and cold—like a fireplace with no fire. This is how the medieval Church of Christendom became a mere peddler of services rather than a purveyor of grace!

On the other hand, when the Church abandons reasonable institutional structures, she becomes like a raging fire out of control that knows no boundaries. 

The beauty of Christian community is that it is not only where the Gospel of Jesus is most beautifully defended, it is also the place where almost all evangelistic work is accomplished. People are not converted to the Church—they are converted within the Church. 

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What is a Bishop?

If you did not grow up in church, you may have wondered what precisely is a bishop. In movies, they are usually the bad guy—typically an ostentatious and craven villain using the church to enrich himself. Maybe to you, a bishop is just a chess piece or a guy in a pointy hat. Rarely are they portrayed as the compassionate man like the Bishop in Le Miserables who has mercy on the fallen Jean Valjean. Either way, there is a lot of confusion surrounding what a bishop is and what he does.

Are Bishops in the Bible?

For Bible-believing Christians, those who count it as God’s reliable source of moral and spiritual truth, this is the fundamental question: Are Bishops in the Bible? The answer to that question is a simple YES.  Yes, they are. But the picture is not entirely clear and so we need to do a little homework to get our bearings. 

We find bishops in the New Testament, and we find authorities like them throughout the entire swathe of God’s revelation in history. Moses and the High priests of Israel officiated in a bishop type role—both examples that early Christianity drew from. Let’s consider some texts. 

First and foremost, Jesus himself is identified as the Bishop par exellelence’, which all Church leaders should emulate: 

1Pet. 2:25For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (KJV) 

Moreover, Jesus being our great high priest, this text shows that the concept of a chief shepherd and overseer of people’s souls was a familiar idea to Jews of the first century A.D.

The word “bishop” is translated from the Greek word “episkopos” which means “overseer,” “superintendent,” or “bishop.” Most Protestant Bibles translate the word simply as “overseer” to avoid the connotations of the high-episcopacy found especially in the Roman Church.

Second, in the Pastoral Epistles, those three letters (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus) addressed to the young overseers Timothy and Titus, we encounter this title used for leaders within the Church. Here are two examples:

1 Tim. 3:1   “The saying is sure: If anyone aspires to the office of bishop (episkopos), he desires a noble task.  2 Now a bishop (episcopos) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher…” (RSV)

Titus 1:7   “For a bishop (episcopos), as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain…” (RSV)

Behind the Greek term episkopos lay the Hebrew term mebaqer, meaning the same—overseer or president. This role is even found in the Essene Jewish community at Qumran, from which we discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. The idea of the community overseer is then by no means new or an innovation by the New Testament Church. The idea of an “overseer” or “bishop” comes from Judaism.

Second Temple Period Jews Doing What Jews Would Do.

The local synagogue, as it became a regular part of Jewish life in Palestine, required a structure and polity to organize it? Where would Jews naturally look for guidance in structuring their local worship community? Isn’t it probable they would look to the structure they were already familiar with? Wouldn’t they naturally look to their primary place of worship—the Temple? This is precisely what they did. The entire Old Testament priestly system was adopted as a general rule of thumb. 

High priest = Overseer/President of the Elders

Priests = Elders/Presbyters

Levites = Assitants/Deacons

Jewish Christians, being the Jews they were, did not, therefore, invent a new system of leadership but continued with the synagogue polity they already knew, the very same polity originally modeled after the Temple administration. Moreover, the idea of meeting in the larger homes of wealthy patrons was no Christian invention either. The majority of synagogue meeting houses (like the “upper room” Acts 1:13) were in the homes of wealthy patrons. Archaeologists uncovered both a synagogue and an early Christian church dating around 4th century A.D. in the Syrian city of Dura Europas. Both were converted from regular common homes.

The leadership structures of the synagogue provided a dynamic and elastic model for the Church. This allowed both structure on the one hand, and elasticity for Christianity to become a movement on the other.

Development of a Title

Eventually, all Christians called only the president—Bishop (“episcopos”); they continued calling presbyters the same but also called them “priests” as well; they referred to the assistants as either “deacons” or even “Levites” interestingly enough. 

During the final gasps of the Roman Empire, civil order in the various provinces began to break down. Some of the only substantial leadership people could look to were the bishops of local Churches. Out of these exigencies, the lines between church and state began to blur laying the foundation for the large administrative diocesan system of Medieval Christianity. This was not all a bad thing, but it certainly had longterm consequences for the health and wellness of the church.

For the Full Article see: http://toddjmurphy.com/what-are-bishops-are-they-in-the-bible/

In upcoming posts, we will develop this role and the others within the Church more fully. 

 

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The Beauty in Credulity

I had the fine privilege of obtaining my graduate education at one of the great bastions of Neo-Evangelicalism, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I cannot say enough good about Trinity, its faculty, and it’s legacy. There I studied Hebrew Bible and theology amidst a distinguished faculty and in an environment of stalwart commitment to the Christian Scriptures. This has served as a boon to my study and preaching ever since. 

Neo-Evangelicalism, if you have not heard of it, was lead by some remarkable men, like R. Fuller, Harold Ockenga, Gleason Archer, and of course Carl F. H. Henry, among others. These men gave themselves to the highest standards in scholarship and launched a movement of cultural engagement. 

One aspect of the Neo-Evangelical mindset though, that I think may have been a shortcoming was the quest for legitimation, especially in the eyes of those who do not call themselves Christian. Neo Evangelicalism, part reaction to both the doubts of Modernism and the pugnaciousness of Fundamentalism, sought to create a dialogue with those within the critical study of religion, humanities, and above all the sciences. They founded great schools like Gorden-Conwell and Trinity who have influenced several generations of evangelical clergy and scholars. Yet after almost a hundred years, those aspirations remain largely unfulfilled. 

Why is this? 

I believe there is a fundamental reason for this—one that is fundamentally biblical in essence. 

The persisting lack of credibility with the unbelieving masses at large is almost hardwired into the Gospel itself. It seems that the credibility associated with the Gospel, to some degree or another, depends on the narrative that one is operating with in the first place. The Apostles Paul himself says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1Cor. 1:18) This is to say, that without the eyes of faith, the Gospel story typically appears quite silly to the disinterested onlooker.

The Gospel is NOT foolishness. In fact, for Paul, it is the very wisdom of God. Stripping away the dance of social airs, the Gospel leads us to raw human authenticity. At the foot of the cross, nothing exists but the naked human before a God in unrestrained purity.

This idea that to understand the Gospel requires faith is not new. For the great Church Father St. Augustine, and especially Anselm of Canterbury, the Gospel is in fact unintelligible apart from the eyes of faith. Anselm put it something like this in his Proslogion

“I do not understand in order to believe. I rather, therefore, believe in order to understand.”

To the critic, this sounds, at first blush, absurd. In reality, it is really closer to how all of life works. You do not first receive the fruit of your labor so you can convince yourself it is worth your while to pursue it. Rather you first believe that learning the skill will produce fruit. Then you work to gain the skill, execute it and then reap the harvest. So with the Gospel: We believe in order to learn the ways of Jesus and reap a Kingdom.

This is Anselm’s point. I do not understand the Gospel first in order that I might believe it. This only exists in a laboratory, and really not there either. What does a scientist first do? He always creates first a hypothesis—a premise to believe!!!—and then conducts his investigation based upon his faith that the hypothesis is worth investigating.

Paul makes the same proposition, namely that the things of faith require the eyes of faith to see them. He writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians: (1Cor. 2:14) “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” He must believe in order to understand. If he requires proof first, that very posture will cause him to miss those things.

Paul knew well the belittling glare of the wise against the childlike claims of the Gospel. Miracles, the resurrection of the dead, the end of the age, and a coming kingdom—things that any self-respecting modern man of the world man finds beneath him. This we know well. Yet God will bring this also to an end. (1Cor. 3:19) “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

To modern man, such credulity is no virtue. Nevertheless, the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. It is simply because God’s values are not man’s. What is foolishness to worldly minds is virtuous to God. 

Jesus Calls his followers back to their childhood in order to find him. He does not call us to the academic struggle, to the apologetic fight, or a bookish life of proofs. The Gospel is not a call to sophistication but a call to childlikeness. For this reason, Jesus draws a child up upon his lap and says to his disciples:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)

This is beauty to God. What God seeks is a humble and contrite heart like that of a small child; he seeks the childlike and guileless. If you look up the term credulity in a dictionary, you will find these terms listed among its definitions. Other uncomplimentary definitions include gullibleness,, naiveness, blind faith, over-trustfulness, lack of sophistication, and so on. And yet all these to one degree or another describe someone who precisely the kind of person Jesus calls us to become to enter the kingdom. 

God seeks the beauty of mind and heart, and it is the least coveted among all human characteristics that God finds beautiful and attractive—a childlike willingness to simply believe him at his word.

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IF THE LORD WILLS, WE WILL DO THIS OR THAT…

In the 4th chapter of the epistle of James, disciples of the Lord Jesus are warned against making future plans without humbly regarding the brevity and frailty of our lives and the limits of our wisdom and knowledge.  Simply put, though we do not and cannot know all that our future holds, in Christ, we do know who holds our future, and in Him, we can put our trust.  James, therefore, urges us when making future plans to trust God fully, desiring above all His glory and purpose and so to prayerfully say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jas 4:15).

Helen and I have been living this biblical principle through all the years of our life together, and we attest that the Lord is always faithful to make His will known to those who prayerfully seek Him, clearly directing us for His glory and our good.  We are now again trusting God to lead us according to His will, as we prayerfully prepare to move to the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this”.

Twice before we have lived in Minnesota – when I attended Seminary from 1977-1980, and when I served as Conference Minister of the CCCC from 2003-2011.  Now our oldest son Carl lives there, as does our youngest son Jonathan with his wife Jackie, and their two sons Archer and Theo.  Being near children and grandchildren would be a blessing to us and also to them.

My local oncologist has reminded me that the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota offers the best care available anywhere for fighting Multiple Myeloma.  Because I have thus far not responded to chemotherapy as expected, such expertise could be very helpful to me.  I would also have access to the care available at the highly-rated VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Helen and I have therefore listed our home for sale.  We are making preparations to move with James 4:15 in mind, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this.”  For this to happen we must have a buyer soon, and I must be physically well enough to make the move.  Because Stem Cell Transplant (SCT) is still the treatment goal for me, and because it is recommended as soon as I become medically eligible, this could very well alter our plans, as I would then not be well enough to move and I would be required to remain wherever I am for at least a year.

Would you please pray with us about this matter, asking God to accomplish for us His perfect will and in His perfect time?  Helen and I love you all in the Lord, and we thank you from the depths of our hearts for your sincere love for us and for your prayers and support.  We so love the fact that in Jesus Christ we are forever family.  We often thank God for Church of the Apostles, praying for the leaders and for every person who is part of this wonderful family.  Our loving God has us all in His grip, and we know He will never let us go.

In our every decision and in every way, may Jesus Christ be praised!

In Christ’s great love,
Pastor Steve Gammon
Bishop Emeritus

 

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Taking a Stand for Truth

 

One thing that characterized the earliest Church was its unwavering stance on moral issues. These issues always drew a sharp line in the sand between the saved and the unsaved, between the Christian and the Pagan, between the Church and the rest of the Roman world. 

The Church’s Catechesis was imbued with detailed lists of moral expectations. These are rooted in deep reflection on Holy Scripture. Things unique to even Greco-Roman moral depravity were specifically named: pedophilia, exposure of infants (usually girls) to the elements, and abortion. A reading of the earliest Christian baptismal catechisms are eye-opening. (See Didache 1.1–6.4; See also the Epistle of Barnabas 18–21) These expectations served as a test, a line of demarcation testing the hearts and minds of Christians. This required the Church to apply Church discipline, at times rigorously. And this is precisely what gives the Church its teeth—its prophetic role in the world.

Adaptation and the Loss of Christian Witness

What is adaptation? Well, it is very much what it sounds like. In the realm of preaching the Gospel, adaptation is the adaptation of the message to the wants, desires, or preferences of the audience. Mainline Protestantism has been doing this for well over a century here in the US. 

The problem with adaptation is that when a church or religious group does this, they lose their identity. Like we noted above of the early Church’s moral stand, this was what made her conspicuous and even at times controversial in the world. It is not an easy position. But without an identity founded on the bedrock of God’s truth, the Holy Scriptures, Christian identity died.  

Besides this, the world does not respect it. Deep down, those who are not Christians may not always like what the Church stands for, but they have to respect its stand for it. When the Church reformats Christianity to look like what it originally stood against, it is hard to respect it.

Serving God by Serving the World

The Church’s posture is “whosoever will.” We will not chase, coerce, nor should we ever hurt or shame those who live outside the Church or God’s moral standards. We are all the same; both redeemed and unredeemed are ultimately sinners in need of grace.  

Nevertheless, those who reject the Gospel and God’s moral standards do so to their own peril. For eternal life is for those as Paul says, “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (Rom. 2:7) The job of the Church is to lovingly and non-judgmentally share the hope of God’s love and bring healing to those outside of the Church. We share God’s love and grace to broken people just like ourselves. The beautiful people outside the Church are not our opponents or enemies; they are our ministry and calling—those we are called to love and serve with humility and grace. 

 

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A Low, Dishonest Age

This morning, September 1, 2019, marks exactly the eightieth anniversary since the start of World War II. On this date in 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland starting one of the most apocalyptic losses of human life in history. The death toll is estimated between 70 and 85 million souls that perished in the conflict—one driven by greed, ideology, and above all, human sin.

Polish soldiers surrender to Hitler's Germany

Our Naive Hopes Denied

Our cliche hopes that WWII would be “the war to end all wars” have been denied. It is, of course, naive for us to think that the event would. As the writer of Ecclesiastes observes, one generation comes, and another goes—rare is the generation that learns from the previous. (Ecc. 1:4)

But we are naive for a far more fundamental reason—human nature. Whatever you believe about the Bible and the world in general, what cannot be denied is the persistent tendency of humankind toward evil. We often bracket ourselves out of this while noticing everyone else’s evil. We marvel at the atrocities of the Third Reich, 20th-century Communism, and 21st-century terrorism, all the while failing to sense the abiding impulse in ourselves. Whether you call this human nature, total depravity, or just original sin, it all points to the fact that mankind, is not so good after all. 

Waging War on Ourselves

Theologian Langdon Gilkey found himself trapped in China when the Japanese invaded. He was forced with many ex-pats to weather the war years there in the Shantung Compound. As a young intellectual and educator, he entered the compound with a rather positive view of human nature. By the end of the war, he was convinced of the Bible’s assessment of mankind as deeply sinful and in need of redemption. Gilkey contends that the hardest part of those years was not they’re Japanese captors, but in fact, the selfish things committed by themselves all as co-prisoners.German Wehrmacht on the move in Poland

The historian Paul N. Hehn coined the phrase “A Low, Dishonest Decade” for the title of his book exploring the economic undercurrents beneath the start of WWII. This war undoubtedly showcased human depravity like no other event in history. But it was not the source of it. Something far deeper is operative and it lives in the human heart.

If a biblical author like the Apostle John had sat down to write a book on the causes of the Second World War, I think he would have named it “A Low, Dishonest Age.” Not to take anything away from Hehn’s compelling book. But an apostolic writer like John would be taking a far more panoramic picture of humankind. For a biblical writer, the issue would not be, why did this or that even happen?  The question would fall far more on the lines of, why do these events happen at all, and why, no matter how horrible, do they keep on happening again, and again, and again?

Hitler and High Command review army in parade in Warsaw after conquest of Poland.The word “age” in the New Testament (ionos) means more than a time-period but refers more to a generation. Nor is this like the “X Generation” or “Millenials,” but an expansive epoch of history. For the New Testament writers, we do live in a low and dishonest age, and they did too. It is an age of crime, evil, injustice, and villainy. The Hitlers, Nazis and all other scourges of the world are not the cause of evil, but a symptom of what simmers int the heart of all humanity. Moreover, it is a doomed age. The apostles Paul says this:

1Cor. 2:6   “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.”

As Christians, we look for the Age to come. The Gospel promises a day when all the books will be opened, and every idle word spoken by every person will be judged. (Matt. 12:36)

A God of Judgement?

Maybe you find this offensive—the whole God of judgment thing. If so it is simply that you have not fully considered the consequences of a God who does not judge evil. God’s love and judgment are inseparable. You may not like to think of God as a judge, but are you really ok with a world where there is no reckoning? Are you ok with Hitler and his regime never truly answering for the deaths of 70–85 million souls? Are his systematic murder of over six million Jews and countless other souls sufficiently retributed in his cowardly suicide at the last minute? Does that satisfy you? Jews being detained by Nazis in Poland 1939

Does the loss of nearly 85 million people become a mere purposeless hiccup in a cold mechanical universe where man is a mere accident with no higher destiny beyond this life?

The Gospel promises an age to come where there will be a King and a Kingdom. It will not be a low and dishonest age, but an age of justice. It will be a kingdom without end; justice will reign, and God will wipe away every tear. The apostle John paints a beautiful picture of the world he has for those who love him.

Rev. 21:4  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

It will be a world set right, with no Nazis, no war, no grief, and no loss. There will be a war to end all wars, but that is yet to come. Until then we pray for mercy and grace.

 

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Why Do I Need the Church?

Let’s face it. We live in a culture where going to “church” has come to be seen as archaic or outmoded. As I talk to people around New England, ironically I find very few who question God’s existence. In fact “spirituality” is on the rise.  

Nobody wants to think of themselves as religious anymore.

When people hear that I am a minister, I often get something like, “Oh I am not very religious, but I do consider myself spiritual.” “Spiritual” is the new virtue and “religious” the new vice. Nobody wants to think of themselves as religious anymore. 

So what is wrong with Church today? I think the bottom line is that people do not see how it is relevant to their current life and pursuits. 

Why is that? I think there are two reasons: one is the Church’s fault and the other is everyone else’s fault. 

The first reason is that the Church has greatly contributed to the loss of its voice in the culture. It has been judgmental, unsupportive, while also not holding the line for truth. It has prided itself on doing things the old way and has at times not been teachable on how to engage a culture that is changing faster than ever before. 

On the other hand, many people have largely written off the church and some of the old ways too quickly. We have fallen prey to thinking “new and improved” is always better. But looking around, I am not convinced. We have more data, technology, and luxuries than ever before. We also have more divorce, broken families, crime, rape, child abduction, child porn, human trafficking, and organized crime than ever before. Is this what we want as a culture? The disintegration of the family and the local community is more severe than ever. 

A Counterculture

The Church of the first few centuries challenged the world with a new community that stood against the debased time of Greco-Roman culture. What do I mean by community? I do not mean merely living near each other. Today we are lucky if we know the first name of our neighbor across the street. What I mean by community is people who know each other, care about each other, and share a mutual vision of supporting and caring for one another. 

A Private Existence

In all our many social and business circles today, most of us live an emotionally private existence, left to struggle alone in the silence of our beds at night. The calling of the Church is to be a real community to “one another.” The New Testament abounds with such language of “one another.” It is a language of mutual love and support. James 5:16 says: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” 

The Church is the community of repentance; if you are Jesus’ disciple, you are admitting your moral need of his work on the Cross.

Most of us don’t naturally think like this today. As much as we like to talk about being “authentic” and “real,” we don’t naturally confess our faults to each other and ask other people to pray for us and our struggles. Most of the time we are trying to guard ourselves acting like we have it all together so people accept us.  

Church As a Community of Repentance

So why go to Church? It is certainly not because the church is without fault. The reason to be a part of a supportive faith community is that truth be told, none of us are without fault. Many people’s reason for not going to church is the alleged “hypocrisy” of everyone there. But that is not truly being honest. Embracing the Gospel of Jesus and joining his church is by definition an admission of guilt, need, and repentance. The Church is the community of repentance; if you are Jesus’ disciple, you are admitting your moral need of his work on the Cross.

Holiness to the Lord

Holiness seems as outmoded as the Church. But it is holiness to which the Church and the entire Gospel of God labors. In our lectionary readings for Pentecost 10 | Proper 15, our Epistle reading was Hebrews 12:1-14. Here it says that God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (12:10). This is the purpose of the Gospel, and likewise the purpose of the Church. The writer says only a few lines after in 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” That is why we both need the Gospel and God’s church. Without it, we will not be formed to share in God’s holiness. But it is only of value to one who has realized that there is nothing more valuable one can pursue than God himself. He is the great treasure of all treasures; the one thing no man can lose if he clings to him.

A Place for Those for Who fall Short of the Mark

Every person falls short of the mark. That is what “sin” actually means—to miss the mark. Picking out each other’s faults is like shooting fish in a barrel. It just isn’t fair or sportsmanlike. At Church of the Apostles, we are a very imperfect group of people with very imperfect leaders who are trying to practice the “one another’s” that Jesus taught.  We fall short a lot, but as we practice, we get better and learn to be more like Jesus. More importantly, we help each other face each coming day and life challenges together knowing that we have a spiritual family who is pulling for us. And that is a very reassuring thought.