Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Cross: The Word of Truth

There are some moments that glimmer like gold.  I remember a discussion with my tutors in college and the air around us seemed to shine as we talked.  Where do these moments come from?   In the Bible we learn of the the “mercy seat.”  The mercy seat was the cover of the ark of the covenant.  It was gilded in gold an inch thick and on that cover, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sprinkle a bit of the blood of the sacrifice and that year, the sins of the people would be “covered;” the sins of the people would lose their power and have no hold anymore.  And see the difference between our God and all other “gods.”  Other gods are appeased by sacrifice, their anger, mollified.  All of the false idols of man’s imagination require a payment in exchange for their good will.  They exist under some overarching law that requires…something.  Not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.  Instead as Leviticus 17:11 tells us, he provides the sacrifice.  He gives the mercy seat.   Why?  Because he is faithful and he is loving.  He is who he is. Where there is a problem he fixes it.  Where there is sin, he renders it harmless,”they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” In Romans we read, “God set forth a mercy seat through faith in his blood.”  This even greater and more beautiful mercy seat is the Lord Jesus.  He takes away our sins.  How? “through faith,” but this faith is not our own faith of course, “all we like sheep had gone astray.” Rather Jesus on the cross where he shed his blood is mercy seat by the power of faith or as I like to translate, “establishment.”  But most important to remember, God was not angry with Jesus on the cross, his wrath was not “satisfied,” no overarching law or requirement was fulfilled.  Rather God did what he always does.  He saves, he makes things right.  In Genesis, God clothed Adam and Eve in skins, he knew that their fig leaves would not make the grade.  He gave what was precious to him in order that we might be comfortable and happy.  But on the cross he gives what is most precious to him, his beloved son so that we might be “more than conquerors.”  Our shining moments come from the gold mercy seat, the Lord Jesus, given by God, and as if that were not enough those golden times, (and fear not, these include our sorrows (Romans 5) as they work they way out into hope and love through the Holy Spirit), are but a downpayment (Hebrews 11), a glimpse of what is to come. Even now they are a reflection of the truth; the beautiful life that we have through his son the Lord Jesus.  The Lord rejoices over Zion with singing (Zephaniah) because of what he has done and given, in giving the Lord Jesus, mercy seat through faith. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dear Sister--Letters

Dear Sister,

I hope that you are doing all right.  I am glad to hear that the other ladies are nice and I know you are a big support to the other inmates.  We prayed for you in church this past Sunday.  My dad said that might want to hear a little about what we talked about on Sunday.  The Bible reading that we did was Psalm 1 and then after that, Acts 25.  I preached on Acts 25.  I talked about how Governor Porcius Festus (did you know his name means “Happy Pig” in English…the Romans liked to give people nicknames!) testifies to the King that Paul had done nothing “deserving death.”  When I started studying Acts 25, I was wondering why there was so much courtroom stuff in this chapter and in the chapters before.  How is this the gospel?  The Bible says things loud and clear but sometimes we are distracted and confused and it’s hard to hear but God is good and he gives us the answers.  I think the reason, first of all, that there’s “all this courtroom stuff” is because God wants us to get used to and prepared for trouble.  There are lots of Christians all over the world today that are in jail and in courtrooms.  The Bible says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that comes upon you…as though something strange were happening.” (I Peter 4)  But there’s a second reason for “all the courtroom stuff.”  The Bible wants to remind us of the courtroom of the Lord.  God is a judge sort of like Festus.  He (God) says to one, “You are right” and to the other, “you are wrong,” just like Festus said to Paul and his accusers.  I remember when our friend Z. was accused of shoplifting at K-Mart.  In the end the jury said to her, “you are in the right” (not guilty) and to K-Mart “you are wrong” (case closed). In Acts 25, we see God put his own word in the mouth of Festus.  Through Festus God declares Paul innocent.  Paul is in the right and his fellow Jews are in the wrong.  Isn’t it interesting that even though Festus doesn’t know the Lord, he honors and loves Festus anyway?  That’s our God, he’s so different from so many people.  In the Bible we learn about a Persian King, Cyrus.  He also did not know the Lord.  Here’s what it says in Isaiah 45, “Thus says the Lord to his Anointed, whose right hand I have held…I girded thee even though you don’t know me.”   
But you know, the main thing that I said on Sunday was something really surprising even to me, God has the sharpest sword in the world.  Why?  Because he is able to divide between man and his sin!  And in the courtroom of the world God says, “You are right” to mankind, and “you are wrong” to sin.  In fact, this is why there was the cross.  God’s word goes forth and prospers and blossoms and never fails of its purposes.  God’s word, “Yes!” to mankind and “No!” to sin and death and the devil, blossomed out and made the cross and the resurrection of Jesus the Anointed One.  Sister, there’s a lot of discouragement out there but the truth is encouragement.  God’s delight is to save all mankind. (I Timothy 2:4) I wanted to let you know about this. You certainly have encouraged me and I hope to encourage you too.

God bless you and all those who are with you both inmates and guards,


Friday, January 26, 2018

Take The Risk, Take The Responsibility, Follow Jesus

The kind and well-meaning nurse sighed and folded his arms.  He looked my mother in the eye and said, “you know it’s probably a good idea not to look on the internet.”  
Recently my stepfather Tom fainted and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.  It was the third time in a month that it had happened and my mother, understandably, was worried.  Of course her daughters, my sister and I sprang into action.  My sister drove to the hospital to be with my mom and stepfather, while I, living out of state, searched for information online.  There was certainly a lot to research, but  we are curious people in my family and we all wanted to know as much as possible.  So my mother would call me with a question and I would quickly google, and then read the various published papers and give her what I had.  My sister and mother were then armed with questions for the hospital staff.  These questions were, how shall we put this? —Not welcome.   As the granddaughter of two doctors and schooled by friends who are doctors and scientists, I think I understand the point of view of the medical community.  Patients researching their own conditions signal that they don’t trust the staff.  Patients and their families, googling online, seeking to diagnose their own condition can muck everything up.  They can harm themselves. The professionals are the ones in the know.  According to their lights, they and only they are qualified, and thus the nurse whom we admired and liked so much delivered his rebuke to my mother. But the real reason for his remark goes much deeper.  Before the Bible was translated into the various languages and then as those translations began to appear and be distributed, the priests grew increasingly alarmed and then began to actively inveigh against the people reading the Bible on their own.  It would, according to the Church, cause too much confusion, cause the people to distrust the religious authorities and even harm themselves.   Sound familiar?  And of course the priests were, in their way, quite correct.  Think of the destruction that has come from the heresies that have sprung up over the years! And yet, we know now that not only was it necessary, it is necessary for the people to read the Bible on their own, to be a check on the professionals, the people in the pews ever vigilant, weighing and criticizing the view from the pulpit.  As the prophet Jeremiah tells us, it is no longer the time for an authority figure to explain the Bible, the time of the new covenant is the time when the empowered people explain to one another (Jeremiah 31:34).  I stand in the pulpit and preach each Sunday but as my teachers in seminary taught me, it’s my goal was to work myself out of a job; to empower the people themselves to be the preachers.  This is not only the goal in our various congregations, this is our goal in a democracy, and yes, this should be our goal as patients too, but the remark of Tom’s nurse shows us the obvious: we have lost sight of this goal, lost the vision.  We are content to let others do the hard work for us. Content to “leave it to the professionals.” But this is not the way, instead God teaches us not to be afraid, to risk confusion and disaster and to be the adults, that through the Lord Jesus, He is giving us to be.