Monday, December 29, 2014

Freedom Fulfilled | Christmas 2014


ISAIAH 61:1-62:3

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

 The opposite of what you’d expect… In a good way.

 61:1Spirit of the Lord upon me, anointed me… To bring good news to the poor… Bind up the brokenhearted… Liberty to the captives… opening their prisons… 2Proclaim yr. of Lord’s favor, day of vengeance, comfort mourning 3Bearing a headdress instead of ashes… Gladness instead of mourning 4raise up from devastation, repair ruins 5strangers tend flocks 7instead of shame, a double portion... everlasting joy 9descendants recognized and blessed

 10Rejoice in the Lord… exult in my God… clothed me with garments of salvation… robe of righteousness 11righteousness and praise sprout up before all the nations Zion’s Coming Salvation 62:1 For Zion’s sake, will not keep silent… her righteousness will go forth as brightness, her salvation like a burning torch. 2nations will witness her righteousness… called by a new name 3crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord

 4 Forsaken no more… delight instead of desolate… 11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth… ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him.’ 12 And they shall be called the Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken
 63 The Lord’s Day of Vengeance


 The Law and the Promise

 Sons and Heirs

 Son, slave until the appointed time, our time has come.

 1 child heir is no different from a slave though he owns everything… he’s under guardians and managers until he reaches the date set by his father… when we were children, we were enslaved to the principles of the world

 4 But, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born under the law to redeem those under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons… because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba!’ ‘Father!’ no longer a slave, but a son, a son, an heir through God

 Paul’s Concern for the Galatians
 What to do now that we are free

 8 were enslaved to those who were not gods. But, now that we know God… rather, we are known by God, how can you turn back? I may have labored over you in vain… become as I am…. Become as you are

LUKE 2:22-40

 Jesus’ Birth in a manger after Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy

 The Shepherds and the Angels Glory to God in the highest…

 Jesus Presented at the Temple

 22 Time came for purification according to the law (for the babe born under the law)… went to be presented to the Lord (we receive the opposite of expected when we are presented to him) and offer sacrifice according to the law of the Lord

 25 Man in Jerusalem, Simeon, a righteous and devout man waiting… the Holy Spirit was upon him (just as it had been upon Isaiah)… it was revealed to him that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Christ. (promises of God connection)… He came by the Spirit into the temple… when the parents brought the child Jesus into the temple, he took the child up into his arms and said,

 29‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’

 33 His father and his mother marveled at what was said… Simeon blessed them, saying the Mary, ‘Behold, the child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’

36 There was the old prophetess, Anna, who spent her time and her widowed life praying and fasting at the temple… at that very hour, she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 They performed everything according to the law and returned to Galilee, to their own ton of Nazareth… the child grew and became strong… filled with wisdom… he had the favor of God upon him.

Simeon and Jesus in the Temple
December 28, 2014

All these words, hear them with your ears, and hold them in your hearts. Ez. 3:10

Freedom Fulfilled

It was just a normal day at school. None of the details really stick out to me. Perhaps, I had been reading books or hanging out with friends. Maybe I had been playing video games or typing papers. But, what I do remember is a call on the phone.

It was my one of my best friends. And, she was excited to tell me that they were having another baby!! This would be their second child, a girl, named Jocelyn Renee which means "joy reborn." She asked if I would be a godfather. After surpassing the amazement in the fact that she would choose me, I said "yes" right away.

Months later, I found myself in Michigan holding the child. We had had a wonderful service, where we made the vows to help teach her the ways of God. The sign of the cross was made across Jocelyn's forehead and her chest. The pastor covered her head with water in the name of the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Maybe you have been part of such a service, or at least witnessed the wonderful act.

After the hour was over, I held her again. I actually ended up being in most of her family pictures because I didn't want to let go. I couldn't help thinking that one day this baby would grow up and do amazing things. She could be anything she wanted, do any work that God had prepared in advance for her to do. Her life was just beginning.

I don't know what it is about babies. But, just being around them changes the entire atmosphere. They fill the room with cheer. Even the most hard hearted tend to smile in the presence of a child. Every time my friends post a picture or a video of their baby on Facebook, I can't help but look right away. Maybe it's the way they act, in curiosity and innocence. Maybe its the remembrance of our own childhood or the reflection of the aspects of their parents. Or, maybe its the glimmer of gentle and certain hope they give in our often dark and uncertain world.

That is what the man in one of our readings could have used that day. Isaiah knew that a storm was coming. At the point in history in which he lived, nations fought nations. Battles were waged. War was done. And, he knew that his people were in trouble. If they did not die, they would meet a fate worse than death. At least, in death, they knew they no longer had to be troubled with this world. But, if they survived, they became enslaved to the nations who had conquered them. They had given into idolatry and horrible deeds. Just as in the time of the judges, God's people turned away from God. So, why would their God remember them in their struggle?

Isaiah becomes the mouthpiece of the Lord. He is the voice that cries out to hear God once again. He pronounces judgments against nations. But, amidst his judgments, there is hope.

In the bulletin today, there's a "Space For Writing" section. It's for you to take notes either as I'm reading passage to you or later on. As you will soon see, God provides in the ways we'd least expect. If you think of some of the ways that He has provided or blessed you that you hadn't expected or things that stick out to you as unique or interesting in this message, be sure to right them down.

Here is the unexpected hope that the prophet speaks of:

He says, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor... the poor hardly ever hear good news... to bind up the brokenhearted... those who are familiar with being torn apart are healed... to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor... although we know we deserve judgment... and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; ... comfort although we know we deserve wrath

to give us a headdress instead of ashes... adoring us instead of completely destroying us... bestowing upon us the oil of gladness instead of mourning... the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit... so that we may be strong and towering oaks of righteousness... glorified... instead of condemned and ashamed... instead of shame a double portion... instead of dishonor, rejoicing... everlasting joy...

These people were waiting for a calamity. They knew they were lost, their hope was fading. Yet, God promised that he will give them what they do not expect. It just took time. After the prophet spoke, the people entered into centuries of darkness. They became enslaved to the peoples around them. Their nation was broken apart, shattered into an unrecognizable visage.

But, there was a man who remembered the promise. He looked for hope among the turmoil... the headdress amidst the ashes.. the joy to replace the shame. He found Jesus years before the wise men had. He was waiting for him, at the temple, hoping to get a glimpse of the Messiah before he died.

Just eight days after Christ's birth, Simeon held him in his grasp. Wonder filled his face. Remember the hope and the light that we find in our own children.... the pondering of who they might be, the unexplained gladness and joy that just being in the same room as them supplies us. That gift was magnified. For, Simeon knew exactly who he held... the bearer of salvation, the light for revelation to the Gentiles... the glory of the people of Israel. This child would be the one to change the world, to redeem Israel, to bring them glory instead of judgment. He is the blessing that no one expected. While Herod searched for the man, Simeon held the babe.

He is the one who would finally free them from their slavery. It may seem as if the Jews were free at the time of Christ's birth. They could worship. They could work in society as fishermen and tax collectors. They gave Caesar what was Caesar's and they were typically went along with the government. But, they were still slaves to the Law. They understood that the only way to become righteous was to fulfill the commands of the Lord, to follow the Law to the letter. Although they tried, no one was able to do it.

 Then, Jesus was born under the Law. He became man, begotten of the Spirit, not to get rid of the Law, but to fulfill it. That is why he was at the temple on the eighth day, his circumcision was part of fulfilling the Law. That is why he was able to get lost in the temple and found in the garden. During his entire life, he kept the Law. Even in death, he stayed true to the letter. Only God could do that.

And, because it was God who had done that, finally reaching the ultimate fulfillment (arms outstretched) promised even from the first books of Genesis, he was able to restore us to himself. And, his resurrection brings us home. In his fulfillment we are freed. We are freed from the slavery of the Law and the slavery to sin. We are renewed.

Stepping back for a minute, before I left Michigan to return from Jocelyn's baptism, her parents told me, "You know, you didn't need to do this for us." And, all I could think was, "There is nothing I would rather do." In the same way, we tell God, "God, you didn't need to do this for me." "It's jut me... and you're God..." "Really, you didn't need to." And, he replies, "There is nothing I would have rather done for you." And, in what he has done he has made us his children, adopting us as heirs of God.

In many ways, even the child is a slave. The babe is dependent on the mother, the kids look to the parents for all their needs. They don't know anything else. Without Jesus Christ, we become slaves to the world. Just like the people Isaiah had prophesied against, we follow our own idols. We put our time, our money, ourselves first. We follow the world as our parent, enslaved to its bidding.

But, since God sent his Son into the world, born of woman, born under the law, to fulfill the law, to redeem us, we have become children of God. We know better. We are free to reject the idols of the world, to follow him... to follow his law not because we have to but because we want to, knowing we will fail.. we will fall. But, he is there to pick us back up again, to forgive us. Although, we deserve to be ashamed, he renews our joy.

That is what Simeon knew when he held his Lord. His chains were finally broken. His life was made complete. Yet, we still have lives to live. We might not have as much time as an infant. But, we still have a good amount time to go.

What will you do with your freedom?


Now may the peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus from this time forth. Amen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Seeds of the Church | Easter 2014

1 PETER 4:12-19; 5:6-11

June 1, 2014

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God, the Father, and Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

All these words, hear them with your ears. But, receive them in your hearts.

Seeds of the Church

Wow. The epistle reading for today is a tough one to swallow. Here it is again: Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Instead he says to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” We are meant to rejoice in our sufferings. Doesn’t that sound odd?

Then, again, Christian persecution in America is pretty odd. Although we have the freedom of speech, we often become too timid to speak. Although, we are able to share freely share the Gospel with those around us, we often neglect to. Although we live in a “Christian nation,” biblical literacy is dropping.

The type of Christian persecution that we are used to might be losing a friend or not being the popular guy. We might get a couple of glares or snide remarks. In our world, Christian suffering has almost become the horror of getting up for church in the morning or giving time to God instead of using it for ourselves.

The turmoil we are put through is not swearing when we want to swear, not going to the movies we want to see, not lying or steeling, trying not to be selfish. Yet, this pales in comparison to Christian suffering on a global level, still in our world. They estimate that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are being held in North Korean labor camps. If they manage to escape by sneaking into China and are later captured, they suffer a worse punishment if a Christian or American had helped them. In Sudan, a woman who has just given birth this week, is condemned to death by hanging for believing in Christianity although her father is a Muslim. Christian persecution and suffering still persists in our world. Yet, we are to rejoice?

It may help to step back for a moment, to look at the life of an early Christian. In the early centuries, there was a girl named Perpetua. She has a long and imaginative tale, but it is an important one. As she sat at home, the call rang through the streets, “Perpetua is a Christian.” “Perpetua is a Christian.” As the soldiers burst down her door, she doesn’t leave. She doesn’t put up boundaries, she isn’t timid or afraid. They enter. She has a job, responsibilities, a baby son. But, she lets them take her. When she gets to prison, her father gets on his knees and begs her to renounce her faith. She replies, “I cannot. I cannot say that I am something other than what I am. And, I am a Christian.” Her fate is sealed. While she is in prison, the continually prays and God gives her two visions.

In the first vision, Perpetua sees a long golden ladder reaching up to the heavens. It is a lot like Jacob’s ladder in the Old Testament, but it too narrow for angels to ascend and descend. Only one person is able to climb it at a time. And, it would not be an easy climb. Weapons of violence and torture hung off of the rungs, clanging in the air.

As her line of sight went from the top of the ladder to its bottom, it followed a trail of smoke that had been pooling out of a dragon’s nostrils sitting at the ladder’s base. She was not startled at the presence of the serpent, but she did step back when she heard the voice of one of her friends.

From the top of the ladder, Perpetua’s friend called down to her. He was a friend she had not seen in a while. In fact, she had lost contact with him when she was arrested for being a Christian. It would have been reasonable to assume he had been martyred. He called out to her again, “Perpetua, I wait for you.” “Be careful not to be bitten by the dragon.”

She cried back, “Do not worry. In the name of Jesus Christ, even the dragon cannot harm me.” The dragon released a whimper at the sound of Jesus’ name and she used his head as the first step of the ladder to ascend toward heaven.

Perpetua eventually wakes up and shares her vision. In her heart, her prison cell becomes her palace. She becomes assured that God is with her. Instead of becoming dismayed, she rejoices when she finds out that her penalty is to be fed to the beasts in the arena. She is glad to be a witness for Christ. Imagine that. In the midst of this pain and struggle, this certain death, Perpetua felt joy. She rejoiced. She might still have a tear in her eye, but I can see the smile on her face. She might even start to sing something like, “I will rest in the promise of God to be with me. I will rest in the knowledge God cares. Though the world and its troubles confuse and disturb me, I will rest in the Lord in my prayers…” She knows that even in through her suffering, she has become closer to Christ.

In her second vision, one of Perpetua’s friends takes her by the hand and guides her to the arena where she will be killed. He says to her, “Do not be afraid! I’ll be here to help you.” And, then he leaves her as she stares out over the crowd. She wonders why the beasts hadn’t yet been turned loose. Instead, an Egyptian warrior comes to face her instead. She was left in rags to face him. They both stepped forward and fought with their fists. He picks her up. She kicks him. Finally, she punches him out. She becomes the victor, the winner of her freedom. And, then she wakes up, realizing that her battle would be the next day, she was still covered in chains. At that moment, she knew that she would not be contending with wild animals, but with the devil himself. She also knew that with Christ as her guide, she would win.

Perpetua had to be who she was. And, she was a Christian. In being a Christian, Perpetua was not surprised that she had to face trials. Instead, she rejoiced. She was not ashamed of her faith. Instead she uses the opportunity to glorify God. She entrusts her fate to her faithful Creator. She is His. She humbles herself in order that he might take care of her. She throws away her pride and her anxiety and rests in the hands of God. Here, she knows that she is not alone. Others around the world were suffering. And, Christ himself had suffered. Yet, she knew that the God full of grace will restore her, confirm her faith, strengthen her will, and give her a place in his kingdom. Renouncing her faith would just be falling into another one of the prowling Dragon’s traps.

Even in this suffering, she began to see the prison around her as a palace. She realizes that she had been blessed with a place to stay, food, clothes, shelter, and protection. She constantly prays to God.

She was willing to die for what she believed in. And, even more surprising than that, she rejoiced at the opportunity of becoming a witness for Jesus Christ. She looked forward to climbing that ladder filled with maces and swords, she had no fear of the scaly ruler of this world. She took on the Egyptian face-to-face.

At the end of the story, Perpetua is martyred. She becomes a friend at the top of the ladder, encouraging the perpetual number of martyrs who were sure to follow. A theologian once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

As the ages went on after Perpetua’s story, cultures such as the Romans and Greeks were awe-struck at the life-testimonies of Christians. The persecutors stood amazed as men, women, and children were willing to die in love rather than live in hate. The blood on the persecutor’s hands turned into mustard seeds and took root in their hearts. They began to wonder where this confidence, this attitude, this love had come from. They wanted to know, “Why would a Christian put up with all of this suffering?”

As they realized that the answer was in Christ Jesus, these same persecutors became believers. The Church grew. It became a mighty redwood. They put their faith and trust in God.

Yet, why are we often so surprised at suffering? Suffering has always been a part of the Gospel, marked by the cross. Jesus didn’t save us from suffering. He saved us through suffering. Suffering was needed once for us, to bring us to God.

Through this suffering, Christ endured his crucifixion. He died. He descended into Hell. His descent was the stomping on the head of the serpent. It was his victory march before he proved he had beaten death by his resurrection. He stepped on the snake, climbed the ladder filled with suffering, and he became the Way for us to follow. And, we rejoice at the possibility of following him. We pour out our hearts, loving those around us even when it hurts because he first poured out his heart to us. We become his witnesses and his martyrs to this world, because he had first witnessed to us. His blood had been the purest bloodshed to grow his Church. We are honored to be His instruments.

One part of Perpetua’s story I had always thought remarkably odd until now is that the man who had led Perpetua into the arena in her vision had told her not to be afraid because he was there to help her. But, then he left immediately. That is Jesus.

Although the time had come, he died, rose, and ascended, He still guides us. Although it may seem as if he has vanished, he still prays for us, that we may manifest his name and keep His word because we belong to him. We are not of the world, but we are in the world. That is why we suffer. Still, Jesus begged, that “We may be one just as He and the Father are one.” Although it might feel as though we are alone, Christ dwells with us and we dwell with each other. Although the world does not see him, we see him. We see that other followers rejoice in their suffering. Because it is in this suffering that we are blessed. For, in this suffering we know that we are set apart from this world. When our coworkers are disgruntled at our Christian music station; when we withhold from swearing, lying, cheating, steeling; when we spend our time serving the church instead of serving ourselves, we may suffer. But, we rejoice. To suffer as a Christian is not to be ashamed, but to glorify God. Amen.

Now may the peace that passes all our understanding, guard our hearts and minds to rejoice and pray in Christ Jesus from this time forth. Amen.

Josh Schmidt

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Name Changer | Pentecost 2014

Text for meditation: Matthew 16 and Romans 12.

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God, the Father, and Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
All these words, hear them with your ears. But, receive them in your hearts.

Name Changer

Early in the morning, as the sun was still rising, Jesus went to the temple. Suddenly, there was a commotion. A young woman, barely clothed and screaming was dragged in by her hairand thrown to the ground. She had been caught in the act of adultery. Upon seeing this, what do you think Jesus’ face looked like?

The Pharisees who had dragged the poor woman into the temple asked Jesus, “What do you say about this woman’s adultery?” They hoped to test him, to evoke some unholy emotion within him, to make him act against his beliefs. Instead, he bent down and began to draw in the dirt.

They continued to pester him. Finally, he stood back up and told them that whoever has no sin should cast the first stone. After saying this, he bent back down, and drew once again on the ground. As he drew, the accusers walked away, dropping their stones. Jesus was left alone with the woman. He looked at her, with tears running down her face and horror in her eyes, she cowered away from his gaze. But, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” With a whimper in her quiet voice she replied, “No one, Lord.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.” She left. Jesus left. But, the stones remained.

I thought it would be neat to take a moment here and just think about the power of stones. I know, they are something so simple. They lay in the dirt, lifeless. [Bring some rocks in for illustration] But, here, they are a cause of terror. They bear fear, anguish, and death. They are something so simple, yet in this circumstance they are crucial. Here, take one, hold it in your hand.

Stones are what made up the Pyramids, a marvelous wonder. They are the blocks which formed the Great Wall of China, a structure that can be seen from outer space. But, do you realize the cost of both of those buildings? Who can say how many slaves and workman died creating the Pyramids? Around 400,000 died in the making of the Great Wall, many of whom had been buried beneath its bricks. Stones were later used to create the Berlin Wall, a wall of separation. And, in the story of the adulteress, stones were almost used to slay. Stones seem so powerless, but in certain hands they can become either a secure foundation or an agent of death.

The Gospel reading for today is from Matthew Chapter 16. That entire chapter discusses stones. First, the Pharisees demand a sign; their hearts are hardened and they desire a way to build a secure foundation. Like the Pyramids, they wanted to be able to build up their own belief system, brick by brick. Instead, Jesus explains that they do not understand the things that have already been revealed to them. They will receive no other sign except the sign of Jonah.

Later, Jesus warns his followers not to think like the Pharisees. They do not need to build up their own brick house of beliefs; they solely needed to trust in him. Here, instead of the condescending tone that the Pharisees had used with Jesus to ask him “What do you say about this woman’s adultery?” Jesus asks in a gentler way, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

He gets various replies: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Those are the conclusions that others had built up to for themselves. Then, comes the true test. Jesus brings the question home. Instead of asking who “they” think he is, he asks, “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answers him, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”

Do you realize what has happened here? The rock cried out. Simon, the man Jesus had renamed “Peter,” which means “stone” or “rock,” was able to answer him with the truth. Jesus responds that Peter is blessed, calling him by his birth name, “Simon Bar-Jonah!” Simon the son of Jonah, Simon whose father was named after the prophet of the same sign Jesus would give to the Pharisees, he is blessed. Peter’s rock-solid confession is commended. It is on a rock that the Church will be built.

But, is the rock Peter? I know you know the answer is “No.” Roman Catholicism has founded its papacy on this passage. But, we realize that the name Peter is masculine singular while this “rock” the Church is to be built on is feminine singular, implying a different referent. The Church is not built on Simon, the son of Jonah.

In fact, the next part of the chapter explains why not. Remember how it continues, Jesus begins to explain to the disciples what will happen in Jerusalem. He tells them that he must suffer, be killed, and on the third day rise again. This is when Peter rebukes him. Some commentators remark that perhaps Peter was too shocked by the fact that Jesus had to die to hear the last part of his teaching, he did not realize that Jesus was explaining that he would also live. I do not know whether this is true or not. But, the fact remains, that Peter’s heart skips beat and he becomes flustered swearing that this should never happen to Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

Jesus then calls him Satan. He warns the man who he had blessed to get behind him saying, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man… If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Do you see what had happened? The man who had known the truth, revealed by the Father, Peter, he had begun to build his own house. Like the Pharisees, he intended to construct a Great Wall, he had decided for himself what should be and what should not be. He let himself become the discerning rock instead of standing on the rock of his foundation, the rock the Church stands on, its cornerstone, Jesus Christ.

We do the same thing Peter did every day. Whenever we rely on ourselves, our own hearts, our lusts, and our wills, we shy away from God. We build man-made masterpieces without realizing the cost. This particular cost is more than just our lives For, what can a man give in return for his life? What profit is there if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? There is none.

But, we still misuse stones all the time. We throw them at the adulteress. When we see sin, is our first instinct to help or condemn them? If you see a homosexual, a transgender, a pothead, or someone struggling in a different sin, what goes through your mind? Do you pull out a Bible verse and shout it at her? Or is your hand clenching the stone of condemnation, because this person creeps you out. You insist on getting rid of the sinner, not just the sin.

Sometimes we clutch the stones that hurt and become consumed by the proper understanding of theology. We twist and turn our words so that the Word becomes more of a means than an end in itself. We hurl rocks at the problems we see and we sow divisions.

But, look at the stone differently. Imagine the rock rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. You have a piece of it. Now the rock is a symbol of the promise. This is the sign of Jonah. The rock is not a weapon or a wall of separation. But, the promise of the resurrection and forgiveness of our sins. We are built on the solid rock, the cornerstone of Christ, we become brickwork. It is not up to us to form the foundation, but to be formed by the foundation. We let our condemning stones drop at the foot of Christ. We have become living stones, transformed by Christ.

In Peter’s letter, he explains that with Jesus Christ as our rock, we become living stones. We “put away all malice and deceit, hypocrisy and envy, and all slander… As you come to Him, we are living stones. We may be rejected by others, but in the sight of God, we are chosen and precious. We build up a spiritual house and a holy priesthood in order to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter, of all people, knows what this entails. He had been given his name, “the Rock” in order that he may share the name with us. The church is a nation of rocks. In one of CFW Walther’s sermons, the theologian insists that we are “rock-men.” We have been given the responsibility to let Jesus work through us.

What if when Jesus knelt down and drew in the dirt, he was remembering the dirt that had been breathed form man so long ago? As he hears these heartless accusations and name-callings, as he listens to the reproof of the Pharisees, as he holds himself back from giving into their pestering, maybe he was thinking of what man had been meant for. He sees the living stones they could have been. Imagine his face. We have been given that face. We are carved from that cornerstone. We are meant to bear his name. We are rocks built on The Rock. And, no longer are our hands clutching the rocks of condemnation, but have been formed as living rocks in the hands of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now may the peace that passes all our understanding, guard our hearts and minds by the formation of Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Ezekiel 16 -- This devotion is not for the faint of heart.

“My son, listen to my words. Hear these sayings. Keep them in your heart. They are life to those who find them, and healing to their flesh… Do not be crooked in speech or deceitful. But, stay true. Ponder your path so that your steps may be secure. Stay true. Do not be turned away nor led astray.” Proverbs 4:20-27, 7:25 paraphrased.

A babe cries out, salty and fleshy odor follows in a warm gust of air. Peering down, an infant lies on the path, rolling in dirt, covered in blood. There is no protection; no nurturing; no love. Instead, a hole fills the heart. It is something better unseen. His eyes begin to fill with water, his hands reach unexpectedly down, and soon she is in his arms. The life of the babe is fading. Her cries begin to muffle. He hears his own voice before he decides to start speaking. “Live!” He is crying out to the babe in his arms, staining his shirt with blood, “Live!” She calms as his voice becomes a lullaby. She sleeps, safely within his arms.

There, in his security, she grows. He spoils her, buying her the latest trends and jewels. She is the apple of his eye. But, it is not long before his trusted beauty plays the whore. His heart is lovesick as she chases after strangers reeking of death. She does not remember her youth; her savior; her love. On a dark night, she cries out, finding herself steeped in death, the smell of her lovers had latched onto her. She cannot escape. Once again, he comes to her, he reminds her of his love. He comforts her. She is confounded, speechless in her shame. He atones for what she has done.

Israel had wandered astray, falling from the words of wisdom and leading a life of folly. Her steps had slipped and she had become a babe covered in sin. It was something better unseen. She cried out for a savior, “Hosanna!” along the path. Out of his compassion, he had entered the world, reaching down unexpectedly. After staining himself with blood, he cried out to the babe “Live!” She heard his cry. It became music to her ears. He took her death upon himself and gave her his life.

Through that sacrifice, we became the apple of his eye. But, it is not long before we surround ourselves with suitors. For less than a penny, we worship them in place of Him. The stench of their death flows into us. We cannot escape. Again and again, he comes to us. He reminds us of his love. He comforts us. And, we are speechless in our shame. For, he has atoned for what we have done.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Perpetua's Account

I heard the cry ring through-out the streets with a venomous twist, “Perpetua is accused of being a Christian.”

Still, I remained calmly sitting on my warn wooden bench, calmly awaiting for the soldiers who would come to capture me. I heard their footprints as they marched towards my door. They knocked once and then burst through as I whispered one final prayer, “Father, forgive them.” They grabbed at my clothes, pulled me up by my hair, and forced me to stand. As they dragged me to my soiled prison cell I made no cry.

The door clanged shut and the soldiers walked away, I could hear a familiar voice echo down the hallway. Out of the love of my earthly father’s heart, he must have come to visit me. With gentleness and sincerity in his rough voice and a tear trickling down from his eye, he fell to his knees before me as he begged me to come home. “Denounce your allegiance to Christ and you will be a freed woman again.”

But, I knew freedom of a different sort. With sadness in my heart, but truth on my lips, I pointed to a pitcher across the room. “Father, do you see that pitcher there?” He looked. I explained, “Can anything, even a pitcher, be called something other than what it truly is?” “No” was his reply. “So it is the same with me. I cannot be called anything other than what I am. And, I am sincerely a Christian.”

As her father’s eyes came back to mine, they burned red from tears of agony. Rage washed over him. He reached for me through the bars of the cage. He came at me as if he were to gouge out my eyes. But, his arms fell short. They could not reach me. He lifted his voice, but he could not speak. I am sure that was when he began to hate me because of how much he loved me. After he had ripped his shirt from the strain and formed cuts on his upper arms, he pulled back from the cold metal bars, he knocked over a worn wooden chair, and left as a victim. He knew what I had said rang true.

Behind him as he walked away, I calmly sat, stroking my hair, looking down towards the dirty floor, and began to pray. My father remained absent for days. This relieved me. It made it easier to deal with the pain I had caused him. I continued to pray and as a baptized child of God, the Spirit instructed me, He gave me strength, and He encouraged me to ask for endurance of my body and my mind through my suffering.

I had never before experienced such darkness. It seemed as if there was no light and no hope at all. That is, besides the hope and the light that had been given to be by Christ. The limited space and harsh guards, the heat and the hunger, it all became unbearable. I worried for the sake of my child, still an infant.

Two deacons took care of my needs. Out of the love of their hearts, they paid for me to be moved from my crowded cell to a better part of the prison for a few hours. There I could finally breathe. The air remained putrid, but at least it filled my lungs. There I could nurse my child who had already begun to weaken out of hunger. I feared for his life. I spoke to my mother and brother, begging them to care for my son. As I spoke with them, I suffered all the more as I sensed the pain that I had caused them just as I had pained my father before them.

Finally, I was granted the privilege of having my son remain with me. I did not fear for his life because could care for him. He became my strength. Suddenly, the prison became my palace. I loved being there rather than any other place. For, there I was with my son, we were fed, and we were safe.

Soon, my brother came to me in my caged castle and said to me, “Dear sister, you already have such a great reputation with God. You could ask Him for a vision revealing whether you will be freed or condemned.” I knew that I could freely speak with the Lord who had already gladly blessed me in my suffering. So, I confidently promised my brother that I would petition the Lord for a vision. As sat watching, I closed my eyes, took a breath, and made my request.

Before another though could form within my mind, I saw a bronze ladder like that of Jacob, reaching its lengthy arms up into the heavens. But, the latter was so narrow that only one person could ascend it at a time. Every conceivable kind of weapon had been attached to the sides of the ladder, making an eerie clanging echo in my ears as they dangled from its rungs. Swords, lances, hooks, and daggers filled my peripherals. Surely, if I were to carelessly climb the ladder, I would be mangled, torn, and bleeding before I got anywhere close to its top. As I fallowed a trail of smoke to the bottom rungs of the ladder, I gave a start at the sight of a dragon crouching, peering out of the darkness and into my soul. The serpent had obviously been placed there to instill fear in the hearts of those who would pursue the climb.

The shadow of a man before me forced me to realize that I was in a line, following one of my dear friends closely. But, this friend was Saturus, he had disappeared before my arrest. Once, he had been my strength, but suddenly he had vanished. He headed up the ladder, slowly and carefully, as he reached the top he turned to me and said, “Perpetua, I wait for you. Be careful not to be bitten by the dragon.” I cried up to my beloved friend, “Do not worry. In the name of Jesus Christ, even the dragon cannot harm me.” At this the dragon gave a soft whimper and lowered his steaming head, cowering as if he were afraid. Using his head as the first step, I began my ascent towards heaven.

At the summit I saw an immense garden, in the center sat a tall, grey-haired man dressed like a shepherd. He was giving milk to his sheep. Around the man stood a company of several thousand white-robed saints. As he raised his head, our eyes connected, he said, “Welcome, my dear child.” His hand moved out to me and held my shoulder as his other hand handed me a small morsel of cheese. Steadily, I took his gift, cupped it in my hands, and ate the most delicious morsel known to man. All those surrounding us resounded in an “Amen.” I awoke still tasting the sweet cheese and immediately told my brother of my vision. His eyes filled in wonder as we both realized that we were to experience the sufferings of martyrdom. From then on we gave up in the hope of this world...

This is my rewrite. Here's the original (translated into English).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The King Condemned | Lent 2014

Leviticus 10:1-4

New International Version (NIV)

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’”

Aaron remained silent.

Leviticus 16

The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering[a] and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban.These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household.7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat.[b]9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar.19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp;their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves[c] and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you—30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

And it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Matthew 27:11-26

Jesus Before Pilate

11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus[a] Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God, the Father, and Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
All these words, hear them with your ears. But, receive them in your hearts.

The King Condemned

Last week, I had the opportunity to watch one of Ravi Zacharias’ lectures. Here is a picture of him. [Show book.] Ravi is a man who was born in India. For much of his early life he did not know where he stood. He was surrounded by a multitude of gods, which left him wondering whether or not there was any real God at all. This left an emptiness in his heart, he lost the meaning for his life, and he almost successfully committed suicide. After taking some pills, he had to have his stomach pumped, and found himself in a hospital recovery room. One of his friends had given him a Bible for his mother to read to him. And, he heard the words that Jesus Christ had said to Thomas, “Because I live you too shall live.”

This inspired him to cling to Christ. He eventually made his way over to Canada. And now he travels the world, telling people about Jesus Christ especially targeting universities. He realizes the importance of ministering and explaining what Christianity is in an often political or secularized realm. Even more-so, he emphasizes the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

But, what really reminded me of the lecture from last week was the Question and Answer session. It was kind of funny. Ravi had been up on stage giving his lecture and moved over towards some chairs. Then, one of Ravi’s co-working defenders of the faith came out to help with the questions. As the questions came up either on twitter or from the audience, one of the two men who chose to answer the question would stand up. The question would be asked, and Ravi would say he could answer it, he’d stand up and speak. Or, a question would be asked, and Ravi’s friend thought he could handle it so he’d stand up and speak. They kept standing up and sitting down, standing up and sitting down, standing up and sitting down.

After a while it began to make sense. I kind of came to terms with the common idiom of “this is where I stand.” This is what I believe in. This is what I need to share with you so that you get a good understanding of what I am saying.

Jesus stood before Pilate.

And, Pilate asked him a question. He asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” The priests and the elders tore him down after he said that. But, to Pilate’s amazement, Jesus made no further reply.

He had said enough. The audience would understand. But, we live in a different context. It helps us to go back to the question of what it means to be “the king of the Jews?”

Right now, as we’re reading through The Story, it would seem as if the Jews don’t have any kings at all. In fact, if anything, the Israelites had been running away from authorities. They had fled Egypt through the sea. They would have Judges, those leaders rose up to stop the people from being oppressed, but they did not become kings. It is not until later, in the first book of Samuel that the Israelites ask for a king of their own.

So, who is the king of the Jews? It is the same One who it has always been. Until God had anointed a man to be king for the the Jews lived in a Theocracy. God was their King. And, they were His people.

And, their King was a mighty king. The Leviticus reading from this evening begins after the death of Aaron’s sons. Do you remember what had happened to them? They had been burning incense and offering to God without his permission. Solely for misusing the presence of God, He consumed them with fire.

When Moses heard this he said it was to fulfill what the Lord had said, that He would show himself as holy in the sight of all people. His presence was to be unblemished.

And, Aaron just stood there, speechless.

Then, Aaron is told that he must make an atoning sacrifice to make up for his own sins, the sins of his sons, and the sins of Israel. This never seems to make much sense in our culture. We often think that the sons should have known better, they brought themselves to their own destruction, it’s what they deserved. So, why does Aaron have to pay?

I was talking with a fellow seminarian from Madagascar the other day. And, he was explaining to me that families there are a lot more connected than we tend to be here. The sins of one member of the family bring shame to the family as a whole. If the son were to kill a man, the whole family would be looked down upon.

It is the same here with Aaron. He is just as much to blame as his sons were. He should have led them up in the way that they should go. But, instead they misuse the presence of God. This makes Aaron sinful and the whole nation of Israel blemished before their glorious God.

Aaron stood condemned.

So, Aaron has to make things right again.

This costs him a bull that must be sacrificed for his sins and the sins of the people. Two goats had to be gathered with lots cast, one goat to be sacrificed for their sin and the other goat to bear the curse of their sins into the wilderness. After the lots were cast, the blood of the bull and the first goat would be sprinkled over the altar. While, the second goat would be handed off to a man to lead him into the wild. Aaron and the man who led the goat into the wilderness would then need to wash themselves. But, after such a horrendous affair, I imagine they probably still wouldn’t feel very clean.

This sounds bad enough. But, the Israelites would have to do it again and again, year after year. They would call this the Day of Atonement. The Day of making things right again.

That is until Jesus stood before Pilate.

Do you see how the tables have been turned?

The One sent on behalf of the Father, the One who should be seen as holy, the One who should be submitted to, the King of the Jews, He is on trial. Instead of judging, he is being judged. Instead of ruling, he is being ruled. Instead of showing an act of power, he is revealing his humility.

To stand before God in the Old Testament was to take your life in your hands.

But, here, Jesus Christ stood condemned.

Instead of speaking out against His accusers, he stood there, silent.

He had no sin. But, He had to make things right again for His people.

Standing before Pilate and next to Barabbas, he became one of two goats. But, the people had chosen to let the other goat go free. Barabbas had been released.

And, for Christ they shouted, “Crucify him!” “CRUCIFY HIM!”

“Let His blood be on us and our children!!!”

Although, Pilate did not understand all of this, he washed his hands. He had to be cleansed of this mess. But, I imagine he probably still felt dirty.

Now, here we stand.

We often relate to Pilate, the priests, or the crowd. We often put ourselves in the place of those who condemn. We sit in the seat of judgment over God, we give into the crowd, we are the ones who put Jesus on that cross. But, if we are the ones who are condemning, then why do we often feel as if we are the ones who are condemned?

We want to wash ourselves clean of this whole mess, but somehow we still feel dirty. We remember how we have fallen short, how we have given into the temptation that we so desperately try to avoid.

In the Confession this evening, we stated that we cannot run from God. He knows when we sit and rise, when we lay down, and wherever we are. He is in the heavens and in our thoughts. We cannot escape Him.

We can never hide. And, we are afraid to stand in His judgment.

But, Jesus Christ has come to make things right again. He became the bull and the goat offerings to the Lord, the sacrifice of life to make up for our sins. He became the scapegoat, laying aside his crown to bear the curse and save our souls. In a way he became all of the Old Testament atonement sacrifices. But, in the another way he was none of them. He fulfilled them. He completed the work to make things right again more securely and more permanently than it had ever been done before.

It was a sacrifice worth more than a bull and two goats. The sacrifice was the Son of God.

And, in the finality of this sacrifice, He atoned for our sins. [walking over to the Baptismal Font]—He washed us in a way that we could never wash ourselves. He cleansed us from all sin so that we no longer need to feel dirty. He purified us through His blood. And, he was raised for us so that we will live again.

We no longer need to fear God’s presence. But, instead we may take comfort in it. It is true that he knows us when we sit and rise, when we lay down, and when we get up again. He is in the heavens and in our thoughts. But, in all those places, His hand guides us.

He holds us up so that we can stand.

And, on that final day of Judgment, when we stand before the Lord, Jesus Christ, and see the face of the man who we had condemned, He will remind us that he has already saved us from all of our own condemnation. Nothing can separate us from His wondrous love. He had always been in control. The tables hadn’t really been turned after all. Amen.

Now, may the peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus from this day forth. Amen.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

INTRODUCTION | Luther's Theology

Luther’s understanding of the gospel remains a vital reality…

If we seek to deepen and renew our understanding of the gospel and prepare for the unity of the church, Luther’s theology will be extremely significant for the present and the future not only of the Lutheran Church but of all Christianity…

A comprehensive presentation such as this can be only an incomplete selection… Luther’s theology is a way of thinking. Completeness could therefore neither be sought nor achieved…

In studying their work, one of course notices the danger which threatens every attempt to present material from the past in a way that will be of vital significance for the present situation, that is, to present Luther… as the supporter of the author’s own theology. If one is aware of this difficulty, however, one can consciously guard against it…”


“Intensive study of Luther’s theology is particularly rewarding because of his originality. The voice with which Luther speaks to us is unmistakably his own. Luther however did not intend to say anything particularly original. He felt he was commissioned only to explicate rightly the truth…

All Luther’s theological thinking presupposes the authority of Scripture. His theology is nothing more than an attempt to interpret the Scripture…” He is not a Dogmatician, but an Exegete. “He distinguishes what he can say on the basis of Scripture from his own theological opinion. Since the latter cannot be proved from Scripture, Luther feels that no one is bound to accept it. For this reason he claims only that he has himself understood—and taught others to understand—the Holy Scripture some-what better than the scholastic theologians had…”

Luther “never wanted to be anything else than an obedient hearer and student of the Scripture…”

The validity of the Church and its leaders depends on their conformity to Scripture.

“We may trust unconditionally only in the word of God… Scripture never errs. Therefore it alone has unconditional authority. The authority of the theologians of the church is relative and conditional. Without the authority of words of Scripture, no one can establish hard and fast statements of dogma in the church.”

“The authority of the word of God which confronts us in Scripture and in the creeds establishes itself in our spirit and heart through experience. Of course, Luther also knows that there are elements of Christian truth which are beyond experience and must simply be ‘believed.’ But when it comes to the heart and center of the gospel… sin and grace, Luther appeals not only to Scripture and the consensus of the church, but also to his own experience… Experience is one of the principles of his theology. It is, of course, not a source of knowledge in and by itself, but it definitely is a medium through which knowledge is received. Theological knowledge is won by experiencing it …

He intends to bring the old truth of Scripture and of dogma out of obscurity into the light, and to let its real meaning shine forth…

In this process of exposition, the old truth admittedly becomes new truth because it is received in a new situation by men whose theological concerns and frame of reference are [different]…”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Moral Obtusity | William Lane Craig

 How can People Be So Morally Obtuse? 

Hello Dr. Craig!

I'm a follower of your work and a fan of yours. I study your books just about everyday so I can learn and prepare myself as a Christian for the rest of the world waiting to maul me where I stand!

I have question for you today regarding the second premise of your moral argument. This argument is dear to me because I recognized that there truly is good and evil in our world and I came to Christianity because I truly believed in love, justice, and so forth. (Keep in mind this was also before I even knew about this argument!). So when I found out about this argument when I discovered your work I was astonished! So you can see why this argument is dear to me, because it's so close in how I came to Christ!

This is your argument:
1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exist.

  • Premise (1): I understand the ontology of premise one, that for these moral values and duties to be objectively binding they need to be grounded in God. Without God, who says? Moral values and duties become a giant relative fighting pit and whoever comes out on top gets to be called king and make the rules. 

  • Premise (2): Now for my questions about premise (2). I understand the justification of our moral experience, how it is the exact same case for the physical realm. But my question, probably popular among my generation, is how these values and duties seem so relativistic. I truly believe in good values like love, generosity, justice, equality, and self sacrifice and it's very obvious to me that cruelty, brutality, and vengeance are evil. Now these things seem to be very obvious to everyone in our era. But what's troubling me is when I look back in time at the holocaust, crusades, and tribes that would perform just atrocious acts.

Do they even believe the same values that I do!? It just seems so odd that they can throw babies into fire, use them as target practice, or slaughter people to such a caliber! Or that tribes could eat each other, be so brutal to their children or elderly! Or again huge populations being enslaved and beaten to death! It's just so unthinkable! How do these people not perceive the value of love, equality, and so on like we do? I understand that it doesn't matter how many people do it, it's still objectively wrong. I just don't understand how so many people didn't think this was wrong. If these values and duties are objective, then it seems they should have known this was wrong? Is it the values that are different or is it just the standard of what these values are? Does brutality from one side have a higher tolerance then the other? I just don't get it and that is why I am asking you to please clarify this for me Dr. Craig.



Dr. Craig responds:

It seems to me that you’re falling into the familiar trap of conflating moral ontology and moral epistemology, Julian...

  • Moral ontology has to do with the objective reality of moral values and duties.                                (What morals actually are.)
  • Moral epistemology has to do with how we come to know moral values and duties.                        (How we come to know morals.)

The moral argument (the argument cited by Julian above) is wholly about moral ontology (what morals actually are); it says nothing about how we come to know moral values and duties (moral epistemology). Thus, the argument is completely neutral with respect to the relative clarity or obscurity of the moral realm. (He argues that morals exist and he probably uses some examples of unarguably moral or immoral cases. BUT, he does not address where these morals come from and how we know them [epistemology is the study of how we are able to know something].)

  • It would be wholly consistent with the argument to maintain, for example, that it is only through an inner divine illumination that we come to know moral values and duties and that those who suppress God’s illuminating their minds find themselves groping in moral darkness. That would largely explain the phenomena you mention. You understand that I’m not endorsing such an epistemology; on the contrary, my point is that the moral argument I’ve defended doesn’t offer a moral epistemology. It’s neutral in that regard.  (He leaves room for "an inner divine illumination," but does not usually address it as a necessity in his typical debate.)

Thus... [you seem to be concluding that] “If these values and duties are objective, then it seems they should have known this was wrong.” That... doesn’t follow from the objectivity of moral values and duties that they should be clearly perceived by everyone (just because they exist doesn't mean that everyone knows what they are according to his theory).

  • This fact should be especially evident to anyone who has a serious doctrine of sin. The Bible explicitly teaches that fallen, sinful people are darkened in their understanding and have a debased mind and so plunge themselves into immorality (Romans 1.18-32). Indeed, Paul seems to affirm that even though people really do know that such acts are wrong, they do them anyway for selfish pleasure (Romans 1.32; cf. 2.15). The failure lies in the perceiver, not in the perceived. (The failure is that the person does not understand/know/see that what they are doing is wrong. It is not the case that it is not wrong, but that the person does not realize that is wrong.) “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6.22-3). (There are also Psalms that address this when discussing "the wicked.")

On top of this comes the cultural conditioning that results from being raised in a society which is twisted or debased. Sin is not simply an individual matter but becomes ensconced in societal institutions and structures that shape people’s lives (it can be ingrained into a common practice of the culture. A modern example may be living together before marriage or giving into drunkenness as it is not seen as strictly taboo). But notice that when we express moral disagreement with a society or when we judge that mankind has grown morally from its earlier condition, we implicitly affirm the objectivity of moral values and duties. We think there has been moral improvement, not merely moral change. Far from supporting relativism, moral disagreement and improvement actually presuppose the objectivity of moral values... (The disagreement leads to a better understanding of the absolute moral that already exists, apart from the individual or culture.)

I think that you exaggerate the degree of moral divergence among peoples. Anthropologists tell us on the contrary that there is great commonality among the peoples of the world in their fundamental moral codes. What might give the appearance of relativism is the different ways that these common moral values come to expression culturally.

  • For example, modesty is a commonly held virtue, but what counts as modest can differ radically from society to society.

  • Or take cannibalism. From what I have read about tribes which practiced cannibalism, the fact is that, contrary to first impression, they did believe that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. The problem is that they did not believe that members of other tribes were their neighbors! One would never practice cannibalism against members of one’s own tribal community; they were your neighbors. Others outside one’s tribe were, in effect, dehumanized. Something similar happens in cases of Negro slavery or the Holocaust: the victims of such abuse were often regarded as sub-human and therefore not having intrinsic human rights.

Sometimes the problem is not the failure to see moral values but to see the full humanity of those wronged. And of course, there is just the problem of people’s acting inconsistently. When you ask, “Do they even believe the same values that I do!?,” a good way to answer that question is to look, not at what they do, but at how they react when the same things are done to them! The world is not really as awash in relativism as you think.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Ball and the Cross | G.K. Chesterton

"'I was telling you just now... that I can prove the best part of the rational case and the Christian humbug from any symbol you liked to give me, from any instance I came across… What could possibly express your philosophy and my philosophy better than the shape of that cross and the shape of this ball? This globe is reasonable; that cross is unreasonable… The globe is at unity with itself; the cross is primarily and above all things at enmity with direction. That silent thing up there is essentially a collision, a crash, a struggle in stone. Pah! that sacred symbol of yours has actually given its name to a description of desperation and muddle. When we speak of men at once ignorant of each other and frustrated by each other, we say they are at cross-purposes. Away with the thing! The very shape of it is a contradiction in terms’

‘What you say is perfectly true… But we like contradictions in terms. Man is a contradiction in terms; he is a beast whose superiority to other beasts consists in having fallen. That cross is, as you say, an eternal collision; so am I. That is a struggle in stone. Every form of life is a struggle in flesh. The shape of the cross is irrational, just as the shape of the human animal is irrational…’

‘Of course everything is relative, and I would not deny that the element of struggle and self-contradiction, represented by that cross, has a necessary place at a certain evolutionary stage. But surely the cross is the lower development and the sphere the higher. After all it is easy enough to see what is really wrong with [the]… architectural arrangement… The cross is on top of the ball… That is surely wrong. The ball should be on top of the cross. The cross is a mere barbaric prop; the ball is perfection. The cross at its best is but the bitter tree of man’s history; the ball is the rounded, the ripe and final fruit. And the fruit should be at the top of the tree, not at the bottom of it.’

‘Oh! so you think that in a rationalistic scheme of symbolism the ball should be on the top of the cross?’

‘It sums up my whole allegory.’

‘Well, that is really very interesting… because I think in that case you would see a most singular effect… You would see, I think, that thing happen which is always the ultimate embodiment and logical outcome of your logical scheme.’

‘What would happen?’

‘It would fall down.’

A discussion of the World (Reason) vs. the Gospel (Faith) between Lucifer, the professor, and Michael, the monk, on pages 5-6 of G.K. Chesterton’s book, The Ball and the Cross (less than $10!/~/product/category=8626191&id=1546001).

Monday, March 3, 2014

Change Happens | Transfiguration Sermon 2014

Exodus 19:9-25

English Standard Version (ESV)

9 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot;[a] whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” 24 And the Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.

Exodus 20:18-21

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid[d] and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

2 Peter 1:16-21

English Standard Version (ESV)
Christ's Glory and the Prophetic Word

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 17:1-9

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Transfiguration

17 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
All these words that I shall speak to you hear with your ears, but receive them in your hearts.

Change Happens

Change happens. You wake up. You go to work. You go home. Wake up, go to work, go home. Wake up, go to work, go home. You don’t know when it happened. But, somewhere along the line the job you had dreamed of and loved became boring and depressing. Some sort of change must have happened.

You come home to your spouse, to your kids, to the ones you love. But, the spark just isn’t there. When you look at your spouse, you can’t help but think of the last time you had been in a fight. You remember the latest habit that had annoyed you. You’re going to have to bring that up sooner or later. You see your family and all that you can think about is more mouths to feed, the cost of education and clothing. A change happened, but you could never really tell where.

You get laid off. Anger builds up inside of you. You start to think thoughts about your job, your life, and everything around you that were merely inconceivable before. You carry on with a cancerous hatred infecting your heart. You don’t see the point of anything anymore. It’s all just one dull, murky, wretched life. A change happened, and you don’t really care.

This change gets worse and worse, it builds up. You start to fall into temptations and debts that you can no longer handle. You wander about under a cloud of darkness, seeking despair. There’s the drinking, the accident, the divorce, the death. If you had been sober, you’d have seen the change. But, you probably wouldn’t have done anything about it.

Then, one day, your son calls. You hate it when he calls. He’s grown up now. But, he always wants something. He always needs something. What does he think, you’re filled with money? You answer, in a harsh voice you ask, “What do you want now?!”

You can almost feel his disappointment over the phone line. You think maybe someone’s hurt. Maybe it’s your ex, you haven’t spoken in years, they could be hurt. He begins to stutter, “Um, it’s nothing dad.” So, he called you for nothing. We’ll see about that. It must be money. All he ever wants is money.

Then, those three words escape from his lips. They are three words you haven’t heard from anyone in a very long time. He says, “I love you, Dad.” It’s like a nail hitting your chest. You hold back the tears that had begun to form in your eyes. When was the last time you had heard those words? Who had been the last one to say them to you? You can’t remember.

But, somehow, although you want to say them back, you can’t. Instead you ask, “Is that it?” He says, “That’s it.” You say, “Well, alright.” He says, “Well, I guess I’ll talk to you later.” You just have enough time to say “bye” before the phone clicks and hangs up. And, there, with the phone still next to your ear, you finally get the strength to say, “I love you too, Son.”

What a weird phone call. As you sit there, speechless, you start to think. You think about the changes in your life. You think about your spouse, your job, your son. You wonder where you went wrong, where the big change was. The problem is, it wasn’t just one big change.

It had happened when you didn’t follow through with your diet. It was when you meant to be there for the soccer games, but never made it. It was when you meant to say “I love you,” but the words never seemed to come to mind. It was a stack of infinite failures that lead to losing yourself somewhere along the line.

But, you know, maybe I haven’t been explaining your story all this time. Maybe you never gave into the hum and drum of work and family. You never once had a day where you seemed to be just “going through the motions.” Maybe you have never lost a job. You have never had a drink or got divorced. You not only told your family you loved them, but you told everyone else you loved them too. Maybe. But, even there, in that positive-life scenario, change happened.

Maybe instead of despair, hope grew. Instead of hate, there was love. And, instead of apathy, faith. Maybe you have been built up instead of torn down by your life story. But, either way, you are a different person than when you had first begun. Experience adds to experience, and somewhere along the line, your priorities, your life, your heart had changed either for the better or the worse. We all have been changed somehow towards the better, but also towards the worse.
Bulletin Insert

In your bulletin today, there is something extremely personal for you to do. Here, flip to the page. I need you to reflect, to think about your life. Think about the times you have been built up and torn down. See the consequence, know the effects. [walk through the insert] Don’t do it right now, take it home and meditate on it. And, as you meditate on your life, remember what I’m about to say next.
The Unchanged

The lessons today are about people who have gone through extraordinary changes. James had turned from a “son of thunder” to a follower of the Prince of Peace. John had turned from a nobody into the beloved disciple. And, Peter had gone from a lowly fisherman to following the Son of Man. Even the men who had appeared before Jesus had been molded by God within their own lives. Moses had gone from a stuttering shepherd to a leader of Israel, courageous enough to speak with God face-to-face. Elijah had been formed through his persecution and witness of God. All of these men had spoken with the Lord, trusted Him, and witnessed His miraculous signs. And, they all saw Him as Light on that wondrous day.

I can imagine one of the disciples looking at the transfigured Christ whose face shown like the sun and clothes became a white light and saying, “I see God.” The man who had been born in a stable, baptized, tested in the desert… The one who had hung out with tax-collectors and prostitutes along with other lowly men such as themselves, now appeared pure, holy, and filled with an unimaginable light. He had changed before them to appear as God.

But, that’s not how it happened. Jesus Christ had changed before their very eyes, yet they still saw an earthly man with earthly needs. Peter, the man who had rebuked Jesus for saying that He must suffer and die, exclaims, “We should make tents!” He got all excited and continued explaining when something happened.

A bright cloud overshadowed them, and they heard a voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” They had no other choice but to fall on their faces in horror, remembering when Moses had met God on another mountain long ago. There, God had proclaimed that if any living thing even touched the mountain they would die. There, the Israelites had pleaded with their prophet to speak to God on behalf of them because they knew His power. These disciples remembered that to see the face of God was to die.

But, God is also known as the Great Iconoclast. As soon as we believe that we completely understand who he is, when we start to envision a god and say that “Well, god would do this” or “god would do that,” the Lord breaks that image. He shatters the icon you have made for yourself. He tears apart your false understanding. And, you learn about a whole new aspect of who He is.

He does not do this to hurt you or build a burden upon your relationship. He does this to draw you closer to Him. There is a verse that repeats itself over and over again in Psalm 136, “kee le-o-lam chasdo.” It means that His unfailing, steadfast, limitless love, His grace, His mercy, it endures forever. No matter what else God reveals to you. No matter how shattered your picture of Him may become, His love is always there.

This is something the disciples would have done well to remember as they lied there afraid on that mountain. Yet, they were too afraid to look. That is when Jesus quickly came over, he touched them, and he said to them they can get up, they do not need to be afraid. And then, when they looked up, Jesus was the only one there. Moses, Elijah, and the cloud had gone. This is the man they had always known.

Change happens. Here, in this Light, change is inevitable. Peter, James, and John were no longer the men they had once been. They had seen their Lord. After the cloud had passed, they knew He was the Son of God. This is a revelation they should have had all along, but it had become epitomized on this mountain. Christ had chosen to reveal Himself to them as God’s beloved Son, whom they should heed just as God had revealed Himself before Moses in the desert.

But, in Jesus there was no change. As the disciples eyes were opened to see his blinding light and to know His presence there on the mountain with Moses, Elijah, and the Father, Jesus had simply been who He had always been: The Son of God and Son of Man… The Mediator between God and Man… The Way, The Truth, and The Life… The Light… The One who is, was, and ever shall be. He remains the same although everything else changes.

In the same way, our lives may shift, our heart and our minds might transform to become something else, to care for something else. But, He will always be there. He will always touch us in our lives to comfort us, to remind us that we can get up again, that we do not need to be afraid. He carries us through our troubles. He strengthens us when we have no strength. And, even in the worst of times, as we hit the deepest of our depths, He is there to call out of the blue and say to you, “I love you.” That’s all.

But, that love is enough. It is a love that had brought Him into this world in the first place. The love that led him to suffer, to die, to be hanged upon the cross. And, it is also that same love that had been the reason for him to rise again, to provide not only the end of death, but a new life… A life to be lived in Him.

And, unlike the disciples, we are able to let this love, this life of Christ, this Gospel be proclaimed through us. We no longer have to wait in silence. He has been raised from the dead. The change has already happened. That is why we must go, out into the world sharing the life-changing power of JESUS. Amen.