Loving God, Loving Each Other

“The Test”

Pastor’s Pen

12-23-2020

The Test

Is this going to be on the test?”  Have you ever said that phrase to a teacher or professor?  I always cringed inwardly when someone in my classes raised their hand and said such a thing.  The implication is clear: “I only care about what I need to get the grade and get out of here” or “What you’re saying only matters to me insofar as I need it to get a passing grade.”  This attitude may be ugly in the classroom, but it’s uglier in the Kingdom of God.  While no one explicitly says “is this going to be on the test?”, the questions asked of Jesus often boil down to such a query.  Many in our world and many in our faith are seeking out the minimal entry requirements.  What is the least I have to do to be saved?  We’re going to visit a minimal entry requirement before the end of our message this week… but rest assured we’ll take the long way there.

There’s another kind of student:  the one who drinks in information and may not even care so much about a grade as gathering understanding, or even being in the presence of the teacher.  Consider the story of Mary and Martha in Luke chapter 10:38-42.  Here we see a student (Mary) that will even forgo that which is considered to be her primary cultural and social obligation just to learn from the Master… to sit as his feet.  Jesus says to a worried Martha:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered and anxious about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part [that which is to her advantage], which will not be taken away from her.”

If you are Jesus’ disciple, you are His student (literally his “learner”).  Have you chosen the good part?  Will you do so in 2021?  Ask yourself this earnest question today: “What kind of student am I?

Darkness Before Light (Isa 9:2)

Pastor’s Pen 12-16-20

What is the biggest issue facing you as a person?  Have you ever asked yourself that question?  How about this one:  What is the biggest issue facing humanity?  What is wrong with us?  Many in our culture would individually focus on some immediate perceived need.  Paying off a home, finding someone to love, having enough saved for a comfortable retirement.  But what is the end result of all of those conditions?  Well, not to be macabre, but you’re still going to die.  Maybe you want to leave a legacy?  You’d like to change the world?  Bring about peace for all the nations?  Food, shelter, and clothing for every person on the planet… but they’re all going to die too right?  The generations will pass away and eventually humanity will go extinct.  The universe itself is on a timetable and will pass away.  So what’s the biggest problem?  The agnostic existentialist Jean Paul Sartre said, “Whether I live for a day or a thousand years makes no difference once I’ve lost eternity”.  I think Sartre is right about that.  Think of everything you’re chasing after right now.  Your wealth, your love, your security, your health: if it ends in death then what does it matter?  It is as Solomon said: “grasping oil” or “chasing after the wind”…  “Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless.

If there is a God all of this changes, but not necessarily for the better (“better” would depend on your condition with regard to that God).  All monotheistic traditions and revelation hold that death is not the end.  So for those who wish to live their lives in a blaze of glory and seek the shelter of oblivion in the grave… sorry, but that’s not an option.  As Christ himself stated it in Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be afraid of Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  The news is bad… our problems are bigger than the details of our lives, and even bigger than death.  We’ve got a God to contend with, and He’s not happy with us.  But its okay, right?  We can love that God, and try to serve Him, and advocate for Him and that will make it alright, right?  Wrong.  The scriptures indicate that God’s standard is perfection… how are you measuring up?  It is all pretty dismal, unless someone can change God’s view of us.  And here’s the good news.  For those paying attention to the story of God and Israel, we see God training a people to recognize that salvation comes from God alone, and the story has never changed.

Isa 43:11 I, only I, am the Lord,
And there is no savior besides Me.

Isa 43:25 “I, only I, am He who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake,
And I will not remember your sins.

From the forging of this cosmos, our merciful God had rightly diagnosed our biggest problem as  our rebellion against Him and our inability to fix it.  This same God has a plan to overwhelm our sin and restore us.  His zeal for us would bring it about in a most unthinkable way.  He humbled himself and came to live as one of us.  Do you realize how dark things are apart from the coming of the Light of the World?

Isa 9:6-7 For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of armies will accomplish this.

The Hope of Destruction

Pastor’s Pen 12-9-2020

The Hope of Destruction

Preparing for our message this Sunday, I was doing an in-depth study of the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church.  The church at Thessalonica had been experiencing persecution and yet thriving in the midst of it, and Paul in his final paragraphs of that first letter offers them this encouraging little spirit-boost:

1 Thes 5:1-4

Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape.

My immediate thought was:  “Are we supposed to be encouraged by the destruction of the non-believers at judgement?  That doesn’t seem very Christ-like, Paul!”  But then my train of thought derailed mightily as a flood of scriptures came rolling through my brain-space countering my intuitive knee-jerk reaction.  I had to laugh, as the thought came:  Not Christlike? Who will be administering that judgement, Ben?   

1 Tim 4:1 NASB

I solemnly exhort you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:

Rom 2:16 NASB

16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of mankind through Christ Jesus.

John 5:22-23 NASB

22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

My impression of Jesus lamenting-the-loss was largely, I suspect, framed up on our modern rendition of Jesus as a sort of Mr. Rogers.  But the Lamb of God is also the Lion of Judah.  Will Jesus be mourning and lamenting at Judgement?  I suspect not.  That day will be a celebration of cosmic justice, and that is encouraging!  Are you frustrated as you look around this earth and see the cheats and liars, the cruel, the manipulators, deceivers, charlatans, the wicked power-brokers, and vile tyrants “getting away with it”?  Well, be encouraged… they aren’t getting away with it.  Paul told a battered church body confronting daily persecution to be encouraged that judgment will catch the wicked… “they will surely not escape.”  Aren’t you glad? 

If you’re still not sure that we should be encouraged by that impending destruction, if you think it doesn’t seem “nice” even if Paul says so and Jesus is performing it, know that Peter celebrates it as well (2 Pet 3). or try this one: all the Martyrs below the alter in heaven are depicted in Revelation as crying out to God to hurry up and bring it about (Rev 6:9-11).  It is not wrong for us to join them in that prayer.  Judgement and destruction are coming for the sons-of-darkness.  Be encouraged and be steadfast in the light (1 Thes 5:1-11).