Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Differing Weights & Scales

Though I missed it, I guess this past Sunday was "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," as some ministers decided to tell their congregations for whom they should or should not vote. In response, Cal Thomas, a Christian political commentator, has made it quite clear that pastors and churches are really not to be involved in the business of addressing political matters. The great pastor and theologian Martyn Lloyd-Jones would seem to agree. In urging the preaching of Christ rather than politics, he said, "I am in no position to stand and address a company of Christian people as to whether I think the Government has acted rightly or wrongly. That, I repeat, is not the primary business of the Christian minister."

I find myself drawn to the spirit of Thomas and Lloyd-Jones' point, as our focus in the pulpit should always be in the exaltation of Christ. Certainly turning the pulpit into a place for political stumping is foolish at best and idolatrous at worst. Yet I still find that I cannot agree with the gagging effect on the preacher these men's chief idea if practiced would bring. At key times and issues, pointing out the rightness or evil of our governing leaders and their policies is how we exalt Christ.

For instance, take the current financial chaos our nation is facing. Our government is voting whether to give these failed financial institutions an incredibly large bail-out - $700 billion! You do not have to be a mathematician to know 700,000,000,000 dollars is a lot of money. Neither do you have to have a PhD in economics to understand why we are in this crisis. You just need to understand two things. 1) Money is printed at the will of the government and therefore its value is changed as they try to control the economy. This is akin to having a yardstick that is one day 34 inches and the next 41. 2) On the insistence of the government, through its making of laws and regulations to promote "equality," this money has been loaned out by banks and loan institutions (i.e. Fannie May and Freddie Mac) to thousands and thousands of people that you or I wouldn't even loan a shovel to based on their reputation, much less the amount of a house.

And I'm not supposed to say anything? What did the prophets do when confronted with corrupt rulers and practices? What did Jesus say to those who suppressed the poor through evil monetary policies? Does the Bible say anything about changing scales and differing weights? Consider:

"You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God." Deuteronomy 25:14-16

This is not only law. It is basic wisdom:

"Differing weights are an abomination to the LORD, and a false scale is not good." -Proverbs 20:23
"A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight." -Proverbs 11:1

We have grown so accustomed to an economic system based on differing weights and measures that when things grow haywire and unbalanced, our collective response is to take from one side (tax, increase money supply, borrow) so we can put more on the other side (entitlements, loans, grants). We have forgotten that slightly more than a century ago the chief campaign point was the money system we would use. We need to see that the problem is not so much that the balance is tipping, but that differing scales are causing the tipping.

With that in mind, might I add that those telling pastors to be quiet are just part of the same problem? For at the same time they are instructing preachers not to speak about politics, politician and pundit alike see no irony in moralizing, using the church, and invoking God's name when it serves their cause. Talk about differing scales!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Veiled Thoughts

"Perhaps nothing is more mysterious than a veil or curtain."
So began my last sermon
on the mystery in Ephesians 3:1-7.
And so begins this collage of "veiled thoughts" today.


In society, mystery is caused by a lack of evidence or facts.
In Scripture, mystery is caused by a lack of spiritual insight.


God not only created light.
He created darkness also.
He is Lord of both.
So says the prophet Isaiah.


Men cannot figure women out because of what women veil.
Women cannot figure men out because of what men reveal.


He who would obfuscate the clarity of Genesis 1
is not qualified to teach Sunday School,
let alone adults in higher education.


The great temptation for the preacher is the desire
to be heard rather than for the congregation to listen.


It is the wise man who understands
how the word gentleman is formed.


Sin always starts with a lie.
It will only end when the lies cease.


Some might view the election as
Smooth Talk versus Straight Talk.


A new twist on an old saying at our house?
Better smiles with a lizard in hand
than tears with two 30-feet up our backyard tree.


Even in the "greed-filled" game of Monopoly
the losers are not allowed just to print more money.


Take a quarter and notice that its edge is milled.
Find out why.
Then you'll understand why they are printing more money.


One reason children ask so many questions is
so that parents can learn to be more sure of their answers.


With Christ, when I believe then I see.
With man, when I see then I believe.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sicut Sagittae

Sycamore Covenant Academy (SCA), an academic and discipleship ministry of our congregation, opened its doors this week to start our seventh year. We are more excited than ever, as we have over fifty students with several of them being from new families (some from surrounding areas such as Peru, Marion and Indianapolis) participating. It has also been encouraging to see the Lord provide great teachers and courses to offer. Plans are underway to offer once again our Hope for Today Tutoring twice a week to underprivileged children in the neighborhood. Watching our own youth sit down with these youngsters and read the Bible to them, pray, and help them grow in their reading skills was last year, and will be again this year, fun to watch.

I am also excited and thankful for the new logo you see (click it to go to the SCA website) that Susan Spiegel designed for us that captures the essence of this ministry. We feature a sword and a shield because our theme statement reads this way:
  • Raising Our Children in the Fear of the Lord
  • Arming Our Children with the Knowledge of His Word and World
  • Sending Them Out to Possess the Gates of Our Enemies
Of course, this may appear to be "too militant" for the squeamish humanism that guides so much of our educational policies in this generation. However, as I will explain, this language is lifted straight from the Bible and is capturing spiritual truth about our children. And any secular humanist who would accuse us of being militant should first consider that we're all involuntarily paying for the schooling of his child - if he has any - with our tax money.

This language comes from Psalm 127 you see referenced on the shield and the covenant truth it conveys. In this psalm our children are described as gifts to us from God Himself, who are to be handled as arrows in the hands of warriors (hence the quiver on the shield). In other words, they are to be prepared to be sent out so that as they represent Christ they "will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127:5). Our youth are to be prepared to deal with all the arguments that God's foes raise against the truth of His Word. This promise from Psalm 127:5 is an echo of God's earlier promise to Abraham, who was told after he had offered his child Isaac to the Lord these words: "I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies" (Genesis 22:17). Since in Christ all these promises have become "Yes" for us (II Corinthians 1:20; Galatians 3:7-8, 29), Christians should be raising their children in the hope and anticipation that God will mightily bless them to go into the strongholds of His foes and win them over, with compassion and persuasion, to the ways of the Lord.

This explains then the Latin phrase from the Vulgate version of Psalm 127:4. Sicut Sagittae means "Like Arrows." As we teach, catechize, and train our youth to serve, SCA is just one means in which our church is seeking to join with many others across the land who are desirous of sending their children out like arrows of light in this dark generation. If our secular enemies howl in protest over Christian's influence in civil discourse, government, business or education, it will only mean that we are hitting the target.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Beating the Jonah Syndrome

As Hurricane Gustav churned in the Gulf of Mexico a few days ago, reports circulated that it could grow into a monster Category 5 storm. I, like many others, kept tuning in to find out if it would strike New Orleans with more or greater force than Katrina had done three years ago. So great was the possible danger that it caused a major political party to cancel its campaigning for a day. Yet Gustav weakened, its center headed west of New Orleans, and it only struck the city with a glancing blow. The cameras trained on the levees, which showed the angry sea waves sloshing over the top, were not able to deliver stunning pictures of their collapse and the re-flooding of this city. So though the winds of political campaigning have picked up again and are blowing as strong as ever, thankfully the winds of Gustav died down and the city of New Orleans was spared.

At least that last phrase in the sentence above is what one is expected to say publicly. If the truth be known - and here is where you may lose any respect you might have had for me - there was a part of me wanting to urge the hurricane on. "Strike this wicked city and finish what Katrina did not, " would summarize my dark sentiments.

For rather than repenting of its sins following Katrina, New Orleans seems to be more determined than ever to hold onto its Mardi Gras lifestyle and resume its violent and immoral ways. Crime continues to increase. Its murder rate far surpasses that of other American cities known for their violence. So like the prophet Jonah, who made a shelter for himself outside the ancient, wicked city of Ninevah, then sat under its shade so "he could see what would happen to the city" (Jonah 4:5), in the comfort of my home I watched the TV reports to see what would happen to New Orleans. Insurance companies continue to call these natural catastrophes "acts of God" when it means they do not have to cover the disaster, but no one seems truly to believe that the God of heaven would send these storms purposefully. Is it not about time God shows them? This is what I am calling the Jonah Syndrome, the desire to see the wicked get their due now.

The more I think about it, I'm sure this syndrome is more widespread than one may think. For in the Scriptures it was not limited to just Old Testament prophets. Two of Jesus' disciples, common men like us, wanted to call fire from heaven down right that moment on one city that had rejected welcoming Christ into their midst (Luke 9:51-55). Indeed, with vengeance being routinely condemned in Scriptures (Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 12:19-21), even if you did not secretly root for the hurricane, surely you have wished for a lesser disaster to fall on that person who wronged you?

It is not just the desire to see evil punished that constitutes the Jonah Syndrome. God's Word instructs us to pray that would occur (Psalm 94:1-2; Acts 4:24-31). I'm reading in Isaiah currently, and in chapters 23-25 he tells of the destruction of another seacoast city, the ancient and wicked city of Tyre, and says, "I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name...for you have made a city into a heap, a fortified city into a ruin" (Isaiah 25:1-2). Rather, behind this syndrome is the impatience of wanting action now and the lack of horror regarding what God's judgments mean for its recipients.

For remember that Jonah was disappointed. After he had warned Ninevah that a disastrous judgment of God was coming, only to have them repent on a massive scale, God relented in sending it. When Jonah later expressed his frustration and anger that God had spared these evil people, how did the Lord respond? With a question. "Should I not have compassion on Ninevah, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"

Certainly like the psalmist we can cry out "How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked exult?" But then we need to see the Creator's compassion, His patience in waiting for people to repent. Like God, we should take no delight in the death of the wicked. For they will get their due soon enough. Even if it does not happen in our lifetime, on God's calendar it will be all too soon.

Indeed, about 150 years after Jonah God raised up another prophet to Ninevah, named Nahum. His message? "A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished...(speaking of the armies that would ruin it Nahum says) With an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site...Woe to the bloody city, completely full of lies and pillage!...There is no relief for your breakdown, your wound is incurable" (Nahum 1:2-3, 8; 3:1; 3:19).

The time for judgment on Ninevah had finally come. May we grow in compassion and strength knowing that it always does.