Friday, November 28, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Charles Hodge

But truth is at all times sacred, because it is one of the essential attributes of God, so that whatever militates against, or is hostile to truth is in opposition to the very nature of God.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III, Chapter XIX, 13 (Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing,1982, Vol. III, p. 487)

Is this type of devotion to truth justified? What are its implications?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Can We Thank God for Our Nation?

Today is a national day of thanksgiving in the United States. And it brings up the question, can the two go together? Should a nation give thanks? Should we give thanks for our nation? And on the deeper level, is patriotism a good thing? Have not people done evil things in the name of their country? Is there a good type of patriotism that can be kept without endorsing the bad?

To separate the good from the bad, we must start by separating loving our country from necessarily endorsing its government's policies. I think we need to start, as G. K. Chesterton suggests, with the idea of the love of home. The place I grew up in, the place I belong. Chesterton makes this suggestion, not just with a nation, but with the world as a whole. It is the person who loves something, not just because it is good but because it is theirs, who will work to improve it. The person who sees a place with rose-colored glasses will leave it as it is. The person who sees it as messed up but is indifferent to its fate will leave it as it is. But the person who sees something realistically, with all its faults, and loves it anyway, that is the person who will work to improve it. That is how God deals with us (Romans 8:6-8; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:9,10). And it is how we should deal with the world around us. We should see it as a world created by God, inhabited by people who are created by God (Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-28; Romans 1:19,20) and are presently in rebellion against Him (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 3:23; 1:18). And it is our job to love and reach out to that world of people (Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8; Galatians 6:9,10).

But there are certain people we have a special connection with and responsibility for And while we have a higher citizenship (Philippians 3:20,21; 1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13), we are to honor the authorities we are under (1 Peter 2:13-17; Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 22:15-22). It seems to me that within this context, the case for a reasoned love of country may be made. Not a blind patriotism that endorses everything without question. Certainly not one that cannot stand up, if it is required to, based on principle (Acts 4:19,20; 5:29; Daniel 3:17,18). Or one that, when required to, will not stand up and rebuke wrongdoing ( 1Kings 21:17-21; Amos 7:10-17; Matthew 14:3,4). But I also think there is value in loving a place that is home, with shared experiences and traditions, as long as this means working to make that place better rather than mindlessly accepting its policies. Therefore, I think it is appropriate for us to give thanks for our nation and to give thanks for its blessings. If it is seen in the right context.    

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Not Successful

If we find God's will for our life, will we be successful? I do not here necessarily mean successful as the world sees success. I do not necessarily mean we will have wealth, fame, and power. It is possible to look at success from a spiritual viewpoint. That we will have a congregation that is growing, a family that is living for Christ, a nice, relatively comfortable life full of friends, neighbors, and good times. I mean, does not the Bible say we will prosper (Joshua 1:7,8; Psalms 1:3; Isaiah 40:31) and be victorious (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 1 John 5:4)? This should not be taken simply financially (1 Timothy 6:6-10; Matthew 6:24; Colossians 3:5). But it must mean something.

I am convinced that prosperity and victory here are from God's perspective. That when we stand before Him we will be able to look back and see what the point of it all was. But we do not always see it at the present time. There was Elijah, through whom God worked impressive miracles, but the people refused to permanently change their ways. There was Jeremiah, who cried tears over Jerusalem, but his ministry could not bring the people to repent. We are called not to pass judgment on our labors, but simply to continue in faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28-30). Now I am not intending to oppose intelligent taking stock of whether we are doing the right thing in the best way. But I am speaking against that persistent nagging doubt that stalks those whose life has not turned out as they hoped it would. And it is here we need to trust God, even if we do not know where our path is leading us (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grace is Amazing

When love and justice collide, the product is grace. And the place of this collision is the Cross. There is a fundamental problem here that needs to be solved. There needs to be a moral center to the universe. A basis for saying what is good and what bad. And for believing that good deserves to be rewarded and evil deserves to be punished. God is that moral center (Romans 2:16; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Timothy 5:24,25). But justice without love is not truly good. It leads to a brittle and austere kind of morality that looks down with contempt on others. And if God had that kind of attitude we, being sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), could not avoid ending up under certain judgment (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27;  Revelation 20:11-15).

But God, being love, was not willing to simply leave the situation that way, but sent His Son to save us (1 John 4:8-10; Romans 5:6-8; John 3:14-18). He did this by paying the price for our sins so we could be forgiven (Romans 3:24-32; 1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14). This is important, because it upholds the principle of morality while pardoning the offender. And it manages to do both by being very specific in what it does. This will not work with just generalized benevolence. Either it will do too little, leaving severity with only a tinge of mercy. Or it can become simply indulgence, which does not uphold any moral principles.

But the concept of paying the price allows God to offer pardon freely, based on faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). However, it still can call us to a life of growth in following Christ (Titus 2:11-14; Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2), without watering down the standard (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10; 4:17). Then it turns around and gives us the power to make that change (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:3; Colossians 1:29), based on our response to His love for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2). It  even makes faith possible by reaching out to us (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; 13:48), who would not, if left to ourselves, come to Him (Romans 3:11; 7:18; 8:8). This is grace (Romans 11:6; Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6). It reaches out to sinful women (Luke 7:36-50; John 4:7-26), tax collectors (Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-10), dying thieves (Luke 23:39-43), and persecutors (1 Corinthians 15:9). It is the answer to the question of how sinners can be pardoned in a black-and-white universe. It is what we need. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Giving Thanks

Are there things we should not give thanks for? When does giving thanks become self-serving?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Miracles

It is possible to believe miracles occur today and not believe every report of a miracle you hear.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Clement of Rome

And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Clement of Rome, ?- 99 AD, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 32, (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Philip Schaff, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001, p. 23)

How important is it that our salvation is not based on us? How should it affect how we live?