Monday, August 27, 2012

What Happens when Human Beings Forget God

                The prophet Hosea spoke God’s words of condemnation, warning, and judgment to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel during the late 700’s and early 600’s B.C.  Note the flow of thought in this description by the Lord, given through the mouth of Hosea, of the degraded moral and spiritual condition of his people:


There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,

                and no knowledge of God in the land;

there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;

                they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.


(Hosea 4:1b-2).  The key thought in this text is that there is no knowledge of God in the land.  The people have forgotten their Maker and Redeemer.  They have turned their backs on the One who is their covenant God.  They have spurned the word of the Lord and have refused to listen to his prophets.  What is the result of this lack of knowledge of the Lord in the land?  The general description is that the people lack steadfast love and faithfulness.  Over and over in the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Psalms, the Lord is described as fundamentally a God of steadfast love and faithfulness.  It is thus no surprise that if the people have turned their backs on the Lord, they would no longer be like him.  They are devoid of the grace of God in their lives, so there is no evidence of steadfast love and faithfulness among them.

                The last two lines of the section quoted above from the Book of Hosea describe the practical manifestations of the lack of knowledge of God and the resulting lack of steadfast love and faithfulness.    This past weekend violent shootings in our city of Chicago took nine lives and wounded 28 other people.  We weep over such senseless bloodshed, and we know the causes of such violence may be many.  However, the one cause we can be sure of is that we no longer have the knowledge of God in the land.  Because we have turned from his goodness and spurned his word, there is no steadfast love and faithfulness, and “bloodshed follows bloodshed.”  Our prayer as the people of God must be for the Lord in his infinite mercy to cause his gospel once again to seize the hearts of men and women, for apart from the gospel, which brings the knowledge of God, the bloodshed will not end.   

Monday, August 20, 2012

What Shepherds Do

                Ezekiel 34:1-24 is the Lord’s denunciation of the current shepherds of his people Israel, that is, of the prophets, priests, and kings.  However, God promises that one day he will rescue his people from these false shepherds and will tend his flock himself.  No less than God himself will become the great shepherd of his people.

                We know that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy of God becoming the Good Shepherd of his flock (John 10).  What we might pass over in Ezekiel 34, however, is the Lord’s description of how he will care for his sheep.  In Ezekiel 34:16 the Lord gives this glorious promise with respect to his work of shepherding: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and strong I will destroy.  I will feed them in justice.”

                Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-4 teach that the elders who lead local Christian churches are shepherds of the flock of the Lord, serving under the sovereignty of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ.  Ezekiel 34:16 thus means for local church elders that we too, as shepherds of God’s flock, are to be about the business of seeking the lost, bringing back the strayed, binding up the injured, strengthening the weak, destroying the fat and strong, and feeding the people of God in justice.  May the Lord grant us the grace we so desperately need to shepherd the flock faithfully! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mass Killings and the American "Culture of Death"

                America has been deeply shaken by senseless and wicked mass shootings carried out 18 days ago at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and yesterday at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  Undoubtedly the trial of the Colorado shooter and the press inquiries into the Wisconsin murderer will bring to light some of the killers’ personal motivations for these heinous crimes.  The Bible calls on Christians to mourn with those who have lost loved ones in these calamities (Romans 12:15) and to pray that they will seek and find comfort in the one true God of the Bible, who alone is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).  However, horrific crimes like these also call for Christians to reflect on the reasons why mass killings that would have been unthinkable just 50 years ago now seem to occur with frightening regularity.

                No one should deny at all the personal responsibility to be borne by the evil men who carried out the murders in Colorado and Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin killer died in a fire fight with police, and the Colorado killer must bear the full penalty for his crimes under Colorado law.  However, as Christians we must also wonder if our changing culture has not played at least a background role in these killings.  The late Pope John Paul II famously described western civilization, including American society, as a “culture of death.”  What John Paul II meant is that we do not respect life in the womb, for on average, more than a million abortions take place in the United States every year.  We also on see evidence in America of less and less respect for the lives of the elderly and disabled and the terminally ill.

                The Bible declares that all human life is valuable from the time of conception to natural death, because all human life bears the imprint of the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Even the most disabled little baby is more like his or her Creator than any other beings in the universe.  However, as the United States has turned from biblical teaching and biblical values, and as it has embraced first modernity and then post-modernity, we have left behind this biblical teaching on the value of all human life.  As tragic as mass killings are, perhaps we should not be so shocked by them.  After all, can a society that allows the killing of more than one million of its citizens in the womb each year really profess surprise over mass killings of people outside the womb?  Is one of the byproducts of our devaluation of life the cheapening life to the point that evil men with twisted minds feel permission to commit mass acts of murder?         

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wise Reflections on the Chick-fil-A Controversy

                Many Christians are aware that Dan Cathy, the president and chief operating office of the fast food company Chic-fil-A has spoken out against same-sex marriage, on biblical grounds.  Last week municipal leaders in Chicago and Boston responded that they would seek to block the establishment of Chick-fil-A franchises in their cities.  Many of them have backed off their comments, in light of First Amendment concerns, but I wanted to use this space to quote three replies to the controversy I found especially helpful.


“If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms.  Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.  There, didn’t that feel better?  Now we can get on with the fight.”  Ross Douthat, “Defining Religious Liberty Down,”


“Recent comments by those who administer our city seem to assume that the city government can decide for everyone what are the ‘values’ that must be held by citizens of Chicago. . . . [But] [p]eople who are not Christian or religious at all take for granted that marriage is the union of one man and a woman for the sake of family and, of its nature, for life. . . . Jesus affirmed this understanding of marriage when he spoke of ‘two becoming one flesh’ (Matthew 19:4-6).  Was Jesus a bigot?  Could Jesus be accepted as a Chicagoan?  Would Jesus be more ‘enlightened’ if he had the privilege of living in our society?  One is welcome to believe that, of course, but it should not become the official state religion, at least not one in a land that still fancies itself free.”  Archbishop Francis George, “Reflections on Chicago ‘Values,’”


“What we are seeing today is a massive cultural shift that permits leaders to label Christians as intolerant and bigoted simply for expressing their views about how society should function.  But strangely enough, the same social ostracism and cultural condescension are not extended to Muslims and faithful adherents of other religions.  No, the prejudice appears to be directed toward Christians who dare to speak publicly about the deeply-held religious convictions.  That’s why, at the end of the day, this conversations isn’t really about marriage, gay rights, or restaurant permits.  It’s not about the cultural divide between north and south, liberal and conservative.  It’s about Jesus.  It’s about the radical sexual ethic He set forth in His teaching—a moral zealousness that hits our current culture’s sexual permissiveness head-on.  And it’s about His forgiveness offered to all sexual sinners, so long as we agree with Jesus about our sin and embrace Him instead.”  Trevin Wax, “Why the Chick-fil-A Boycott is Really about Jesus,”


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Longing for the Gospel

                How badly do we long for the gospel to do its transforming work in our hearts?  The following is an excerpt from the personal journal of the colonial American Pastor Jonathan Edwards (1703-57), found in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, reprinted ed. (Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 1990), 1:xlvii:


I have loved the doctrines of the gospel; they have been to my soul like green pastures.  The gospel has seemed to me the richest treasure, the treasure that I have most desired, and longed that it dwell richly in me.  The way of salvation by Christ has appeared, in a general way, glorious and excellent, most pleasant and most beautiful.  It has often seemed to me that it would in a great measure spoil heaven to receive it any other way.

The Love of God for Christians

                For many years I have treasured John 17:23, where Jesus declares that God the Father loves Christians with the same infinite and perfect love with which, within the one God, the Father has loved the Son from all eternity.  Now today the lord riveted my attention to John 15:9, where Jesus similarly declares that “[a]s the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”  To think that the one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-- loves his people with the overflowing, steadfast love He has experienced within himself from all eternity!    

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Truth that Brought Relief to Charles Spurgeon in an Hour of Crisis

                On October 19, 1856, Charles H. Spurgeon was preaching to a congregation of about 10,000 that had assembled at the Surrey Music Hall in London, when someone suddenly shouted out “Fire!”  Seven people were killed in the stampede toward the exits that ensued, and dozens more people were injured.   Spurgeon felt the blow of the tragedy very deeply.  “I was pressed beyond measure and out of bounds with an enormous weight of misery,” he would later write.  “The tumult, the panic, the death, were day and night before me, and made life a burden.”  (Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, reprinted ed.  [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1954], 162).  Where did Spurgeon find comfort in the wake of such a horrific calamity?  He writes:


From that dream of horror I was awakened in a moment by the gracious application to my soul of the text, “Him hath God the Father exalted” [Acts 5:31, KJV].  The fact that Jesus is still great, let His servants suffer as they may, piloted me back to calm and reason and peace. 


(Spurgeon, Lectures, 162).  In other words, the great preacher found peace in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is an exalted Savior, and in him we find not just salvation from sin and eternal death but even deliverance from deep despondency of soul.