No One and Everyone

www.bible.com/1713/1th.5.15.csb

What are a Christian’s relationship to society at large? I know that in the church we are to “love one another” just as Christ loves us. We are to treat one another as brothers and sisters. That being said, I have to say a few words.

Today the mandate for wearing masks in public was put in force by the most high and benevolent Lord and Master Beshear. In his great love for the people of our beloved Commonwealth, and in spite of his own need for freedom, he has unilaterally ordered that all people must wear masks in public to further prevent already declining virulence of COVID-19. This was not an order in force when the virus was at its height, but now when the actual threat is diminishing. COVID-19 has indicated that it is no more dangerous than the flu, and even less so, as it kills less people than the flu. However, that is not the point. The point is what this verse says about this mandate.

“Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone”. If this is a command from Scripture, then it is non-negotiable. Today, because of our beloved leader’s order, our own church, arguably a private organization and free to resist orders of the state within its own walls when it conflicts with worship (Freedom to exercise religion is still in effect) decided to take the path of least resistance. Our church has not opened back up since March, relying completely on online services, which I believe is to the detriment. Many other churches in our area have reopened, and we have been attending them. Our church has decided that mask-wearing will be mandatory for all attenders and volunteers. And it frankly peeves me. I have to wear a mask every day I work (at the hospital, whose own mask-requirement is about a month old). I have been told that masks are important, but the principles of wearing masks to stop COVID infection are ludicrous. I have been asymptomatic for months. I have no droplets to spread COVID. If I was sick, I would stay home in quarantine. I am not sick.

If I had AIDS, and I knew I had AIDS, and then went about spitting on people in order to infect them, that would be intentionally doing harm and would be reprehensible. COVID is not AIDS. COVID is so much less lethal than AIDS (0.05% versus 100%) as to not even be comparable. Who is out there saying we need to wear masks because of AIDS? Tuberculosis? Pneumonia? Flu? Measles? Small Pox? Anything? Not one. For none of these diseases (not even the dreaded Ebola just a few years ago) have entire states been forced to wear masks. Read that again. Only with COVID-19, are far less lethal virus, who for many, the only way you know you have it is if you have a test (which tests for all Corona viruses, not just 19), have entire states been told they have to wear masks in public.

If the glorious leader had said, “You can wear masks if you feel you need them,” then freedom would be left in the hands of the individual. I would be okay with that. If he said, “Stay at home is you feel sick.” That would be find with me. That’s how we treat every other disease. But this state mandate?

Some will say that we ought to wear the masks to help people feel safer. That we will appear to be doing good. I’ve seen the masks people wear. I don’t buy it. I wear the mask all the time. I don’t like it. So when it comes to my church mandating masks for worship?

There is one passage in Scripture which speaks to an issue like this. It is a passage in 1 Corinthians which suggests that believers who are more mature ought to make concessions for those that are weak for the sake of unity. For the sake of unity, even though I despise it, I will wear a mask if it means that we will worship together again. If modesty says I need to keep certain parts of my body covered, then covering one more part will not matter. As angry as I am with all of this, if it hurts my brother in Christ by not wearing a mask, I remember that I have made other concessions for the sake of unity, concessions dearer to my heart than this one.

What about my brother who says it hurts him for me to wear a mask? I can only plead unity.

My Lord and My God, King of Kings and Governor of Governors, may You grant me the patience to deal with my weaker brothers for the sake of unity. I know I don’t have it yet, but for the sake of my fellowship and where I worship, I feel this is the path of “do good to everyone”. Father if there is greater wisdom, please teach me. For I trust in You and Your word above all else. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Shifting Shadows

www.bible.com/1713/jas.1.17.csb

Over the course of the day, the shadow cast by my home changes, from direct sunlight coming in to my office space in the morning, to the deep shadows of the evening, where the sun has gone over the house and and allowed this side to cool. When I am working outside in the yard, I welcome this shadowing of the back of the house, as it means that it becomes a little cooler to work.

Shadows are never still, but change throughout the day. The cooling shade of a tree at one point of the day recedes until you are bathed in sunlight, and during the summer months that can be uncomfortable, unless you are like my wife. She relishes the sunlight as it bakes her skin and turns her brown, and is only frustrated when the shadows begin to creep over. But such is the nature of shade and shadows.

What a contrast then it is to see that God is not like that. His light is bright and constant. His gifts are faithful and true. Our God is the standard of reliability. There is a saying, “reliable as the sunrise”. but the sun gets its cue from the Lord.

Do not set your hope that things that will change. The memories you saved to videotape a couple decades ago have to be transferred to digital, just so you can see them. In another couple of decades, it will be something else. The job that you thought you would work until you retire? They will be bought out, your insurance will change, and you may be looking for another job. That church you worship at today? Though all seems wonderful and bright, the preacher will grow old, retire, or be replaced, and everything will change again.

God alone is the unchanging constant of the universe. If you would set your hope on anything, set your hope on Him. Let your reliability come from Him, and not your hope in changeable things, human institutions like government or church. Be the influencer in your church, in your community because of the solidity of your hope in God and His provision. Show others the hope you have, the certainty you have in the Father of lights, and they will learn to trust in Him too. For that is why we are here, why He saved us, so that we could chow to others the hope we have within us.

Heavenly Father, from whom there is no shadow of turning, who has granted me every good gift and is hope for the future, may You offer hope to all who are reading this, who know better than to trust in changeable things, so that they may put their faith and trust in You. Thank You Jesus for saving me from the uncertainty of life and showing me promise of eternity through You. I pray these things in Your Name, Amen.

Dying

www.bible.com/1713/2co.4.16.csb

A little but every day, in such small increments that we don’t notice it, we are dying. Our bodies were never designed to live forever. Not even in the perfection of Eden, even the bodies of Adam and Eve needed to be sustained by the fruit of the Tree of Life. This same Tree stands in the Heavenly City at the end of Revelation, where it says explicitly that the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (peoples, ethnicities). Of course, in that realm there will be more mire crying, sin, or pain either. Not so here.

Paul acknowledges this in this 2 Corinthians passage. We are always dying a little bit. But we are also being renewed day by day in the inner man. For every bit we lose externally, we are being built up into an inheritance that cannot fail internally. We are destined for greater things that this world, which is why we have hope. There are no things on this world that are so dear that we will not find better in the world to come.

No where do I find this verse more applicable than in hospital chaplaincy, where I could quote this verse all day to every patient, both to explain why our body isn’t cooperating like it should, and also to explain that even in the midst of suffering, we still have hope, because this body isn’t all we have. We lay hold of by faith so much more.

And this is the encouragement I want to leave you with today. Don’t give up. Don’t belief God is done with you. For He who began a good work in you will see it to completion. He will finish His work in you. But you must wait on His work, while you work out your salvation with fear and trembling, knowing what God it is we serve.

Lord, thank You for saving me. Thank You for rescuing me from this body of sin. I know these parts will fail. I know it is appointed for man once to die, and after that the judgment. Thank You for offering me faith in the midst of my failure, so at the day of judgment, I may stand before You covered by the blood of Jesus, and clad in His innocence. I pray that every day I work will be testimony of my faith in You. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Legal

www.bible.com/1713/exo.20.16.csb

In what sounds like a court rule, Exodus unilaterally forbids bearing false witness against your neighbor. Elsewhere in the Law, like Leviticus, lying in lesser contexts is also forbidden. Nowadays, we would call this illegal lying perjury. Committing perjury in a court case can have legal consequences for the perjurer, including time in jail or worse. It is a bad idea to lie in court.

But what about other contexts? Is it ever okay to lie? The highest form of this is what Plato (?) called the “noble lie” wherein a person would lie in order to prevent a greater evil. A good example of this is when some German families hid Jews in Nazi Germany. They lied to prevent the capture and certain death of their Jewish friends.

Another example of this is in the Scripture, in Exodus 1, when the Hebrew midwives lie about the birth of Hebrew boys (they were ordered to kill) by saying that the Hebrew woman are just too vigorous and give birth before they arrive. For this, God rewarded them with families of their own.

Another example would be Rahab in Joshua, who lied to her neighbors that the spies from Israel had run out of the city, rather than tel the truth that they were under her floorboards. Rahab and her family were spared from Jericho’s destruction because of her lie.

So it makes me wonder, if it is wrong to bear witness against your neighbor, what if you tell a lie to save your neighbor from something worse? Because it seems that God does not condemn all lying, just the lying that is to the hurt of your neighbor.

When a wife asks her husband if she looks fat, he could be honest, he could lie, or he could change the subject. She may have a little weight on her. That’s not the issue. The issue is, is he brutally honest about it, or does he offer a comforting lie, one which they both know is a comforting lie. “Honey, you look perfect to me.”

Honesty is always the best policy, but there are other policies which preserve the innocent from tyranny, and in those instances, they are better served.

The issue of the Hebrew midwives brings a certain moral ambiguity to the commandment, “do not bear false witness against your neighbor”, but I think that is why “against your neighbor” is part of the commandment. There is a context where lying is always bad. There are some, like the midwives, where lying is better.

Lord help me discern with wisdom those rare cases when lying will preserve life. Knowing that from Scripture those cases are rare, and in the context of greater evils, help me not rationalize to myself that I could lie. But rather help me to be honest. You are Truth, and You do not tolerate lies. May I ever testify to the truth. In Your Name Jesus I pray, Amen.

Freedom

www.bible.com/1713/2co.3.17.csb

Getting ready to celebrate a little freedom? With the Fourth of July (American Independence Day) coming up next week, this verse seem apropos for the occasion. So what is freedom?

For some, freedom is the ability to exercise and carry out your own will, to do whatever you desire. It is the ability exercise your will upon the world around you, such as the freedom to build, freedom to explore, or as the picture suggests, go out in the woods anytime you wish. What limits freedom? Really, the free ability of others to do as they please. Your freedom stops where theirs begins and vice versa. We are not free to take away someone else’s freedom, so we are not free to kill, steal, or take another man’s wife. We are free to tell the truth (for lying binds us) and we are free to own property without the fear of someone taking it from it. We are free to exercise these freedoms as often as we like. But as you might have noticed, freedom must be free, or it ends up in bondage.

If you choose to exercise your freedom to take someone else’s life, you will be arrested, charged for murder, and put in prison, or executed. That doesn’t sound so nice, does it? If you use your freedom to tell whatever “truth” you feel like, you will be bound by that “truth” until you come clean. For example, if you were with another woman, but come home to tell your wife you were working late, you are bound by the lie. You have to prove you were “working late” if you do it too often. Also, you are now bound in a relationship that is served by lies. Should your wife ever find you’ve been lying, your marriage is in jeopardy, so you have to work to not only conceal the illicit relationship, but figure out how to reinforce the lie.

Using freedom to sin only leads to greater bondage. With the Spirit of the Lord, who is holiness and truth, there is real freedom. Freedom from deception, bondage, and guilt is worth more than all the sin in the world.

If you have found you are in bondage, you can find freedom in Jesus. Embrace Him in faith, be baptized into a local community of believers and be saved from your sin and strife, receive the Holy Spirit, and you will be truly free.

Lord Jesus, by myself, I have been led astray far too many times. I know that only in You will I find freedom. Will You accept me as Your own? I pray my repentance over my many sins, and pray that I might finally find peace in You. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Mountains

www.bible.com/1713/psa.121.1-2.csb

Had a conversation this morning with a family who asked about my moving to Kentucky. I told them I was from Indiana and where I lived it was flat for miles, with little difference from rolling hill to rolling hill. Moving to Kentucky was a great difference for me, for where I live is surrounded by proper hills, covered in trees, that form valleys between them where the city dwells. I feel that the mountains referred to in the Psalm were more akin to the hills where I live than the stately Rockies or even the Appalachian range.

Back in those days, people built their cities on hills, primarily for defense, as you could see an enemy coming for miles if your city was built high enough. You could also defend it well as city walls would create an effective deterrent. Thus if you were in the valley, engaged in some conflict, you could look to the mountains, where the fortified cities were, and call for reinforcements. David takes this analogy into the spiritual realm. Where is safety and protection? In the fortress. God is the refuge, the safety, and the fortification. Where does my help come from but from the Lord. He will provide rescue.

When you are in trouble, there is a Rescuer who stands by, ready to send reinforcements. God bless you in your walk today!

Reveal

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.14.21.csb

You’ve probably seen the home improvement shows where they work on someone’s home or just a few rooms for the whole episode, and then at the is the BIG REVEAL, and all that hard work is shown off to the surprised homeowners. I have caught myself a few times just happening on one of these shows and hooked, waiting along with the everyone else to see what that hard work looks like at the end.

I feel that’s kind of what our Christian life is like. We work hard all our lives to be more like Christ. We put fresh paint on the soul, tear out walls and build in new rooms, put down new floors and rearrange cabinets. Our lives go through a complete makeover when we follow Jesus. And guess what? There’s a big reveal at the end. But it isn’t all our hard work, because everything we’ve done has only been because we have loved Jesus and followed for the work He has put into us. We do not, and never present ourselves to the Lord to say, “see all the hard work I’ve done.” It’s more, “See all that you’ve done in me.” Jesus is the big reveal, because after all the work, we look more like Jesus than ourselves. He takes broken and dilapidated, and turns it into something beautiful.

What do you present Jesus with this morning? A fixer-upper? A model home? A home that could use some TLC? Or what’s left over after a tornado has gone through your life? It doesn’t matter to Him how much or how little you have to work with. He is the Master Carpenter, and He can build something beautiful, even when you thought it was pretty enough, or nothing at all.

My Lord Jesus I pray work in me and through me to become the mansion You have promised. I know I don’t bring much to the job site, and that is only what You’ve given me. But may You work a good work in me, so that I may serve and praise, because I am today what You have made me, and this not of myself, but it is the gift of God. Thank You Jesus. In Your Name, Amen.

The Expanse

www.bible.com/1713/psa.19.1-2.csb

The stars are talking to you. Did you know that? Radio astronomers knew this, and have been recording and analyzing the speech of the stars since they raised their telescopes to listen. Since sound doesn’t travel through space, they listen to the radio signals, the radiation traces, and so on. Stars have distinctive sounds, and stars can be identified apart from other stars, at least in a general sense. Pulsars and quasars sound different than normal, ordinary stars. But in line with what David is writing here, what exactly are they telling us?

Well David actually answers that question in the next two verses:

There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun.
(Psa 19:3-4)

Ok, so no actual words (think revelation here) is actually spoken. You can’t listen to the stars and get intelligible speech. You can’t get answers from the stars for life’s problems (unlike the claims of astrology). In fact David goes on in this Psalm to declare that the Law of the Lord, His written word, has the ability to perfect and preserve a man’s life. In one sense, without saying it, David is contrasting the fruitless search for wisdom in the stars with the bounteous harvest from the Scriptures. But isn’t he also saying something about what the stars do tell us?

I believe he is. And the key is in the first verse. What is the message of the stars? They are declaring the glory of God. They declare by their existence that God’s wisdom and glory far exceeds our ability to understand it. Every time I look up into the night sky and consider for a moment my place in the universe, my place on this planet, orbiting a small star, orbiting in a larger galaxy, in concert with other galaxies moving through the universe, sometimes I can barely stand. It is that sense of awe that comes over me that is hearing the message the heavens declare. This is God’s pet project. This is a doodle on God’s Post-it note. He can do even greater works than these. This is the glory of God.

Heavenly Father, You have revealed in my inmost being just how AWESOME You are. Thank You. Don’t let me forget it when the Sun comes up in the morning. I love You. In Your Son’s Name, Amen.

The Previous Things

www.bible.com/1713/rev.21.4.csb

What are the events and experiences that have shaped your life? There is a scene in Star Trek V that has always struck me. In the movie, Sybok, Spock’s unknown older brother(?), discovers an ability to take away people’s “pain”, their painful life experiences that formed them and shaped them. It turns out Dr. McCoy had a father who pleads to him from his deathbed, enduring terminal illness, to let him die. Sybok takes away the pain of this experience, and McCoy feels immediately relieved. It resembles a religious experience. When Sybok comes to Kirk, Kirk refuses, saying that his pain makes him what he is. “I need my pain.” While the rest of the movie may be best left to history, that one scene is thought-provoking.

Do we live today on the basis of our life’s pain and suffering? Does our pain (of things and events we have suffered) make us who we are? There is a generation, the Greatest Generation, that is defined by the shared experiences of the Great Depression and World War II. We understand the Boomers, the children of that generation, influenced by the affluence of the 50’s and 60’s, but also by the threat of the Cold War and imminent nuclear conflict. And each generation in turn is shaped by their common experiences. I think my generation, the Gen X’ers, have been shaped by the rise of explosion of information through TV, radio and computers, but also by 9-11. My life would be different if I hadn’t live through them.

But my life has also been shaped by the work and acts of others upon me, throughout various ministries, life experiences, encounters I’ve had with others. I am who I am today because of what I’ve lived through, and I cannot sit here an say I can separate who “I Am” from what “I’ve learned”. My life, as others, has been a process of maturity. I’ve grown from what I was, and I think that is a good thing. I’ve become more skilled, gained more knowledge, and become more mature in my thinking. That is all based my life experiences. I have been shaped both from what I’ve done and what has been done to me.

So the final question is this: Who will I be when all the previous things have passed away? I don’t know how much this bothers you, but it concerns me. There will be no more death, no more crying, no more pain. Sounds amazing, right? But how much of who you are was shaped by experiences with death, grief, crying and pain? What happens when God “takes away your pain”?

Now you may be sitting there and thinking, who wouldn’t want God to do this? This sounds wonderful. And this is why we go back to Kirk’s statement earlier. “I need my pain.” Why does Kirk, or any of us need that pain? Pain is an effective teacher. Pain teaches us the consequences of our actions. When we have placed our trust in the wrong person, or when we have loved and lost, showing us the value of love. Pain was even the instructor at the feet of our Lord, when we realized the pain he went through to save us from our sins, the pain our sin causes in us and our desire to be free from it’s guilt. The threat of eternal Pain in hell prompted many to resist the Devil and follow Christ. In this life, we need pain, because many of us will not act unless pain is applied, whether it be financial pain, emotional pain, intellectual pain, or physical pain. Pain is a powerful motivator. So if God takes away our pain, what does that mean?

It means that in heaven, pain will no longer be the motivator that we needed here on earth. Pain will no longer be needed to motivate us to follow Him, or to rectify our wrongs. Because all temptation will be gone. All sin will be gone. The motivation we have in Heaven will be the love of God. We’ve had just a taste of it here, through the life and work of Jesus Christ. But there, we will be exposed fully to God’s love, His power, His compassion for us that will revealed to us, “there we shall see face to face.” You cannot comprehend what the full impact of that love will be, but I know this: we will look back upon the pain and the suffering, and we will be grateful, for these things led us here into His presence. These things schooled us and directed us to the foot of the cross and the Throne of Grace. We did need them. But there we will need them no longer. And what a sight we shall see, surrounded by glory, the presence of the One who has loved us all along. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Because we will see Jesus. And He will reach down to us, and he will take his finger, and touch us, wiping the tears from our eyes. He will say, “You’re home now. Come see the place I have prepared for you.”

Lord Jesus, I can’t wait to see you. But each and every day, I learn a little bit more about You. Your face is the first one I want to see when I get there. Please show Me Your path through this world that I may follow, so that when my life’s work is done, I will be ready. Lord Jesus, I love You. May every day be Yours. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Shadow

www.bible.com/1713/psa.91.1-2.csb

To live in shadow usually gives the sense of evil, or bad vibes. Shadow is darkness, rather than light. But as David uses it here, shadow is also protection. To be in the shadow of, say, the walls of a fortress, would imply you are well-protected. To be under the shadow of the the king may imply that monarch’s protection over you. David calls God both a refuge and a fortress here, as well as his protection. That’s quite a statement to make considering that God is a righteous judge of sin.

We are all sinners. We have all made mistakes in our lives, mistake that harm our eternal chances with God in heaven. Were it not for Jesus, we would have no chance of ever getting into heaven. God should scare us. God’s righteousness should make us tremble. We should be afraid of Him. And if you ever came face to face with him, I guarantee, whatever your religious inclination, you would be on your face before Him as I would be. There is just something about God. Maybe it is our inherent knowledge that He is God, regardless of what beliefs I’ve been taught, that is unmistakable. Like every prophet and man of God in the Bible, we fall on our faces before Him because it is the only thing we can do. To say that God is our fortress and refuge is to say quite a thing. It is audacity.

And yet, that what David tells us he is doing. He is claiming that Divine and Holy Presence as his own Protector. He is saying that this God, the God of the universe, protects and shelters him? Who is David to make such a claim? We may say David was a man of God, but he too was a sinner in need of God’s grace. He too needed God’s forgiveness. He too received the shelter of God and His protection.

I don’t know what you are dealing with today, but this same protection is yours for the asking. You may be in a bad spot, dealing with complicated family issues, medical problems, work-related persecution or the like. But God has not forgotten you. God loves you and protects you more than you realize. There are many things worse that can happen. If 2020 has taught me anything, its that you don’t challenge the universe to see what’s the worst that can happen. There is always something worse. It is by the grace of God that we don’t experience it.

I simply and humbly ask that you give God a try before you give up. He will protect you, love on you, heal you, and sustain you. But you’ve got to give God an honest try. You’ve got to give Him your life, your purpose, your selfish anxiety. He will protect you, but only if you let Him do it.

Lord please help me today give up the right to my own destiny. I’ve really messed it up this far. Give me permission to give You the glory, and give you the reins to my life, the steering wheel to my direction. Lord I pray for Your protection. Show me what You want me to do, and grant me the courage to do it. I am weak. I am frail, and am easily distracted. Help me do all that You want me to. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.