From the Pastor

Following Jesus Together - September 28, 2022

Dear Friends,

Reflection: I love the image that our lives are lived between God’s real historical grace to us in Jesus and our fantastic future in the new creation. Commandment keepers are those who live as if grace AND glory are true. This pattern is in the OT as well:

“Old Testament ethics, based on history and bound for a renewed creation, is thus slung like a hammock between grace and glory.”  ~Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God

 Who is God’s Law for? Part 3

 We’ve already shown that Gods’ law is good for everyone in that it makes clear that every human needs a Savior. Last week, we saw that God’s moral law is an obligation for all Christians in a new covenant relationship with Jesus. In other words, we should expect ‘Peter the pagan’ to be worried about taking the Lord’s name in vain and keeping himself from idols because he doesn’t know our Lord Jesus.

For part three, let’s ask this question: Is there a place for God’s laws given for our good to be used outside the church? Our neighbors don’t think so. Have you heard this statement?

 “You can’t legislate morality!” (Click for a 55 second video response)

 The accusation ordinarily is thrown at Christians, accusing them of legislating their morality, thus cruelly making all non-Christians suffer under a Biblical moral framework. How would you answer them? Is there a place for biblical morality in the laws of any nation?

 Let's use some history to illustrate the benefits of Christian morality for our neighbors. Perhaps these will be helpful talking points with your friends and family.

 Why do we believe it is immoral to abandon infant baby girls to their death? Why do we believe charity to the poor is a good thing? Why are we anti-bullies and demand universal kindness? Why do we believe religion is a choice left to the individual and not to be legislated? Why do we believe evil should be resisted, remedied and repaired? 

It turns out most Americans already approve of some Biblical morality. They just don’t see it because Christian values have been in the air we have been breathing before we were born. 

Glen Scrivener in his book, The Air We Breathe, makes this point:  The extraordinary impact of Christianity is seen in the fact that you don’t notice it. You already hold particularly ‘Christian-ish’ views, and the fact that you think of these values as natural, obvious or universal shows how profoundly the Christian revolution has shaped you.

It is a fact that Christianity, despite all the warts and ugly failures of the church, has consistently improved the quality of life as God’s moral laws permeated a culture. The average life expectancy in the Roman empire was 25. In that context, Christians were caring for everyone’s poor, to the point where the Roman Emperor, Julian the apostate, told the pagan priests to imitate the generosity of Christians.

 When unbelievers fled the cities because of the horrific plagues, Christians stayed to care for the dying. Imagine the impact of that kindness during the Justinian plague in the 6th century. At its peak in Constantinople, as many as 10,000 people were dying each day. It is possible that this precursor to the Black Plague wiped out up to 50% of the population in Europe throughout it’s two hundred years of tyranny. And Christians stayed.

The baby girls left to die were adopted by Christians, because all of human life is valued in God’s law. His moral law is a womb to tomb legislated love for neighbor for followers of Jesus. 

Biblical morality, when taken seriously has caused the witness of the church to blaze brightly, shining God’s light so that they gave thanks to God the Father for their good works. (Matthew 5:14-16) We haven’t even the many benefits of hospitals and universities.

Using history we can show the goodness of Gods’ moral law, and how it has spread extraordinary acts of kindness. The love of God exploded onto the world with a flood of mercy in Jesus Christ – that river of life continued to flow through the church to bless the world. That blessing came through Christians keeping God’s commandments, at great cost to themselves.

I’ll give you a case study to think about: Civil rights for African Americans. Our neighbors were being mistreated for centuries in a country that went to war declaring that all men have been created equal, having been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

               Martin Luther King, Jr,  was told that we shouldn’t legislate morality as well. Listen to his response: 

 “Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.”

 Do you hear Luther’s response? The law can’t change people’s hearts, but it can serve as shackles, restraining the internal evil preventing the loss of life due to racism and hatred. Luther was motivated by the Bible as he said these things. It would be hard for most people today to say his argument was bad for our country.

 It turns out that Christian obedience can result in good laws being legislated in a country. Those laws are enacted in order to protect the lives of our neighbors and to restrain the evil in the hearts of those around us. That is a Biblical motivation for God-honoring laws in every nation. 

We obviously can’t and should never legislate belief in Jesus! But we can plead with the laws of our nation to prevent anyone from killing us. I’m a fan of that kind of public Biblical morality. Aren’t you?

 New Song this Week: “There is One Gospel”

I try to pick songs that sing the gospel, according to the Scriptures, and are singable by folks who aren’t professional musicians. This one from CityAlight helps us see and sing the beauty of the gospel we have received.

               https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmBcTrDu4O4

 I’d be interested to hear from you: What are your top two or three congregational worship songs/hymns?

 Sunday School – 9:00am – Join RE John Van Voorhis as he leads a discussion on prayer, moving beyond just asking for things. They will look at Jesus’ prayers and how God answer them as well.

 Worship and Communion – 10:15am – Deuteronomy 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 - “Love the Lord your God – Don’t Misuse God’s Name” – Growing up in the church, I assumed this commandment was mostly about not using God’s name as profanity. And, “Thou shall not cuss” was often added in. What does it mean to not take the Lord’s name in vain?

 It was a common practice in the ancient for slave owners to tattoo their name on their slaves. It was a public sign of who they belonged to. To be in covenant with the LORD is to have Him claim you and you be willing to carry or take his name. Israel had Yahweh, their gracious Lord, put His name on them (Numbers 6:22-26). How would they carry His name?

 We owe God a life worthy of the name He has given us. What does that look like? Come and see how Jesus transforms the third commandment!

See you Sunday!

Grace and peace,

Pastor Nate

Following Jesus Together - September 21, 2022

Dear Friends,

 “O Love ever burning, never quenched! O Charity, my God, set me on fire with Your love! You command me to exercise self-control. Give me the grace to do as You command, and command me to do what You will!” ~Augustine, Confessions, X.29

 Who is God’s Law For? – Part 2

 We live in an interesting world, full of contradictions and complications. Consider this: The Ten Commandments used to be hung in American courthouses. Prayer and the Bible used to be included in public education. But now, we are seeing the fruit of a long concentrated effort to free American public life from the shackles of Biblical morality. One of the strangest experiences for me in Uganda was teaching Jesus in a government school to students (Christian, Muslim and traditional beliefs). We were mixing things that I had never seen mixed.

 At the very same time, Christian values are in the air we breathe, even in New York. (See https://www.thegoodbook.com/the-air-we-breathe by Glen Scrivener) Our non-Christian neighbors often aren’t aware of how ‘biblical’ their values are. Things like compassion, kindness, freedom of religion, forgiveness are the fruit of a culture that has been shaped by the Bible and by the teachings of Jesus. “Don’t judge!”

 Here’s one example: In conversations about abortion Christians are blasted as immoral by their secular neighbors for wanting to protect all life (mother and child in the womb). The immoveable law of compassion is used as a hammer to tell pro-life Christians that they are evil. How can you put your moral shackles on a scared single mother and a potentially unwanted child? Do you see the contradiction? Compassion for the weak and vulnerable is a distinctive Christian value. It is something traced directly to Jesus. Compassion is not found in the natural world. You don’t see a lion’s heart melt with compassion when he sees a helpless baby zebra. He eats it. Yet, they want to argue that the laws of the land should be based on the Jesus commanded value of compassion.

 Gen Scrivener gets it right when he says, “In order to pursue the kingdom without the King, we have had to dethrone the person of Christ and install abstract values instead. The problem should be obvious: persons can forgive you; values cannot. Values can only judge you.”

So who is God’s moral law for?

For now, I will leave aside the question of how to apply biblical morality to those outside the church. That’s a separate discussion.

 Look at the Ten Commandments. Who are they addressed to? It is for those whom God has entered into a covenant relationship with. They are applied to the people God redeemed and rescued from slavery, Israel. “What other God has spoken face to face with you?” (Deuteronomy 5:1-6)

Psalm 147:19 -20 describes Israel’s relationship with God’s rules this way: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules.”

 Israel had something distinct. Their unique privilege is to know what God expects. They heard God’s voice. His rules are written down and able to be meditated on and memorized. Therefore, God’s moral law, because it is given in the context of His personal relationship with Israel…is first, for Israel.

What about Christians? Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, 23-24) The context for keeping Jesus’ commandments are a new covenant relationship with Jesus. God’s moral laws are for Christians.

 This is what the Westminster Larger Catechism is after in Question 97: How does the moral law apply specifically to the saved? 

  1. Although those who are saved and believe in Christ are freed from the moral law as a covenant of works, so that they are neither justified nor condemned by it, nonetheless, in addition to the general applicability of the moral law to all humans, it specifically shows believers how much they owe to Christ for fulfilling it and for enduring its curse in their place and for their good. This recognition spurs believers on to a greater thankfulness, so that they try all the harder to observe the law as their personal standard for living. 

Since obedience to God’s moral law is expected of Christians, we should not be surprised if our neighbors who don’t love Jesus, don’t care about Biblical morality. They may even be offended by it, because they do not know Jesus. 

Here’s what this Biblical view of the law frees us to do as Christians in the world: Go be surprisingly less judgy in a world that constantly judges us! 

Consider an unchurched young couple living together. They don’t know Jesus. They have never been to church. Our task may be to defend the goodness and beauty and truth of marriage in a friendly dialogue together. But our primary task is to aim for the 1st commandment before the 7th commandment. We want to hear them say, “Jesus rescued me from slavery to sin and because He loves me, I now want to obey. Now that Jesus is my King – I want to keep His commands.” Our gospel conversations start with Jesus before behavior. 

If we look at our neighbors, demanding them to live up to Christian ideals we will lead with judgment. But, if we look at our neighbors through the lens of all people needing Jesus, we will lead with compassion. They are still enslaved to death, suffering under the tyranny of sin and Satan. We know how miserable and lonely that is, because that is our story! 

So, as those grateful for the grace God showed us while we were guilty, may we learn to see the moral law as a guide for our gratitude. Our neighbors may just thank us! 

9:00am – Sunday School – Join Ruling Elder John Van Voorhis for a discussion on WHAT to pray for, learning from Jesus and examples in the New Testament. 

10:15am – Deuteronomy 5:8-10 – Loving the Lord Your God: Keep Yourself from Idols – The 2nd commandment is all about how God legislates the way we imagine Him to be. We do not have the freedom to create images. Why does God care about how we imagine and worship Him?

Come and see on Sunday!

Posted by Nate Thompson with

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