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Friday, December 6, 2019

Lamps in the darkness

Thomas Edison gave us a tremendous gift of convenience. But by replacing oil lamps with electric light bulbs, he also deprived us of the daily lesson of lamps.

I was reminded of this recently in Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The whole thing centers around ladies with lamps. I realized that they shared an experience that most of us have never known.

More than that, I realized that God Himself put oil lamps at the very center of religious experience. From Mt. Sinai until the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.—over 1,500 years—the priests of Israel entered the holy place twice a day to refill and to trim seven lamps.

Those lamps were not just for lighting. They were a lesson. They taught about the nature of our human existence.

Every lamp has three essential components. It is a vessel made of clay. It is filled with oil. And, it is tipped by fire. The fire is the point of the whole thing. Without fire the rest of the lamp makes no sense.

Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. His is the light that was intended to shine from each and every human being. From the beginning, Jesus is the point of human existence. Faith is not an added “extra.” It is the essence of life.

In ancient days, fire and light always went together. Today, LEDs make it possible to have light without heat. But light from a burning lamp is always powerful and contagious.  Such is the light of Christ. It is not “tame” light; it is fire.

In a lamp, the light does not fuel itself. Rather, it is fueled by the oil. Throughout the Scriptures, oil is identified with the Holy Spirit. So, also here. The light of Christ must be constantly sustained by the Holy Spirit. Should the Holy Spirit depart, the light will go out.

That was the problem that the five foolish virgins were having. The made no provision to replenish the oil of the Holy Spirit. So, when the Bridegroom arrived, they had lost Christ.

It is a constant temptation to admire our own faith and think it could never go out. This is the reason the foolish virgins didn’t think to replenish their oil. The wise, on the other hand, saw that the more brightly the flame of faith shone, the more quickly it used up their oil.

Christians who experience the brightest burning faith, are those who should be the most intent on hearing God’s Word and renewing the Holy Spirit. They do not need less oil, but more.

The lamp is a vessel of clay fashioned to hold oil. In the same way, our vessel of clay was fashioned to hold the Holy Spirit. The LORD God formed Adam from clay and breathed into Him the Spirit of Life (Genesis 2:7).

Unlike any other animal in the world, human beings are deliberately made by the hands of God to be vessels of the Holy Spirit so that our clay might show forth the Light of Christ into the darkness.

As the days are growing every shorter and ever darker, light is needed now more than ever.

I suppose that’s why lamps and candles have always been a part of Christian worship. They are a constant reminder that our vessels of clay were made to be filled with the Holy Spirit and on fire with the Light of Christ.

We are born with our clay. The oil and fire are God’s gift through the preaching of His Word.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Theodicy

“If God is good, how could he damn some people to hell just because they never got a chance to hear about Jesus?”

That’s a question that I have been asked over the years. Sometimes it’s an honest question. Sometimes it is not. Human beings are capable of deep compassion for people we have never met. We are also capable of inventing all kinds of excuses to avoid humbling ourselves before God.

Whether the question is asked in honesty or dishonesty, the conversation rarely leads to a satisfactory answer. So, today I want to put something in writing. It will not satisfy all people, but I hope it will satisfy the heart that is pious and compassionate about people you have never met.

The first thing that needs to be said about this question is this: It is a theodicy. That means it is an attempt to justify God. That is so backwards as to be nonsensical. God has sent His only begotten Son in order to justify you, not the other way around. Any God who needs our justification is not worthy of the name.

The next thing that should be said is that the question itself hides a number of dubious assumptions. First, it assumes that some people never got a chance to hear the Word of God. Yet everyone who ever asked the question already knows enough about God to ask the question. So, where are these people who haven’t heard?

If you meet one, let me know. I would be glad to tell him. Better yet, tell him yourself. If it’s a benighted tribe in Africa, fly there and tell them. Or take all the money you spend on yourself and give it to a missionary. It’s no good complaining that God is stingy with His word when you yourself are sitting on a pot of gold.

Second, the question assumes that people are damned because they don’t believe. That’s not what Christianity teaches. People are damned because they are in open rebellion against their Creator. Jesus comes to save you from this condition—and His salvation is received by believing.

It is the peculiar blunder of our day to think of faith as some sort of accomplishment on my part that makes God happy with me. No! Faith is the natural, healthy posture of any human being towards his or her Creator. Lack of it is a problem akin to a mental health issue—except worse.

Those that have faith in the true God have been healed of a deadly disease. Those who reject it can’t blame the Physician.

Why do some people reject the Physician’s cure and others receive it? That is the real question. And it cannot ever be answered for someone else. It can only be answered for yourself. You can go to the library and read a Bible. You probably have several in your own home. If you read it, it will tell you to go to church. So, go.

Find a church that teaches every last word of the Bible and attend worship and Bible study. If you do, God will bring you from unbelief into the true faith (or He will keep you in the true faith if you already have it). If you are not doing this, the real question is neither about God nor about noble savages on the other side of the globe.

Rest assured that the God who gave His only begotten Son to be crucified for the sins of the whole world loves every person on the globe more than you could even imagine. He does absolutely everything to save them that could possibly be done. He has also done everything to save you. Believe it, or not.

Monday, September 16, 2019

God sets the solitary in families

The most universal fact of human existence is that every single person who has ever lived has both a mother and a father. There are no exceptions to this rule. While biologically true of all animals, this has special significance for human beings.

Feelings of family connectedness are among the most powerful of human emotions. The bond of love between father, mother and child is unparalleled among animals. Even where those bonds are broken, our deepest longings testify to the profundity of our loss.

None of this is accidental. “God sets the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:6a). Creation itself teaches that the family structure of father, mother and child is integral to the very image of God. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female created He them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply” (Gen 1:27-28).

God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are created for relationships. First comes parent and child. Marriage of husband and wife is equally profound. Family is the basic building block of all society.

Christian thinkers have observed that the God-given triangle of father-mother-child is nothing less than an echo of God’s own nature. From eternity, God is not solitary, but He is a community of Three.

While these words are true, they also expose raw nerves. Contrary to our deepest yearnings, family brokenness is everywhere. We all experience it. If we ourselves are not missing father, mother or child we all love someone who is.

We live in a time and place that has forgotten the importance of family and does more to attack family bonds than to protect them. The devastation of this inattention to family is getting harder and harder to ignore. Our hearts ache for ourselves, friends and loved ones who suffer in the wake of broken relationships.

One response to this intense pain is to deny the importance of relationships lost. We desperately try to convince ourselves that families are really not that important. We attribute our pain to something else and numb ourselves to avoid further hurt. But it doesn’t help. Eventually, reality breaks through our defenses and the devastating pain returns with a vengeance.

Jesus knows and cares. Never forget that He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He knew your nature before He even created it. So, His atonement for the sins of the world is also for the healing of relationships broken by sin. This is the great news of Christ’s Church!

Christ gives His Church on earth for two present blessings. First, by Jesus’ blood and forgiveness Christians can forgive one another fully and completely. Relationships that were once destroyed are fully retrievable in Christ. There is always hope. Loneliness is not inevitable.

Second, even where the reconciliation of God-given relationships is rendered impossible by unrepentance or by the finality of death, still there is hope. “God sets the solitary in families,” is not just a statement about being born. It is also a promise for all who are reborn.

By Baptism, God is begetting new Children and building a new family of God. This family is no cheap substitute. The family of God in Christ Jesus is the true family that God intended all along. Holy Communion is about a new community made possible through the blood of Jesus.

The Holy Christian Church is here for the lonely. It is God’s place of healing for everyone devastated by broken relationships.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Love your enemies

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). These are some of the most counter-cultural words ever spoken. Christians are not called to mirror the world. They are called to mirror God. They are called to love their enemies because God loves His enemies.

Lest we misunderstand these words, we should start by defining two terms. First, what is an enemy? It’s probably not what you think. When most people think of an enemy, they think about a person they do not like. That gets things backward. Enemies intend to do you harm whether you like them or not.

Your feelings about a person are completely beside the point. If you happen to dislike someone who hasn’t done anything evil to you, that says more about you than about him. Jesus expects everyone to know better than that. So, He doesn’t even address it here. He only wants to talk about your attitude toward those who are intent on hurting you.

As for those who are good to you, it takes no special gift and no special faith to like them. Jesus says, "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32).

The second term we must clarify is the word “love.” Love is not passive, but active. It is not merely to refrain from revenge, or to suppress your feelings of rage. Neither can it simply ignore someone who bothers you. Love goes way beyond tolerance. It involves action. Love goes out of its way to do good.

St. Paul teaches this in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful... Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Because love requires that you involve yourself with a person to do positive good, it cannot be faked or forced. When Jesus says, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return,” He calls us to a live of genuine love, care, concern and kindness.

If you thought loving your enemy was a little over the top to start with, by now you will really be scratching your head. Loving your enemy is not anything that you can achieve. It can only be a gift from God.

Loving your enemy can only begin when the One whom you have treated like an enemy loves you. Every sin, every rebellion against God, every rejection of his will for your life treats Jesus as an enemy. Yet, even though we have so treated Christ, he does not respond by hating us back.

The truth is, “[w]hile we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). How can this fact not melt our hearts? God, in Christ, has done for you the very thing that Jesus calls Christians to do. He has loved those intent on doing Him harm.

He does this not because you have first done him well, not because you have first promised to amend your ways, not because you were less evil than someone else, but purely because you needed His love.

There is only one way to thank Him for this undeserved kindness. That is, to receive His love and forgiveness in humble repentance. When you thus receive Him in faith, He gives you "the right to become Sons of God" (John 1:12).

When God the Father makes you His son by adoption and faith, He gives you a heart like the heart of Jesus. Then, and only then, do you love your enemies “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:45).

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

God loved the world in this way

John 3:16 is known as “the Gospel in a nutshell.” It is a beloved passage of Scripture and has probably been memorized more than any other passage: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).

God’s love for the world moved Him to act. He loved the world in a certain way, by doing a specific thing. Namely, this is the way that He loved the world: “He gave His only-begotten Son.” So, God’s love is more than a feeling in the heart. His good will toward the world led Him to action.

The same is true of human love. Love shows itself in action, not merely by pleasant emotions. When you love someone—be it a son or daughter, mother or father, husband or wife—true love cannot remain inactive.

Don’t kid yourself that you love someone if you are unwilling to do heartfelt kindnesses for them. Selfish demands are the opposite of love. True love does specific things that are objectively good for the loved one and repents of any actions that hurt the loved one.

The flip side of this is also true. For the person who is being loved, it will not do to reject the good things a person does for you or the gifts he gives to you. The surest way to stifle love is to reject the kind and selfless things that a person wants to do for you. If someone is loving you, the only way to truly receive his love, is through humble thankfulness.

So, just as God the Father expresses His love for the world by giving His only begotten Son, the only way that we receive God’s love is by receiving His Son. To reject the Son is to reject the love of the Father. It sounds crazy, but that is exactly what countless thousands do.

By the pure deception of the devil, many people see Christ and His word as the enemy. They see the infinitely good gift of God the Father and run from Him as though He were a monster, come to destroy them.

So, God’s loving kindness goes even further. Rather than becoming angry with the person who is rejecting His Son, God pleads with you and explains sincerely, “I did not send my Son into the world to condemn you. I sent Him so that you might be saved through Him.”

Don’t run away. Whatever Satan is telling you about God’s evil intentions for you are lies. Don’t let those lies prevent you from receiving the Father’s love. These are the comforting and beckoning words of God the Holy Spirit. Even the faith to believe in Jesus is given as a pure gift of God by the Holy Spirit.

I suppose that is why this passage of Scripture is so beloved. It speaks of the Gospel of the Triune God so clearly and so plainly that it beckons all to believe.

God the Father’s love moved Him to give the gift of His Son. Far from sending His Son into the world for condemnation, God sent His Son into the world to die for the sins of the world. The gift that God the Father gave into the world is not simply His only begotten Son, but His Son lifted up on a cross to pay for your sins.

It is God the Holy Spirit Himself who brings you to believe this. He fights through the devil’s lies and gives you faith that receives the love of God in the Person of His Son.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Real Earth Day, March 25

Christ the Redeemer | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
For centuries, Christians have seen March 25 as a holy day for three reasons.

Around 200 A.D. Tertullian calculated that March 25, 29 A.D. was the original day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Then, a rabbinic tradition that prophets died on the day of their conception made it the date of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. Third, March 25 was also considered the first day of spring and the day when Adam was created.

Whether these dates are historically accurate, I will leave for others to dispute. Here, I only want to devote a few words to reflect on the beautiful symmetry of this supposed coincidence of events. It paints onto the same canvass the very day when 1) God formed man from the dust of the earth, 2) He formed the New Man in the womb of the Virgin, and 3) thirty year later, buried Him back into the earth to await His resurrection.

This confluence of three streams connects man and the earth in profound ways. Indeed, the New Testament witness already points toward this connection. In one of the earliest Christian creeds St. Paul says, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Note that Jesus’ burial in the earth is explicitly confessed. It is no accident that both the Nicene and the Apostolic Creeds include an explicit reference to the burial. This is in keeping with Jesus’ own emphasis. Prior to His passion, He told his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

Jesus dies to take away the sin of the world. He is buried to bring forth much fruit. By cleansing the world of sin, He renews not only those people who believe in Him, but the earth itself. God's redemption of humanity is also God's redemption of His entire creation.

Both Peter and Paul integrate this theme into their theology. St. Paul wrote, "…the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now" (Romans 8:22). Peter, likewise, teaches that Good Friday means, “…we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

March 25 is the true and Christian “Earth Day.” It stands in sharp contrast to the secular earth day that was established in 1970.

Today’s eco-religion has, as its central tenet, that humans are the scourge of the earth. It preaches that the earth will only be saved by minimizing man's footprint on the planet. This neopagan religion does everything it can to limit the number of human beings on the earth.

Robert Zubrin, in his excellently researched book, Merchants of Despair, documents this anti-humanistic religion from its “founding prophet,” Thomas Malthus, through Darwin and the bloody 20th century, to Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb” and the modern green movement.

All of these prophets of doom railed against the biblical mandate for human beings to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). They taught mankind to “…labor with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer,” as Malcolm Muggeridge once put it. Toward the world, they follow Jean-Jacques Rousseau in rejecting the beneficial work of man. Efforts to protect populations from malaria are opposed overseas while effective means to prevent wildfires are denied in America’s backyard. In every case, anti-humanists prefer to let cultivated land revert to wilderness.

This ostensible love for nature does not translate into any love for the God who created nature. It is especially hostile to the one species created in God’s image. Antipathy for human beings culminates in rejection of the suffering, death and burial of the true Man, Jesus Christ, for the renewal and redemption of all creation.

Christianity confesses the opposite. Starting with the biblical account of creation, God’s creation of Adam was for the earth’s benefit. While the world was created wild and uncultivated, it was not intended to stay that way. God planted a garden (Greek: paradise) and put mankind there to extend it across the whole planet.

Still to this day, as Zubrin documents in his opening chapter, population growth does not impoverish the earth, but enriches it. Historically, as the population grows so does the global standard of living and gross domestic product. Both are fueled by the exponential increase in technology that only humans bring to the planet.

But as much as the birth of children is a blessing for the planet, Jesus’ own conception was the greatest blessing of all! That’s because the salvation of the planet does not depend upon sinful humanity, but upon the Man who is God Incarnate.

The earth is saved not by minimizing this Man’s impact on the world but by maximizing it. The greatest seed that was ever planted in the earth was the body of Jesus. Since it burst out of the grave three days later, the entire earth is being renewed. Even now, as we await the new heaven and the new earth, the greatest thing that can happen to the planet is for the Body of Christ to spread His word and influence across the planet.

What began as a tiny human in the womb of the Virgin will grow into the renewal of the entire universe. That’s why March 25 is the real Earth Day!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Inaugural WPN Conference

Standing together for Marriage


November 10, 2015

What is Marriage? - Everyone is a proponent of marriage equality. But before we can understand how to treat all marriages equally, it is necessary to know what marriage is. Is there an objective way of answering that question? Does it matter? Ryan addresses these questions as he digests the book that he co-authored with Robert P. George and Sherif Girgas.

After Obergefell - Now that Obergefell v. Hodges has opened the door to nation-wide same sex "marriage," what will be the consequences for America? In this presentation, Anderson discusses religious liberty as a concept. Then briefs us on various cases before the courts today.

Four Lessons from the Pro-Life Movement - In his final presentation of the day, Ryan previews a book he is currently writing that discusses how modern marriage defenders can take up the lessons learned from the 42 years of experience in defending human life after Roe v. Wade.



PRESENTER

Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., is the William E. Simon senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, and the founder and editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey.

He is the author of When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment and Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, and he is the co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense and Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination.
Anderson’s research has been cited by two U.S. Supreme Court justices, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, in two Supreme Court cases.

He received his bachelor of arts degree from Princeton University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, and he received his doctoral degree in political philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. His dissertation was titled: “Neither Liberal Nor Libertarian: A Natural Law Approach to Social Justice and Economic Rights.”

Anderson has made appearances on ABC, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and Fox News. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the Harvard Health Policy Review, the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, the Weekly Standard, and National Review.

He is a member of the James Madison Society at Princeton University, a Fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America, and a Visiting Fellow at the Veritas Center at Franciscan University.

Follow him on Twitter at @RyanTAnd and for his latest essays and videos you can follow his public Facebook page.