Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Afraid of Christmas

Why are people so afraid to wish others a Merry Christmas?  Why are public places wary of displaying a nativity scene among the other ‘holiday’ decorations and images?

The excuses they give vary from a separation of Church and State to a desire to be ‘inclusive’ or ‘non-offensive’.  None of the excuses really stand up to scrutiny- but that is another subject entirely.

I don’t get as bent out of shape as some do with the refrain of ‘happy holidays’ as the season does include Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and New Year.  What gets me is the apparent fear to specifically acknowledge Christmas as one of these annual winter celebrations.

I would propose that this ‘fear’ comes as the result of a different type of fear. 

We read in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”*

What does this have to do with Christmas?

Christmas is one of God’s expressions of ultimate, redeeming love; a love which is not a cause for fear but for faith and joy. 

When the angel appeared to Mary, his words were “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).  When he appeared to Joseph he said, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife” (Matthew 1:20).  And to the shepherds he said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). 

What God was doing to bring the Messiah into the world was an act of immeasurable and perfect love, and in this love there was no cause for fear.  Christmas is God’s declaration that He has opened a way out from under the fear of punishment, not by ignoring the offense of sin, but by taking it upon Himself through Jesus: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

When a person receives this blessing, fear of God’s judgment is lifted as they recognize that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  This release and relief comes as God’s love is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). 

We who know Christ are not afraid to face God because we are confident that He has declared us guiltless of sin; that because of Jesus’ sacrifice we are now counted as “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This is such good news!  Who would wish to silence this message of God’s love?

If “perfect love casts out fear” then the obvious suspect would be someone who is cut off from this redeeming love of God.  Only such a person could be so afraid of Christmas that they would do anything to keep it silent. 

The culprit is no less than satan himself.  Through his own rebellion he has forfeited God’s love and for him only dreadful punishment remains, a fact which fills him with intense fear.

We read: “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).  Jesus will ‘crush the head of the serpent’ (Genesis 3:15) and cast him into the Lake of Fire to be destroyed (Revelation 20:10).  Satan is deathly afraid because he knows what is coming his way.

Satan desperately wants for Christmas not to be true. 

Scripture tells us that apart from those saved through Jesus, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).  Satan expresses his own fear through those humans under his influence.  And so he ‘inspires’ ‘scholars’ and critics to declare Christmas a myth and a fable and would see Christmas silenced. 

If Jesus did not really exist, or if He was just a man born in the natural way; if the miracles associated with His birth are fables and if He died without rising back to life again, then there would be no reason to fear Christmas.  Christianity would be just one drop among many in the ocean of religion.  Perhaps he thinks if he can rid the world of Christmas he can escape or delay his punishment. 

But Christmas is true and because it is satan knows his days are numbered. 

For those who refuse to take the word ‘Christmas’ upon their lips and forbid it to be spoken publicly, perhaps they also, deep down, are afraid because Christmas is true.  And if it is, they must come face to face with the fact of sin and judgment.

So rather than get bent out of shape, Christians would do better to recognize the issue for what it is- a spiritual battle.  City councils, retail managers, school administrators are pawns in satan’s losing bid to forestall his own doom. 

Our task is not to fight for some ‘political’ victory in which a nativity scene may be displayed on public property, but to lay claim to spiritual ‘real estate’, taking every opportunity God presents to share the Good News in the hope that the love of God may fill the hearts of those around us and that they may no longer be afraid.

Merry Christmas!  

*Scripture quotes from the English Standard Version

Sunday, November 15, 2015

This is the Day

As Jesus hung from a Roman execution stake, He endured the insults of the crowd gathered around Him.  Additionally Matthew’s Gospel records that He was verbally abused by the two criminals who had been pegged up on either side, who also “heaped insults on him” (Matthew 27:44).  But then something happened to one of those men.
As he watched Jesus endure the suffering, praying for persecutors, showing compassion for loved ones, the man was touched.  The reality of his own guilt and the innocence of Jesus pressed on him and his tongue fell silent as through his own pain he reflected on these things.  He could hear the man on the far side continuing to berate Jesus: “Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)  He raised his head and called out to his fellow criminal: “Don't you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41).  Then looking at Jesus he made a request: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42)

Wracked with excruciating pain of His own, Jesus turned to him and answered: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus’ comment has long been pondered and puzzled over. 

By one theological camp these words are put forth as definite evidence that when a believer dies they are ushered immediately into the presence of God.  The emphasis of the verse is “…today you will be with Me in paradise.”

According to other groups the words emphasize Jesus' truthfulness in that moment and the surety of a future promise.  They emphasize “I tell you the truth today…”

What if both miss the point? 

What if Jesus’ words have absolutely nothing to do with either ‘immediate ascension’ or ‘resurrection hope’?

In the course of my general reading I came across a thought which struck me as very profound, yet very simple.  What if Jesus was directing His thoughts to something from the past being fulfilled in the present moment?  What if Jesus was drawing attention to something about the event itself?

“Jesus, having compassion on [the repentant criminal] said: ‘I say unto thee to-day,’ –this day, above all others, –this day, when my prospects for a kingdom are apparently blasted, even ‘to-day,’ – under these most trying circumstances, – ‘I say unto thee…thou shalt be with me in Paradise.’”*

What a different lens through which to view these things!  Jesus declares to the man that on ‘this day’ when all seems lost, salvation is secured!   

While Jesus most likely spoke these words in Aramaic, Luke utilizes the Greek adverb semeron which can mean ‘today’ or ‘this day’.  Where else do we find the day of Jesus’ crucifixion spoken of as ‘this day’? 

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is Yahweh's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that Yahweh has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:22-24)

In the Hebrew the phrase is zeh ha’yom (‘this the day’) and in the Greek Old Testament hautay hey haymera (‘this the day’) using the same root word as in Luke 23.

Rather than Jesus making a singular promise to one man, Jesus is making a declaration to all men: ‘This is the promised and long awaited Day!  God has ordained this day that through Me, the rejected stone, Paradise is reopened!  Rejoice and be glad!” 

What He said to the thief, He says to us all: “At this present hour, though all the evidence would witness to the contrary, I am the victor and you indeed will share in My victory when My Kingdom comes.”

The discussion will continue on those other theological points but no matter which side of that debate you are on, I hope that all of us can step back and read this passage with fresh eyes.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they were cast out of Paradise with a mighty angel to bar the way back.  Now, because of the Day of the cross, Jesus has reopened Paradise that all who believe may enter in!  Rejoice and be glad!


*McKinstry, M. The World’s Great Empires. Advent Christian Publications, Inc. & The Delmar Companies: Charlotte NC, 1973.  Print. p519

Monday, November 9, 2015

It’s About God

In 1636, amid the darkness of the Thirty Years' War, a German pastor, Martin Rinkart, is said to have buried five thousand of his parishioners in one year, an average of fifteen a day.  His parish was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster.  In the heart of that darkness, with the cries of fear outside his window, he sat down and wrote this prayer for his children:

“Now thank we all, our God; with heart and hands and voices; Who wondrous things hath done; In whom His world rejoices.  Who, from our mother's arms; Hath led us on our way; with countless gifts of love; and still is ours today.”

As we approach our celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I would like to reflect on one statement: My ability to give thanks is not conditioned by my circumstances; it is rooted in God’s character.  In other words, it’s not about how I feel; it’s about Who God is.

When we face trials in our lives, we naturally look at the circumstances surrounding us and feel overwhelmed.  The more we dwell on our situation the more our abilities to praise and thank God are diminished.

At sometime prior to 605bc God raised up a prophet named Habakkuk to speak to the Jewish people in the Kingdom of Judah, who had largely turned away from God.  As Habakkuk observed the wickedness of the people, he wondered about God’s justice.  How long could this evil go unpunished?  What would God do about it?

The answer was sobering: God informed Habakkuk that He was bringing the Babylonians to punish Judah.  If Habakkuk thought times were bad now, all he had to do was wait; things were about to get much worse.  Even more troubling was that the remnant of faithful people was likely to be caught up in the coming judgment.  Habakkuk had every reason to despair, but see how he responded:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in Yahweh, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 niv)

The situation can get as bad as it can possibly be, yet the prophet will “rejoice” in God.  The Hebrew word used for rejoice (alaz) means ‘to jump for joy’.  No matter how bad things are, Habakkuk will jump for joy because of Who God is; the Savior, the Source of strength, and the Victor; He is just and loving, faithful and merciful.  Habakkuk’s ability to give thanks was not conditioned by circumstances; it was rooted in God’s character. 

In writing the hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, Pastor Rinkart had it right!  This is what it is to know with certainty that thanksgiving comes from knowing Who God is, not from outward circumstances. 

Through Jesus Christ, a merciful and loving God has blessed us beyond all measure, we are saved from eternal destruction and have been made a part of His kingdom.  There is nothing that can happen, no situation or circumstance that is greater than that blessing.  It is only through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, that we may know what true thanksgiving is all about.

Christian, your ability to give thanks is not determined by circumstances; it is rooted in God’s character.  Whether you feel it or not, you are blessed.  Stop looking around and look up, because it’s not about how we feel, it’s about Who God is.
Be blessed. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Overcoming the Christian Identity Crisis

9Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  11And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

The letter we call 1 Corinthians was written by Paul to correct some major problems affecting the congregation in the Greek city of Corinth.  Every problem was rooted in the fact that the believers in Corinth had no idea who or what they were.  Paul wanted them to be mature (see 3:1-2) and to this end he needed them to know who they were.
There are two types of people in the Scripture: the unrighteous (or the ‘wicked’)- those who live by the principles of the world to the exclusion of the Living God; and the righteous- those who seek to walk by faith in the way of Christ. 

In the above passage, Paul makes it plain that the wicked have no inheritance in God’s Kingdom, and then he details nine behaviors that are readily practiced by those outside of God’s way.

The key verse however is that which follows this list: and such were some of you…but

The Corinthian Christians had been practitioners of these behaviors.  They were drunkards, sexually immoral and deviant, greedy, etc.  But now, through Christ, they are no longer consumed or controlled by the passions and principles of the world.  They have been “washed”, “sanctified” and “justified” by the atoning work of Christ and the real power of the Holy Spirit.  As such, they are not to live by worldly standards any longer; nor are they to think of themselves in these terms.  They are no longer ‘sinners’, but redeemed saints of God.

Christians continue to struggle with an identity crisis, and a subsequent inferiority complex.  Like the Corinthians, we all were once counted among the unrighteous, living by “the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).  But, like the Corinthians, we are such no longer!

A born again believer in Jesus is a child of God- no longer under the controlling influence of sin.  Surely each Christian faces temptation to stick our toe into the pool of sin; and sometimes we do fail to live out our Christian commitment, but that does not alter our true identity. 

Christians falsely label themselves: ‘worm’, ‘beggar’, ‘sinner’.  These terms do an injustice to the sacrifice of Christ Who died and rose again to make us, as Israel of old, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).  Through Jesus we are “beloved” (Jude 1) and “called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Dear friends, for Jesus’ sake, may we see ourselves as He sees us: “washed”- cleansed from sin by His blood; “sanctified”- made holy by the Spirit of God and proclaimed through the waters of baptism; “justified”- right with God by our faith in Jesus’ perfect faithfulness.

True we are not yet what we are intended fully to be (see 1 John 3:2), but equally as true, we are no longer what we once were!  So by His Word you can lose the inferiority complex as you overcome the identity crisis.  You are His beloved saint! 

I pray we may all come to rejoice in this truth as we await the soon and certain Coming of our Lord to make us finally and fully what we know we already are.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Putting Political Correctness in its Place

Think of an insult, epithet or slur; got one in mind?  That was easy wasn’t it?  We humans are exceptional at tearing one another down, inventing all types of ways to debase our fellow humans.  We have abusive slang based on race, economics, culture, style of dress, religion, mental aptitude, sexuality, physical stature or traits…you get the picture. 

The social forces of the past 50 years have led to a philosophy designed to do away with such negative appellations; we call it ‘political correctness’, PC for short.  We can no longer call someone who cannot see ‘blind’ but must refer to them as ‘a person with vision challenges’.  Someone who we might have once referred to as ‘retarded’ we now are told is ‘developmentally delayed’.  This movement leaves many people perplexed, and sadly others deliberately increase their use of degrading terms as a direct challenge to the forces of political correctness.

As I randomly reflected on this the other day, I wondered: Have I misjudged the PC movement?  As a social-political conservative, my initial response to PC is negative resistance, but shouldn’t I instead, as a professing Christian, stand shoulder to shoulder with such a movement?


I should be better.

Here is the problem with political correctness.  It sets itself up as its own subjective moral standard, a humanist creation, which demands adherence for its own sake.  Political correctness is a self appointed judge, jury and executioner, the goal of which is not to lift people up, but to drag them down; restricting the voice of any who do not think or feel the way they determine to be ‘right’.  Its desire is submission to its own rule; its method is fear and intimidation.  Ultimately the underlying principle is control, which lies at the heart of all human systems.     

As a Christian, I look at these matters from a different perspective- the fundamental dignity of a human being; a person as a person with no thought to their color, gender, ‘handicap’, sexual choices (gasp!) or any other attribute or trait.  To see a person as a person and therefore to extend to them the elemental respect to which personhood entitles them.

There should be no debate over what makes a person a ‘person’.  All those belonging to this species we classify as ‘human being’ is a person- period.  From conception to end of life, this ‘human being’ is a full person.  The only reason we debate this is to gain our own selfish ends (i.e. abortion, euthanasia, etc.).

Humankind was uniquely created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  I am not going to debate what this entails, the prime importance lies in the fact (the ‘what’) not necessarily in the details (the ‘how’).  But of greater importance is the ‘why’.  We human beings are created in the image of God in order that we, among all the creatures of the earth, may relate to and communicate with our Creator in a unique way.  The ‘fall’ of the first parents into sin marred that image and ability (see the wording of Genesis 5:3) but it did not eradicate it.  Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, reveals the full and true image of God (Colossians 1:15) and in Him the way is thrown open for that image to be renewed in human beings (Ephesians 4:24).

The well known story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ (found in Luke 10:30-37) is told in response to the question, ‘who is my neighbor?’ (see Luke 10:29).  In the story the religious personages debase the needy man by ignoring him.  The Samaritan acts for the well being of the man in need, not out of ‘political correctness’ but because it was the right thing to do!  The man in need was a fellow human being- period.  That’s the answer to the question.

Only through Jesus do we recognize that other people are my neighbors.  I would like to quote at length from Malcolm Muggeridge:

“Jesus…provides the possibility of loving God through, and in, Him, and, as part of the same process, of loving other men, our neighbors, through, and in, Him.  Thus the two commandments become one; to be celebrated in a Man –Jesus– Who dies, and sanctified in a Man –also Jesus– Who goes on living.  As out of Jesus’ affliction came a new sense of God’s love, and a new basis for love between men, so out of our affliction we may grasp the splendor of God’s love and how to love one another.  Thus the consummation of the two commandments was on Golgotha; and the Cross is, at once, their image and their fulfillment…[and] at last, triumphantly, we know what it is to love God, and looking outwards from within this love, we see our fellow men, all of them…every variety of human kind; see them all as brothers and sisters, members of one family, at once enfolded in God’s love and chained together by it…” (Malcolm Muggeridge ‘Jesus: the Man Who Lives’ Fontana 1976 p132-133)

PC does not seek for me to love my neighbor.  It rather demands I keep my mouth shut, my opinions to myself and my nose in my own business.  It tells me what I can or cannot call someone else, but isn’t that simply a continuation of the problem of assigning labels?  God, through Jesus, demonstrates a compassion and respect for the full dignity of a human being as a human being; a Christian dare do no less.         
As a Christian I roundly reject the presuppositions, assumptions, motives and humanistic underpinnings of political correctness.  Instead, I challenge Christians to step out in front, to take the lead in recasting the discussion.  It is about the fundamental dignity of a person as a person, something that should be upheld by every Christian, demanded by every Christian.  We refrain from insulting people, not because we are told to by the priests of political correctness; we treat people with dignity and respect because it is the right thing to do!  

When we hear slurs or derogatory comments, can we be bold in challenging those actions and attitudes not with the bullying threats of the PC philosophy, but in the compassionate and well articulated presentation of truth?  Not that we may exercise control over others, but that we might be agents through which the Lord may redeem a small piece of this fallen world. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Go to Galilee

It’s been a busy summer for us so far.  My parents have made their move to Florida.  This entailed mom moving in for a month, a late night flight to New Hampshire and a two day drive back with my dad; then heading back to New Hampshire for a 13 day visit.  The day after arriving home I helped my folks unload their moving container (knocked it out in under 4 hours!)  Plus I am preparing to guest preach over the next two Sundays AND trying to get prepped for our house church meeting…

So you will I hope excuse the delay in posts

I spent the better part of a year journaling through Matthew (I think I logged 128 entries between June 2014-June 2015).  I’ve been in the Word of God fairly consistently for over 30 years and it’s amazing to me how I still see things I never saw before.  I read a passage which I have certainly read before and it’s like I’ve never seen it.  Or something I had read so casually in the past suddenly jumps out at me, waving its arms, calling out, ‘I’m here!  Don’t miss me!’  

That’s how it was with a few lines near the end of Matthew’s Gospel.

Jesus has been raised from the grave.  The angel announces the Jesus’ victory over death to the women who had come to the tomb.  Then the angel gives a message for the eleven disciples: “…go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:7)

Moments later, Jesus Himself appears to the women, giving them a command to pass on: Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:10)

The women report back to the eleven disciples who obey the command: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. (Matthew 28:16)

In Galilee the disciples see Jesus, as He promised, and receive His command to take the Gospel into the world.

Good things happen in Galilee.  Following His resurrection, Jesus does not summon the disciples to Golgotha, nor does He call them to the mouth of the empty tomb.  Instead He calls them out, away from Jerusalem.  He calls them back to Galilee; back to where it all began (see Matthew 4:11). 

For the disciples, the literal land of Galilee was the place where they met Jesus; where He called them to follow; where they saw miracles and believed in Him as the Messiah and their Lord.  Where the ‘movement’ began is where it is renewed.

Is there still a call to ‘go to Galilee’?  To return to some place– maybe a physical location, maybe a spiritual condition, maybe a life situation –a place at which we might be renewed and refreshed; re-commissioned?
I asked myself where my ‘Galilee’ might be.  I was astounded how suddenly the answer came.  I realized that in coming to Florida, I might have ‘gone to Galilee’ without even knowing.  My call to ministry came in the context of a house church group of which I was a part after stepping out of the traditional church ‘structure’.  Now here I am, having once again moved out of that structure, dreaming of and working to establish a house church network.    

When the disciples went to Galilee, the Lord Jesus set them a new mission- to carry the Gospel into the world.  When we go to our Galilee, we should be expectant that the Lord is about to say something, do something, show something.  When we go to our Galilee we should be hopeful that the Lord is renewing our call.  When we go to our Galilee we go to see Jesus.      

Where is your Galilee?  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Stick To It

It’s been a while since I’ve had opportunity to share (and I hear some of my friends at Hope Community are getting antsy).  I finally find myself with a few moments and something ‘share worthy’ on my mind.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 ESV)

When we made our move to Florida, it was with a vision for an interconnected network of home based gatherings.  In that initial vision I determined that it would take six months for us to meet people in our community to be able to invite them to join with us.  As those of you who have followed these blogs may remember, the Lord connected us with two couples in the first month.  One could have made an assumption that within the six month time frame the group would have continued to grow- and it did in a sense with my parents joining in via internet from NH.  But as far as the number of folks around the table, we remain at the same number (mom has since moved down with us and dad will follow soon).

Sometimes there are family commitments which prevent us from being together.  Sadly, one sister lost her dad and needed time away to grieve.  People go on vacation.  Sometimes we ourselves are out of town and as I am currently the sole facilitator on those weeks there is no gathering.  In a group of twenty or more the absence of four or five people is certainly noticed but the meeting goes on.  In a gathering of seven, the same number missing brings the group to a halt.

As the establishing of the network was ‘my vision’ this challenge of consistency brings me a sense of discouragement and causes me to question whether it was in fact my vision rather than the Lord’s.  There is the temptation to, in Paul’s words above, “grow weary” and “give up”. 

All work poses its challenges and difficulties and no matter what field it is in, the work of every Christian is important and is to be done “as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).  Even so, we know that the output of the occupations we find ourselves in are temporary and will not last.  The roof put on by the Christian roofer will wear out.  The heart which the Christian doctor labors to save will eventually fail.  The funds kept track of by a Christian accountant will be spent.  I have been working to break into the Real Estate Photography business and while I do my best to present quality photographs, I know those houses will probably not even exist in 100 years.  

By contrast, those in formal Christian ministry are under the conviction that they labor for eternal things.  There is a sense of a higher degree of importance and therefore a greater level of discouragement when things go in directions or at tempos which are unexpected and unplanned.

But we cannot let that discouragement win.

Paul certainly experienced this trend to despair in his own life and must have sensed something in the Galatian churches.  In Galatians 6, he writes to urge the believers to continue on in loving one another (6:1-2), in growing spiritually (6:3-4) and in following the leading of the Holy Spirit to greater life (6:7-8). 

Perhaps they weren’t seeing any results, or the results were too slow.  Perhaps they were wondering if it was worth it.  So he tells them not to “grow weary of doing good”.  To ‘grow weary’ is a Greek word meaning ‘to despair of’ or ‘lose heart’ or ‘become discouraged’.  Christians are not to let such weariness enter in.  Our labor is worth it.  God is at work doing something which may or may not line up with our expectations and “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up”.  In this sentence to ‘give up’ means to ‘relax’ or to ‘release from’.  Paul tells the Galatians, do not ease up for at the proper time, that specific time fixed by God, there will be a parting of the clouds and they will see what the Lord is up to.

We’ve got to stick to it.  

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

May God richly bless you, beloved friends. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

By What Right?

I was reading in Romans the other day and was struck anew by the opening lines of the second chapter:

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (2:1). 

Those who have read Romans are familiar with the first chapter, particularly the portion beginning in verse 18 which speaks of the wrath of God for the grievous sins of mankind.  This section contains verses which are usually the first ponies trotted out in the arguments against a homosexual lifestyle (see 1:26-27).  While it seems likely that this is what Paul was writing about when he spoke of ‘unnatural relations’ there is a more definite word he could have chosen which he uses is 1 Corinthians 6:9 & 1 Timothy 1:10.  But I digress slightly. 

My point is that far too many read this portion of Romans 1 with this extremely limited view, seeing homosexuality as the main focus.  It’s not.  To find the main point of this section, you need to expand your view beyond one sin and consider them all.  Romans 1:18 is clear that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (my emphasis).  God’s problem is not one particular sin, but SIN- the “ungodliness and unrighteousness” present in the hearts of ALL people. 

If we were forced to identify one sin which stood out as the most heinous, a deeper reading of the chapter leads to the only conclusion- idolatry.  Verses 19-23 are evidence that mankind abandoned the plain knowledge of its Creator for worship of the creation.  The invective against same-sex relations must be read in light of this, for all sexual sin is a form of, some might say the highest form of, idolatry; worship of the self.  This self focused idolatry is not however limited to sexual sin, as in verses 28-31, Paul lays out a sweeping condemnation of all mankind for sins ranging from envy to pride to deceit and, for good measure, is keen to point out that it is not only practitioners of these deeds who are guilty, but those who whether by their assent or their silence, allow them to continue.  And since “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1-3), there exists not one man, woman or child who can wriggle their way off this list!
So then, by what right do we condemn others for their sin? 

Please do not misunderstand me here, I am not excusing sin nor do I intend to minimize its destructive force.  I am simply asking, if we cannot avoid facing ourselves in the list of 1:28-31, by what right do we take the role of judge and jury upon ourselves?  Isn’t that exactly what Paul is stating in 2:1-3?  Yes it is!  Beware O Christian, the self righteous attitude which uses portions of God’s Word, such as Romans 1:26-27 to condemn the ‘sinner’, when we ourselves are classed along with them.

Now, though, we are presented with the great news that through the mercy of God, Jesus Christ was given to be the sinner’s substitute and that through faith in His death and resurrection I stand before Him, no longer condemned but acquitted.  No longer am I under wrath for the ungodliness and unrighteousness of mankind, but live with the reality of forgiveness. 

But this new standing before God does not confer upon me some divine right to sit in judgment on my fellow men; that is the province of the Lord alone.  I certainly am called to speak about sin, but ever and always it is to point to its universal stranglehold on humanity and the freedom offered to all in Jesus Christ.  My calling is to preach His redemptive gift and to teach those who have been redeemed how to live a life under the leading of the grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.          

So, you “who were dead in your trespasses” but now whom “God [has] made alive…having forgiven [you] all [your] trespasses” (Colossians 2:13), no longer seek a false right to condemn others, but take hold of the calling of God to proclaim to all that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2)

May you find blessing in the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus, may He ever be praised!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Theology of Hope over A Theology of Horror (part 3)

Let me begin by thanking you for continuing to read and reflect on these matters with me. This will be the final post on this particular topic.

If it can be demonstrated from the Scripture that man is not a naturally immortal being, but depends wholly upon the life giving power of God, not only for life now, but for life to come, which I affirmed in part 1, and if it can be demonstrated that nowhere does the Bible sanction the idea of an eternity of pain and suffering in an eternal 'hell' for those without Christ, which I took on in part 2, then the question is to be asked straightforwardly: Why do so many of pastors, preachers and teachers throughout Christendom continue to hold, to promote and insist on a position which is completely contrary to the revealed Word of God?    

One reason may be simple ignorance.  This is what they were taught and they never thought to question those who taught them.  We may overlook such ignorance with gentleness and enter into constructive dialogue which leads us to God’s Truth.

Another reason may be fear.  The notion of ‘hell’ is such a pervasive dogma within our religious structures, that to be seen as going against it is to invite the condemnation of going to it!  There may be those (and I was once among this group) whose consciences are seared by the fallacy of eternal conscious torment, yet are perhaps too young in their ministry or too dependent on the good graces of church or denominational boards for their livelihood to challenge ‘hell’, even with the power of the Word behind them.  We encourage boldness to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. 

Yet another reason, more sinister by far, is the exercise of power and control.  To stand before a congregation, the majority of whom are unlearned in these matters, and wield the power of eternal hell, or more specifically, the power to decide who may avoid hell’s horrors and how, is power indeed!  Isn’t that part of what the Protestant Reformation erupted against?  The Catholic machine believed itself the possessor of the ‘keys of the Kingdom’ and dictated the terms of salvation.  We decry it this as an outrage against Christ.  I am not saying that the preachers of hell do this intentionally; it is a by-product of a false theology.  

The repercussions for holding to the notion of eternal punishment are many.  It cheapens salvation; devaluing Christ.  This position we oppose has an unmistakable conclusion: you don’t need Jesus to have eternal life, you need Jesus to have eternal life free from torment.  ‘Life’ in ‘hell’ may be horrific beyond measure…but it is still life.  It sets people up to seek goodness in their own merit to improve their own personal experience, after all, how bad can ‘hell’ be for the best of men left to their own goodness.    

The position gravely misrepresents the character of God.  When God passed before Moses He declared of Himself, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…” (Exodus 34:6-7)  Do we now declare, and here I quote H.L. Hastings, “The Lord, unmerciful, implacable, and Who will preserve countless myriads of His creatures eternally, for the sole and only purpose of torturing them without mercy, without intermission, without end, without aim and without object.” (Hastings, H.L. After the Verdict.  Himes Publications: Lennox MA., 1982. p54)  How do we draw people to the love of God if we call them to an unloving God? 

What is the remedy?  It is found in the title of these posts.  We need to proclaim a theology of hope rather than a theology of horror.  How often is Christ preached as the escape from ‘hell’?  We proclaim Jesus not as escape from an eternity of torment and torture, but Jesus as the means to enter into an eternity of blessedness and peace.  As Conditionalists, we do not desire to dwell on the terror of God’s judgment, though we will not dismiss it; rather we prefer to proclaim Jesus Christ “the Author of life” (Acts 3:15).  When we do preach the consuming fire of God’s wrath it is not to scare people into the Kingdom of Heaven, but to set in stark and infinite contrast the consuming passion of God’s love through Jesus.  We call people to seek life, to flee the inevitable and irreversible death which is the only end for mortal creatures.  We offer the hope of the Gospel; hope that through Jesus is eternal life found; in spite of our sin and shame He reached out to us and lifted us from the stench of decay and set us in green pastures.  We say with the Psalmist, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6)

A theology of horror keeps people in line; keeps them under control; keeps them dependent on human institutions rather than on Christ.  

A theology of hope sets people free; free to seek Christ with joy and gladness through His Word; free to live not under a shadow of judgment but in the sunshine of His pleasure both now and forever.

Well.  Much has been said and much has been necessarily left unsaid.  My voice is but a whisper compared to the mighty shouts of others who have stood to defend the Truth of Life only in Christ against the tide of dogma.  I do not ask you now to agree with me, but to yield to the Word of God on these matters?  I ask you to boldly look satan in the eye and say with all boldness, “Yes, God hath truly said!”  I ask you to devote yourself to the theology of hope: “this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (1 John 5:11)

We say with Luther, “I cannot choose but adhere to the word of God, which has possession of my conscience; nor can I possibly, nor will I even make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience!  Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God! Amen.” 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Theology of Hope over A Theology of Horror (part 2)

In the first part I began to explain the grounds by which I reject the notion of an eternal hell where the wicked suffer without end for all time.  In this post I would like to share some of those passages which are commonly brought forward to defend eternal torment and offer my perspective on where such interpretation fails the test.  It is not my intent to unveil every passage on the subject.  For those interested in a more comprehensive treatment, I would highly suggest The Fire That Consumes or Hell, A Final Word by Edward Fudge, The Unspeakable Gift by J.H. Pettingell or After the Verdict by H.L. Hastings

We must agree at the outset that for language to have any value, words must mean what they mean in their plain sense.  For example, if we are discussing a lovely day and I say, ‘look how bright the sun is shining’, we would understand that I am referring to the bright, hot sphere around which our planet orbits.  There is no ambiguity of what is being said and to change the meaning of my words without cause is unwarranted and indefensible.  If you can agree with me on this, then I invite you to continue reading.   

Some of the most common words/terms used in the Scripture to speak of the destiny of the lost are 'destroy(ed)', 'perish', 'come to an end', 'come to nothing', 'cease'.  These words, in the plain nature of their meaning, convey one and the same sense- the utter and complete end of those apart from God.  Nowhere do they mean, nor can they be made to mean, ‘linger forever in conscious torment’.

In speaking of the enemies of God who come against Jerusalem, the prophet says, “For the ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off…”(Isaiah 29:20esv)  Three different descriptions in one verse which leave no doubt that the wicked will not remain.

In the New Testament, from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, is pledged not an eternity of conscious torment, but complete destruction.  He says, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell [literally ‘Gehenna’].” (Matthew 10:28esv)  I was raised on the notion of the everlasting torment of the lost and it was this verse that set me on my path to discovering Conditionalism.  The image Jesus used for this final punishment was ‘Gehenna’ (the valley of Hinnom), a garbage dump outside of the city of Jerusalem where the refuse was thrown to be eaten by worms and burned with fire.  The word ‘destroy’ is apollumi and, contrary to those who would try to change the meaning of the word, it means utter, irreversible destruction.  Things which went into the dump, didn't linger forever and they never came back. 

Okay, you ask, what of the passages which seem to teach this never-ending torment? Let me share just a few.

In several places the phrase ‘eternal fire’ is used.  For example: “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” (Matthew 18:8esv) or “…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 7esv).  Surely this settles the matter- the wicked face an eternity in fire.  Except that’s not what the passages say or mean.  It should be obvious that it is the fire which is ‘eternal’ not the punishment of those cast into the fire.  Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning are they?

But doesn't an eternal fire necessitate that there should be something in the fire eternally?  And isn't this therefore what the images of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire signify?  First we must discover the meaning of the word ‘eternal’.  We assume it to mean ‘forever and ever’, however the Greek word for ‘eternal’ (ainos) does not always mean eternality in quantity, but eternality in quality.  It is not the fire itself which is eternal, but the effect which the fire produces, total destruction, which is eternal.  When Jesus refers to the worm and fire (Mark 9:48), He does so in allusion to Isaiah 66:24 which speaks of the final destruction of God’s enemies: “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me.  For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”esv  See how that verse begins- “…they shall go out and look on the dead bodies…”  Not living, tormented souls, but dead things upon which worms feed and fire consumes.  The choice becomes permanent; the penalty is irreversible; the effects are everlasting.         

Okay, what about Revelation 14:10: “…he [anyone receiving the mark of the beast] also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”  Well that seems pretty straightforward- “tormented with fire and sulfur.”  Just a moment; a couple questions.  First, who is to be tormented?  Those who receive the mark of the beast.  Regardless of how you interpret Revelation, it should certainly be agreed that there is a very large segment of the unbelieving human population who has lived and died prior to the events depicted in this verse, so to make this a blanket statement about all the wicked cannot be justified.  If it could, it still wouldn't make the case, for it says nothing about an everlasting torment.  Conditionalism does not dispute the notion that those placed under God’s wrath will suffer; but rather that they will not suffer without end.

Wait!  You need to go to Revelation 14:11- “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”  Let’s be sure we understand what is being described here.  First, judgment is an inevitable result of the persistent and deliberate rejection of the Lamb in favor of the beast and this particular judgment is upon those who have sided with the beast.  Additionally, please see that it is the results of the judgment and not the torment itself which is eternal: “…the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever…”  The image of ‘no rest’ is not to communicate eternal torment but is to draw the contrast between the saved and the lost out to its fullest.  For those redeemed by Jesus, there is a future ‘rest’, a welcome into the peaceful Kingdom of God.  For the wicked, there is ‘no rest’, not meaning that they remain in an active state, but rather the pledge that there is no eternal Kingdom waiting for them. 

What of Revelation 20:10: “…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”  We concede no ground here, as the context is abundantly clear that this judgment is for the sinister agents of evil, satan, the beast and the false prophet.  And while unredeemed humanity is also thrown into the Lake of Fire, nowhere is it said, nor can it be postulated that their torment is forever.   

Consider, as I wrap this section up, how Revelation 21 can make any possible sense in the light of the never ending torment of the wicked. 

The Apostle writes in Revelation 21:4 that God will “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore…”  This blessing applies to the redeemed.  If the text ended there it could be postulated that the wicked remain to endure in mourning, crying and pain, but the text does not leave it there; it continues, “…for the former things have passed away.”  What are the former things if not everything belonging to the age prior to the coming of Christ and the establishing of God’s perfect Kingdom?  That word ‘eternal’ can also mean ‘age’ or ‘ages’.  The place of punishment, the Lake of Fire, belongs to this first age of ‘former things’ and will exist only as long as the age to which it belongs and no longer.  The worm and fire will do their work until the last scrap is consumed and then comes the promise of God, Who is “making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5).  What does ‘all things’ refer to?  No one would say that God makes sin new, would they?  The notion of eternal torment must of necessity believe that there will be a place where ‘old things’ survive; unless we are to actually believe that God plans on making a ‘new hell’ and also makes new those who inhabit that place.  This is a plainly ridiculous notion is it not? 

When the wicked are cast into the Lake of Fire, it may be that most will be snuffed out instantly, while others may remain for a short while- I will leave that for God to determine.  What I do know is that finally, when all vestiges of evil and sin have been purged, satan will also be consumed and the lake of fire will burn itself out.  The last sun will set on the old age a new and eternal morning of God’s eternal age will begin.

If you have made to this point, I appreciate you sticking with me and hope you come back for part 3.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Theology of Hope over a Theology of Horror (part 1)

The following series of posts are likely to challenge the assumptions of some of my readers and provoke a range of responses.  I appreciate your feedback, but please do so with the same grace in which these posts are offered. 

I am writing in challenge to and refutation of the concept of the eternal torment of the lost.  

Here is why I feel compelled to write.  

First, what one believes about what will happen to those apart from Christ on Judgment Day is itself not a 'salvation' issue and should not be used as any type of litmus test.  Our primary concern should be for those without Christ now and our responsibility to share the Good News of Jesus with them now.  How long will the second level issues prevent unity in the Body of Christ?  (One might question the wisdom of such dogmatic statements on these types of issues being part of an 'official statement of faith' in the first place.)  

Second, for me, the issue of the nature of final punishment is a matter of integrity in Biblical interpretation.  Can the notion of eternal torment be defended with sound interpretive principles?  If it can, then so be it.  If not, then why do we insist on holding to it in opposition to the sacred text?

The position of eternal burning hell rests on the assumption of the natural immortality of man's 'soul' which must therefore live forever in some condition either of blessedness or torment.  But what happens to an eternal hell if man's 'soul' is not immortal?  Then the concept of eternal hell shudders and collapses as a house of cards deprived of its underpinnings.

Here is the truth of God's Word.  Man is not naturally immortal.  Whoa!  What of that old saying, "may God have mercy on your immortal soul"?  It's false.  It's blatantly un-Biblical.  

Scripture tells us plainly that God "alone has immortality" -1 Timothy 6:16. The word 'alone' is the Greek monos (from where we get the prefix 'mono' meaning one, or only).  Immortality is an inherent quality of Divine Being; to say that any other possesses what belongs to God alone is, and I use the word with precision, heresy.  There really is no way around this verse.  It is direct and simple.  It is not ripped from its context to stand as a proof text.  Only God possesses immortality.

Man therefore can only exist eternally by the will of Him Who alone possesses the power to confer that blessing, the Triune God (God the Father through the agency of God the Son in the power of God the Spirit- so see John 5:21, 6:63)

And what of those on whom God does not choose to confer the blessing of eternal life?  The opposite of life is death- a complete end to existence.  The opposite of eternal life is not eternal torment or even eternal dying, but eternal death, an end of existence that cannot be undone.   

The position I hold, a position which goes back into the earliest centuries of the Christian Church*, is that of 'Conditional Immortality', namely that the promise of any enduring, eternal existence is completely contingent upon the gift of God through Jesus Christ.  Thus, those without Christ will not and cannot indefinitely exist in any form, even in the torturous horrors of 'hell'.

The concept of man's immortal soul appeared in the late 200's AD with the synthesizing of Christian theology and pagan Greek philosophy, notable with theologians such as Origen and Tertullian.  Biblical theology was submerged and drowned in a pagan philosophy which posited the duality of matter and spirit, body and soul.  It was that philosophy which taught an immortal nature which was to be set free from the bonds of its material prison (here is the roots of the idea of 'going to heaven when we die').  Rather than refute philosophy, the theologians embraced it and mutilated the Scripture to say what it was never meant to say.

To uphold the natural immortality of man's 'soul', a part of man which cannot die, is not only poor theology, but treads into some very dangerous territory: "But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die.'"- Genesis 3:4.  God told Adam that disobedience would lead to death; satan refuted God's words. 

Friends, with humility I ask, if God tells us in His Word that the "wages of sin is death (Greek  thanatos)" -Romans 6:23, and the plain meaning of death is a cessation of all life, by what right do we have to declare that what God said is not right and that the wages of sin is not death, but a continuation of 'life' in unending torment?  Do you see where this road leads?  I will not, and I pray you see also that you cannot, hold to the 'traditional' view of hell which drips with the poison of a serpents fangs.

In my next post I will explore some of the texts that are often used to defend the notion of eternal torment and, with grace, show why they cannot be made to say such things.

*Notable post-Biblical theologians and teachers who held to Conditionalism: Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Watts, Pannenberg  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Principles vs. Patterns

In this post I would like to share some things I am thinking regarding how we often lock ourselves into ways of doing things which either hinder growth or prevent it entirely.

Consider that portion of the 'Sermon on the Mount' in which Jesus addresses giving, praying and fasting (Matthew 6:1-18).  In each of these sections, the Greek grammar leads us to conclude that Jesus expects His disciples to engage in these disciplines.

A necessary question arises: why did Jesus choose to highlight these three particular practices.  The answer is given by the Lord in the text itself.  In each case Jesus urges His disciples that when they engage in the particular practice being discussed, that they refrain from acting in certain ways which are the marks of the 'hypocrite'.  Each of the practices, giving, praying and fasting, were used by the self-righteous as a means to show off their piety.  They announced their giving with trumpets; they prayed loudly and repetitively on the street corners; they moped around publicly when they fasted.  They took something God designed for the healthy growth of His followers and twisted it; yet because they were doing the action, they considered themselves 'mature'.

Jesus draws His disciples back to the principles of these activities, reclaiming their power to strengthen a person's spiritual life. We find many things in the life of the Church which seem good on the surface, but because we are only concerned with keeping the pattern or structure of the action, we miss its purpose and its power.

An example from my own experience comes from a time when I changed the format of the Lord's Table.  I wanted people to see that it is the participation of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, as symbolized in the bread and cup which is the important matter.  On this particular Sunday, I put out a simple card table, poured the juice into Dixie cups and used plain crackers.  Before the service had even begun, one person walked out in 'protest'.  I wonder how many who remained felt the same urge.  I am glad he left to be honest, because it showed that he was more concerned with the external pattern rather than understanding the principle behind it.

Another area where I have heard complaint from one believer towards another is in their all important Sunday morning attendance.  I have ministered to people who faithfully attended a mid-week prayer or study groups but had spotty attendance on Sunday.  The 'pious' mutter and wonder where these people are.  It doesn't matter how many other days the 'offender' was engaged in the life of the church, it only matters that the pattern of Sunday worship be slavishly upheld.  

The principle of the Word of God is given in Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (ESV).  The principle is a commitment to regular, ongoing fellowship with the family of God.  Specifically when this takes place is largely irrelevant.  The majority of Christendom has elected to meet on Sunday morning, but let them not despise or criticize those who choose to gather at other days and times.

When we lock ourselves into patterns and structures, we risk stagnation in our spiritual life and the life of our churches.  Jesus warned those who had such a restricted view that the 'new wine' would rupture the 'old wine skins' and neither would be of any profit.  If you are reading this and you are content with a specific way of doing things, then I urge us, so long as you recognize the heart behind the habit, keep at it.  But if you are 'set in your ways' thinking they are the only right ways, please hear a gentle warning- your old wine skin is about to rupture.

We must recognize that the Holy Spirit leads us to live out the Faith in a variety of ways.  So long as we are not violating the principles which God has established, let us celebrate the diversity of life in the Body of Christ.        

Monday, January 12, 2015

Taught by the Word

In my last post, I shared some thoughts surrounding Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees over their exalting of man's rules at the expense of men themselves,  In this post I would like to continue that line of thinking as it relates to Jesus' response.  

But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?" (Matthew 12:3-5 NASU)

The disciples had been picking heads of grain as they walked through the fields on the Sabbath. In order to eat the grain, they needed to rub the heads of the stalks between their hands, breaking off the husks and revealing the kernels. According to the Pharisees, not only had the disciples harvested grain, but had also 'winnowed' it and therefore were in violation of Sabbath laws (this prohibition can be seen in the Jewish collection of laws and traditions known as the Mishna, specifically in Shabbat 7.2.3, 5, 6.  While the Mishna was not codified until around 200AD, it reflects rules and traditions which had been advocated for many generations.  But I digress.) These regulations became the grounds for accusation and condemnation.  In response, Jesus appeals not to man's rules, but the perfect Word of God, as He calls to their minds events in the life of David (see 1 Samuel 21:1-6) as well as the ministry of the priests on the Sabbath (see Numbers 28:9-10 for example).  Jesus trumps man's law with the plain truth of God's Word.

Our appeal must always be to the plain teaching of God's Word.  So often we hold up the opinions and viewpoints of men- this popular teacher says this while that 'sage' of our time says that; but "have you not read"? Do we not have God's Word to guide us?  True, there are portions which we struggle to grasp or agree upon, but the great majority of the Word is plain and open, and only a deliberate twisting of the text causes confusion.  

The Pharisees were so locked in by their rules that they could not see the broader teaching of God's principles; but before we vilify them, should we not confess that we too fall into the same trap?  Don't we often become blinded by our own social, political or theological perspectives?  It is so easy to believe in our own rightness and we struggle to admit that we could ever be wrong or incomplete in our understanding; so we become arrogant, closed off and unteachable.  We must open ourselves to be taught by the Word of God and the Spirit which inspired the writing of that Word.