A Prayer for Religious Liberty (and our state legislators and staff)

Prayer for Religious Liberty at the Kentucky State Capitol. Photo by Kentucky Today.

I was asked to pray for our Kentucky state legislators staff today at a prayer rally for Kentucky Baptist pastors at the Kentucky State Capitol today. I was honored and happy to do so. Below is the text of my prayer.

Our Father’s God to thee, Author of Liberty, to thee we pray,

We thank you for the gift of liberty and especially our religious liberty that reminds us that there is a power higher than government or any human power that grants us our liberties. As John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” All of our rights come from You, O God. Because there is a power higher than the state, we have the rights of free speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. These are not gifts of government to us, but gifts of God which government must recognize. Because this is true, we have the freedom to gather here in prayer today. Because this is true, I have the freedom to minister to all who work in the two buildings behind me through a ministry of presence, prayer, and proclamation. Because this is true, others who think differently than me have the exact same right. And for all of this, we thank You!

Father, we pray now for those who work in the Capitol and the Capitol Annex, specifically the Kentucky State House, Senate, and their staff. They are here by your will and by your hand. You have ordained civil government to protect and preserve human rights. Thank you for these men and women who are willing to serve their Commonwealth and a cause that is greater than themselves. Thank you for the long hours of work that their constituents don’t see, but You see. Thank you for their sacrifice of being away from their families and careers in order to serve our Commonwealth. I pray that you would bless these men and women, that your hand would be upon them, that you would grant them great wisdom as they balance competing claims on our liberties, that they would legislate righteously and wisely for the good of the people. I pray for their families while they are away so much during session and during this interim. Please be with their spouses, children, and grandchildren. Protect them and allow them to know how much they are loved and cared for by You. Give strength and health to these men and women.

We pray also for the administrative staff who work behind the scenes with little or no glory, but who are the engine that runs our state government. We pray for their safety as some come to these grounds to assert their liberties in ways that threaten others.

We also pray for the Supreme Court which meets in this building and many times adjudicates on issues of religious liberty.

We also thank you for the Kentucky State Police and security details that work year around to keep everyone safe.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Why Read the Bible? An Excellent Question for the Modern Age

Barton Swaim in the Wall Street Journal today highlights why many moderns aren’t interested in reading the Bible in a critical review of a book on the Bible that assumes all the assumptions of modern critics of the Scriptures. What C.S. Lewis said of Christianity is true also of the Scriptures on which it is based: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” If the Bible isn’t true, then it is relatively unimportant and one must find ways to convince people to read it (as this author has attempted). This review, in my mind, exposes the arrogance of those who critique the Bible with no awareness or recognition of the massive amounts of scholarship that interprets the Bible as historically accurate and affirms the supernatural nature of the book and the miraculous events it describes. Everyone comes to the Bible with presuppositions. If you come to the Scriptures with a presupposition that the supernatural is impossible in a fixed/closed universe governed merely by natural laws then you will dismiss the supernatural. But if you come to the Scriptures with an allowance that the supernatural is a possibility, you may well discover that the events described are possible and given the many historical accuracies, prophetic fulfillments, and, this is a big one—the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, you may well become convinced of the Bible’s truthfulness and trustworthiness and become one of the millions whose lives have been changed by its central message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Why Freedom of Religion Matters; or, Why a Christian with Half a Brain Would Support Religious Freedom

Religious liberty is a rare thing in the history of the world. Much of the world today does not experience it and most in the history of the world have not lived under it. The reason for this is that when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in AD 312, he enacted a series of laws that granted first toleration, and then special privileges to Christianity. As a result, during the Middle Ages, Church and state were married together in a way that would prove unhelpful. The State now had the authority to punish heretics. As a result, those who differed with the official state religion were persecuted. When the Protestant Reformation took place, it was for the most part a replacement of the Roman Catholic Church with other state churches. Church and state were still joined together. Thus, the state church would still persecute those who differed from the official religion.

Seventeenth-Century English Baptists and Religious Liberty

Seventeenth-century English Baptists commitment to religious liberty was closely related to their understanding of the definition of the church as a body of baptized believers. As Baptist historian Thomas J. Nettles has observed, this commitment to religious liberty flowed from their prior commitment to a regenerate church, as opposed to a national one. “The doctrine of believers’ baptism coincident with the doctrine of regenerate church membership necessitates a doctrine of religious liberty with its attendant truths.” It is no coincidence, then, that the seventeenth-century English Baptist pastor Hercules Collins’ clearest call for religious liberty is found in Some Reasons for Separation From the Communion of the Church of England, the work in which he most strongly argued for regenerate church membership.

Baptists’ defense of religious liberty has historically been linked to their concept of a regenerate church membership, since this necessitates a separation of church and state. In the early seventeenth century, men such as John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, John Murton, and Roger Williams had been advocates for religious liberty. Collins was not afraid to identify himself with their pleas for religious liberty. In the imaginary dialogue between a conformist and nonconformist in Some Reasons for Separation, Collins places himself clearly in the Smyth–Helwys–Murton–Williams continuum by citing some of the same sources first used in 1621 by John Murton in A Most Humble Supplication of Many the Kings Majesties Loyall Subjects. These quotes were later repeated by Roger Williams in his defense of Murton against the New England Puritan John Cotton in the classic 1644 work on religious liberty, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution. Collins, however, offered his own concise summary of the issue at stake by asserting, “That none should be compelled to worship God by a temporal Sword, but such as come willingly, and none can worship God to acceptance but such.” Collins believed that, although dissenting churches may not have been in submission to the law of England, they were to the law of Christ, and this is what mattered for it was more important to obey God than , citing Acts 5.

Christ hath given full power to his Church, as such to Preach the Gospel publickly, administer Ordinances, and to officiate in other Matters, relating to their Meeting in God’s Worship; which, if we should decline at the Command of Men, this would be to regard men more than Christ, which we dare not do. Is it better to obey God or man, judg ye? Were the sayings of two Worthy of old, Act. 5.

For the principle of religious liberty, which preserved the ability of freedom to worship God as conscientiously convinced by Scripture, Baptists like Hercules Collins were willing to risk their freedom, and even their lives. Collins, was in fact, soon arrested and imprisoned after publishing this book.

Religious Liberty in America

Baptists have historically defended the principle of religious liberty. Since Baptists have always believed in churches made up only of professing, baptized believers, they have always rejected the idea of a state church union which results in a church composed of all citizens. In the sixteenth century, the European Anabaptists opposed the use of the sword to mandate matters of the conscience. Seventeenth-century proto-Baptists such as Thomas Helwys (in England)  and Roger Williams (in Colonial America) spoke directly to the governing authorities appealing for religious liberty. Baptists have always stood on the side of religious liberty for all. In fact, it was a group of Baptists in Danbury, CT, concerned about the infringement of the newly formed federal government upon the consciences of American citizens, to whom Thomas Jefferson responded in a letter with the famous expression of “separation of church and state” that has become such an important part of the American discussion concerning religious liberty. This expression was a summary of the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This is what the New England Baptist, Isaac Backus, had argued for in 1781.

As religion must always be a matter between God and individuals, no man can be made a member of a truly religious society by force or without his own consent, neither can any corporation that is not a religious society have a just right to govern in religious affairs.

Why Religious Liberty Matters

We believe in religious liberty for all. Is it because we think all religions are equally true? Or that there is no true religion? No, it’s because we don’t believe that government has the right to arbitrate people’s religious beliefs. Only God is over the human conscience, therefore we reject any human attempt to usurp God’s authority.

Sometimes, Christians don’t think clearly about these issues. This is why sometimes you will see Christians opposing Muslims building mosques or atheists from having public groups. Ironically, when Christians oppose the religious liberty of those who differ with them, they are laying the groundwork for their own demise.

Historically, Baptists have understood that a government that can outlaw Islam or atheism today, can outlaw Christianity tomorrow. Baptists have historically argued for the religious liberty of all people. As a group that was persecuted in their early days, Baptists have consistently argued for four hundred years that the civil government does not have authority over the consciences of citizens. Baptists have recognized that we either have religious liberty for all or not at all. If the government can take someone else’s freedom today, they can take yours tomorrow. Below is a list of quotes evidencing Baptists’ historic commitment to religious liberty. These could be multiplied many times over. The unique thing about the quotations below is not their advocacy of religious liberty for all, but that they specifically identify Muslims, Jews, heretics, and pagans specifically as deserving freedom to practice their religion. (Note: “Turks” and “Turkish” was used as an identifier of Muslims.)

“For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures.” Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612)

“It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries.” Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution (1644)

[Roger Williams also cited in a positive fashion that Oliver Cromwell once maintained in a public discussion “with much Christian zeal and affection for his own conscience that he had rather that Mahumetanism [i.e. Mohammedanism or Islam] were permitted amongst us, than that one of God’s Children should be persecuted.”]

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” John Leland, “The Virginia Chronicle” (1790)

We don’t solicit the government to help us with evangelism by outlawing other expressions of religious belief. Instead, we must be about the task of personal evangelism. We appeal not to force, but to the heart and mind of the individual. We don’t believe that you can be forced to be a Christian. Instead, we believe that if we have a free society in which the free exchange of ideas is allowed, the truth will prevail. If we believe the truth is on our side, there is no cause for Christians to be afraid of the free exchange of ideas that religious liberty provides.

Reflections on an Inauguration by an American, a Christian, and a Minister of the Gospel

I watch the Presidential Inauguration with my family every four years. I have voted for President 8 times in my life and the candidate I voted for has won only twice. However, as an American citizen, I celebrate the pageantries of democracy. The constitutionally-mandated transfer of power is part of our shared civics and transcends politics. This is a tradition to be preserved and celebrated. With each President’s inauguration there are both hopes and fears for many Americans. Let us pray and work for peace and civility. Let us work and pray for truth and justice. Let us work and pray for righteousness and morality.

As an American and a Christian, I am a citizen of two kingdoms. My citizenship of the kingdom of heaven transcends my citizenship to any earthly kingdom. Nevertheless, my American citizenship is real and cherished. The key is to never confuse or conflate my citizenship in the two kingdoms. I believe I can be the best citizen of the United States by recognizing that my citizenship is ultimately in heaven. My heavenly citizenship requires that I be subject to earthly powers, except when they cause me to disobey God, my ultimate authority.

As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ alone and call for faith and repentance for entrance into the kingdom of God. Therefore, I pray for continued freedom and liberty to do that. This freedom is for all peoples, regardless of beliefs or no belief. The gospel remains the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

As a Christian, my primary responsibility is to share the gospel of Christ. However, I am also called to live out that gospel in works of faith and love. I am also called to work for the good of my neighbors, fellow-citizens, nation, and world.

Please pray for President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris as they take their oaths of office in a ceremony at noon today. Here is how we are commanded in Scripture to pray for our leaders:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4

In other words, pray for our leaders, pray for our ability to live out our faith peaceably, pray for the spiritual well-being of our leaders, and pray for the salvation of all peoples in conformity to God’s desire.

Prayer to Open 2021 Session of the Kentucky House

Our Great God,

We bow before you today on a day in which we should all be humbled before you. This past year has revealed to us how frail we are as humans—in our Commonwealth, our nation, and our world. A microscopic virus cell 3.5 trillionth of an inch in diameter has crippled the economies of the world and disrupted our way of life in so many ways. But even as the hymn writer confessed that we are “frail children of dust and feeble as frail,” he continued with “In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.”

And so we come to You, the Creator of all things. You alone are the God who made the heavens and the earth. And we come to You, the Controller of all things. Nothing is outside of your sovereign control and care. We come to You, the Conqueror of all things. We pray to you recognizing that you are in control over all things. There is not one maverick molecule in the universe. All planets, stars, comets, molecules, microbes, and viruses are under your sovereign control. You work all things after the counsel of your will. None can stay your hand or say what doest thou.

We acknowledge that not only are you sovereign, but you are a loving father over creation, and especially to those who know You. Not one bird can fall from the sky or one hair from our head without you knowing and caring. You knit us together in our mother’s wombs. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. You know our bodies better than we know our bodies. You know disease better than doctors know disease and, ultimately, we rest in your loving, sovereign care.

We also thank you that you have given us as human beings the ability to understand disease and infection and how it spreads. Thank you for the medical community that has worked so hard to inform us, advise us, offer treatment, and develop a vaccine to combat COVID-19. Thank you also for civil government which was established by you to protect its citizens. Thank you for Governor Beshear and his leadership during these difficult days. Please give him wisdom and strength as he continues to lead.

Thank you for the Kentucky General Assembly as they now
convene to fulfill their responsibilities. Give them wisdom and strength also as they make important decisions balancing concern both for our state’s economy and the financial and physical welfare of our citizens. Most of all we pray
for a spirit of wisdom, reasonableness, and cooperation between
the House and Senate, between Republicans and Democrats, and between the Legislative and Executive branch in order that all the
citizens of this state are served in the best possible manner.

We pray for health and strength for these legislators, their family,
and the staff that supports them. Please be with this body this
session as they conduct the business of this Commonwealth. Give them peace as many of them are separated from their families and homes in this time of uncertainty. Give them each your peace that surpasses human understanding.

Most of all we thank you for your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into this world of sickness and sin as an expression of your sovereign plan and fatherly love of this world. Thank you that by His sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, He conquered the grave, defeated death, took away death’s sting, and, in the words of the author of Hebrews, delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery! May all who hear these words know peace and comfort in the grace and mercy through faith in the Lord Jesus.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Favorite Reads of 2020

 

Typically at the end of each year I post a list of my favorite books read that year. That time is now upon us. This list is not of books written in 2020 (although six of the ten were published in the last two years), not is it a list of all the books I read; it is a list of my favorite books read in 2020. This list is also not ranked in order of my favorite or the ones I think were the best. They are in roughly the chronological order that I read them. The books on this list were my favorites because of what they taught me, the joy they brought, how they edified me, or the way they enabled me to see things from others’ perspectives. I try to read books that I not only know I will agree with, but also books that will challenge me and allow me to think critically about issues of importance. I’m thankful that in a year of uncertainty, there were still books. God is good.

    1. Grant by Ron Chernow (2017). An epic biography that covers the scope of Ulysses Grant’s life from shopkeeper to General to President. While honest with struggles that Grant had with alcohol in his life, this account is a corrective to the stereotypes associated with Grant and presents him as a man of integrity overall who was oftentimes to trusting of his associates. Most revealing was how instrumental he was in a positive way in the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era seeking to secure the rights of the recently freed African Americans. He may have done more for Civil Rights for African Americans than any other President in history. The progress that was made under his administration highlights the immediate setbacks and backlash that happened in the American South, the results of some of which continue today.
    2. 51PPV59S5SL._AC_UY218_The Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 1 (Masterworks Series) by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Contains Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-10 (1963). My favorite comic book super hero while growing up was Spider-Man. During my early teen years in the late 1980s I would purchase, read, and collect each month’s issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, The Web of Spider-Man, and Marvel Tales (featuring reprinted Amazing Spider-Man classics). When I saw that some editions of Marvel’s Masterworks series were available to read for free on Kindle for Amazon Prime members, I decided to read the first volume featuring the first eleven appearances of Spider-Man from the early 1960s. Although the stories were much simpler then, the 1960s artwork is my aesthetic. Excelsior! 
    3. imageThe Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West by Jeff Guinn (2011). My first foray into historical research was a research paper written in high school exploring the true stories behind some of the myths of the Old West. As much as I love the genre of western, I love even more the real stories that inspired the mythos of the wild west. This book, therefore, appealed to me with its promise in the subtitle to tell the “real story” of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It starts out somewhat slow with a lot of background to the town of Tombstone, but when the main characters of the gunfight are introduced it becomes riveting. It turns out that “Doc” Holiday in real life is almost as fascinating as the version played by Val Kilmer and the closing chapter detailing the influence of this gunfight on the development of the modern western is very enlightening.
    4. 3830454ATen Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss (2019). This work surveys the first four-hundred years of the Roman Empire by examining the ten most influential Roman Emperors during that period. As a classicist and professor of ancient military history, Strauss is an expert guide on this tour through early Roman history. Strauss is a master storyteller and his book is an enjoyable read. Particularly interesting to me was the way in which these “Ten Caesars” shaped the world into which Christ was born and in which Christianity developed. The interplay between the various Roman emperors with one another and the Senate makes for fascinating (even if sometimes soap-opery) reading.
    5. download (1)Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Aimee Byrd (2020). I have long appreciated the corrective that complementarianism is to both egalitarianism on the one hand and patriarchalism on the other hand. However, correctives also sometimes need correcting. Aimee Byrd provides helpful pushback to overreaches in the “biblical manhood and womanhood” movement from biblical, theological, and historical perspectives. In the end, she remains committed to her confessional tradition in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Westminster Confession of Faith) and the teaching of Scripture regarding gender roles in the church and home while she rejects many of the contemporary evangelical interpretations of exactly what that should look like in today’s world. Helpful and thought-provoking if read with charity and a willingness to listen.
    6. 31ACyi3x7rL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Reformed Evangelicalism and the Search for a Usable Past: The Historiography of Arnold Dallimore, Pastor-Historian by Ian Hugh Clary (2020). This work was originally Ian Clary’s doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of the Free State. Clary has modified that work for publication and it was released this year in the series in Reformed Historical Theology published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Clary’s work, while focused on the Canadian historian Arnold Dallimore, provides a compelling case study on the role of the Christian historian. Clary analyzes the historical writings of Dallimore pointing out both strengths and weaknesses. This analysis allows Clary to propose a way for Christian historians to approach history in a way that is faithful to tell the truth “warts and all” about its heroes, while also telling the story of the past in a way that is usable, profitable, encouraging, and instructive for the church today. In this work, Clary models exactly what he commends to the good of all who will read it.
    7. 51HOWdvDmeL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley (2020). This work by New Testament scholar and Wheaton professor Esau McCaulley was very eye-opening to me. Although written for a primary audience of African-American students of the Bible, this work provides rich insight into the ways in which the Black church in America has interpreted the Bible. Just reading this book is an important reminder of the way that our context influences our interpretation of Scripture. It is very important to read how other groups interpret Scripture because many other groups may have more in common with the first century readers of the New Testament. This is certainly true of those who have lived as minorities and experienced persecution. For such communities, the hope of eternity, when all wrongs will be made right and there is no more suffering, is especially understood and celebrated. By reading this book I was able to eavesdrop on conversations that have long been taking place in the Black church in America and I have a richer understanding of Scripture because of it. I lament with the author his struggle to find a home in the white church, both among theological conservatives who share his high view of Scripture but who have little interest in matters of racial justice or among theological liberals who share his concern about social justice but whose beliefs regarding Scripture undercut the very hope that has sustained the African-American community over centuries of suffering. I’m grateful to Dr. McCaulley for opening a window into a long ongoing conversation that I have sadly been mostly unaware of. I pray that white evangelicals and African-American Christians will learn from one another and sharpen one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
    8. 566134_1_ftcGentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund (2020). This is quite simply the most soul-encouraging, heart-strengthening, gospel-sustaining books that I have ever read. I was moved to tears many times as Ortlund vividly portrayed the beauty of the gentle mercies of Jesus Christ. In this work, Ortlund draws from the rich devotional literature of the Puritans, especially Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ. Although filled with the gospel-saturated Puritan ethos, Ortlund writes in accessible English for the modern reader. In many ways, Ortlund has distilled the teaching of the Puritans on the compassion of Christ into single breath-taking volume. After reading my copy, I placed it on my bookshelf with my Puritan classics where it rightfully belongs and from where I will pull it again and again as I often need to be reminded of Christ’s love for me, a sinner.
    9. 147216The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby (2019). This book doesn’t tell the full story of American Christianity. It doesn’t claim to do so. However, it does tell the part of the story that has often been ignored or left out when white evangelicals write their own history. I think of Churchill’s quip that history will be kind to him because he intended to write it! We have often been far too kind to ourselves in our recounting of our history. Tisby provides an important and instructive look at the ways that the white church in America has often been complicit in the racism of the wider American culture. You may not agree with Tisby’s proposed solutions, but clearly the white church has not been what it should have been on this issue. Honestly acknowledging the problem is the first step toward changing that and this book confronts us with facts from our past that will begin us on that journey.
    10. 5117RSGMD7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith (2012). I ended 2020 the same way that I began it—by reading a 1,000+ page biography of a two-term Republican president who had previously served as an United States General leading his country to victory. The parallels between the lives and careers of Grant and Eisenhower are striking at times, highlighted by the fact that the author had also written a biography of Grant and makes several comparisons. Both men arose from relative obscurity to become commanding generals where their success propelled them to the presidency. Eisenhower is presented by Smith, not as a flawless man, but as a steady leader who led with integrity. Although he was identified with war due to his role as Supreme Commander in the European theater during World War II, his presidency was a period of stability and peace due to his measured leadership at the beginning of the Cold War era. Eisenhower was uniquely qualified to oppose the extremists within his own party. He was able to withstand and ultimately squelch the McCarthyian Communist witch hunts due to his own stature as a trusted leader. His role in integrating the Armed Forces and using the military to enforce the Supreme Courts ruling to desegregate schools is an important, though often overlooked legacy that paved the way for the Civil Rights movement. 

Who is Jesus? A Meditation from the Third Theological Oration “On the Son” by Gregory of Nazianuzus (c. 329-395)

XIX. …He Who is now Man was once the Uncompounded. What He was He continued to be; what He was not He took to Himself. In the beginning He was, uncaused; for what is the Cause of God? But afterwards for a cause He was born. And that cause was that you might be saved, who insult Him and despise His Godhead, because of this, that He took upon Him your denser nature, having converse with Flesh by means of Mind. While His inferior Nature, the Humanity, became God, because it was united to God, and became One Person because the Higher Nature prevailed in order that I too might be made God so far as He is made Man. He was born — but He had been begotten: He was born of a woman— but she was a Virgin. The first is human, the second Divine. In His Human nature He had no Father, but also in His Divine Nature no Mother. Both these belong to Godhead. He dwelt in the womb — but He was recognized by the Prophet, himself still in the womb, leaping before the Word, for Whose sake He came into being. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes  — but He took off the swathing bands of the grave by His rising again. He was laid in a manger— but He was glorified by Angels, and proclaimed by a star, and worshipped by the Magi. Why are you offended by that which is presented to your sight, because you will not look at that which is presented to your mind? He was driven into exile into Egypt— but He drove away the Egyptian idols. He had no form nor comeliness in the eyes of the Jews — but to David He is fairer than the children of men. And on the Mountain He was bright as the lightning, and became more luminous than the sun, initiating us into the mystery of the future.

XX. He was baptized as Man — but He remitted sins as God — not because He needed purificatory rites Himself, but that He might sanctify the element of water. He was tempted as Man, but He conquered as God; yea, He bids us be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world. He hungered — but He fed thousands; yea, He is the Bread that gives life, and That is of heaven. He thirsted — but He cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. Yea, He promised that fountains should flow from them that believe. He was wearied, but He is the Rest of them that are weary and heavy laden. He was heavy with sleep, but He walked lightly over the sea. He rebuked the winds, He made Peter light as he began to sink. He pays tribute, but it is out of a fish; yea, He is the King of those who demanded it. He is called a Samaritan and a demoniac; — but He saves him that came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves; the demons acknowledge Him, and He drives out demons and sinks in the sea legions of foul spirits, and sees the Prince of the demons falling like lightning. He is stoned, but is not taken. He prays, but He hears prayer. He weeps, but He causes tears to cease. He asks where Lazarus was laid, for He was Man; but He raises Lazarus, for He was God. He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood. As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a Lamb He is silent, yet He is the Word, and is proclaimed by the Voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but He heals every disease and every infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the Tree, but by the Tree of Life He restores us; yea, He saves even the Robber crucified with Him; yea, He wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is Sweetness and altogether desire. He lays down His life, but He has power to take it again;  and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but He gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again; He goes down into Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead….

A Sad Chapter in the History of Evangelicalism in America

In a recent post on Facebook and Twitter I mentioned that this chapter in the history of evangelicalism in American will not be pretty. Here’s a preview of how that chapter will likely be written in years to come:
  • In January of 2016, Jerry Falwell, Jr. endorses Trump and promises to deliver Evangelicals for him in January in exchange for Trump’s lawyer helping cover up the issue with the “pool boy.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-politics-falwell-exclusive/exclusive-trump-fixer-cohen-says-he-helped-falwell-handle-racy-photos-idUSKCN1SD2JG
  • More details of this ^ have come out today in this story (which I am frankly ashamed even to share the link to). https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-falwell-relationship/
  • In June of 2016, Falwell introduces Trump to a group of 1,000 Evangelical/Conservative leaders. Read the story about the event now (especially Falwell’s comments) in light of what we have learned about the basis of this endorsement. https://time.com/4375975/donald-trump-evangelical-conservative-leaders-meeting/
  • Trump, of course, goes on to win the nomination and eventually the presidency buoyed by the Evangelical vote.
  • Trump continues to receive cover from same Evangelical leaders amidst all manner of corruption and failures in leadership (while occasionally throwing bones to Evangelicals for their continued support).
  • Trump is endorsed and supported by Evangelical leaders for a second term with some leaders saying things like you aren’t a true Christian if you don’t vote for Trump or all true Christians will vote for Trump.
  • Pastors who don’t wholeheartedly endorse Trump or allow for the Christian conscience to be shaped differently in the upcoming election are accused of being Marxists, socialists, liberals, lack courage (BTW, you’re crazy if you don’t think this takes courage to say. BTW2, this is what many African-American Christians have dealt with for decades and it is pathetic that they have been treated as sub-par Christians by the wider white evangelical world because many of them vote differently for what should be completely understandable reasons.).
This isn’t about politics for me. I am non-partisan and a registered Independent. I love and minister to both Republicans and Democrats and have dear friends in each group. But I am devastated for the witness of Christ’s church. The watching world sees and understands all of the above while many in the church remain blind to it. I am not trying to provide cover for Biden or the Democratic party. There are major problems with them also from a Christian perspective. But contrary to popular opinion, most Christians are not being tempted to endorse Biden as the only Christian choice. That is being said about Trump. My job as a Christian pastor is to courageously tell the church what they need to hear. The Prophet Isaiah was told by God to “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1). Peter said, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God:” (1 Peter 4:17). God have mercy on us for being so easily played!
I truly respect those who are moved by their consciences informed by Scripture to vote for the Republican nominee because they genuinely believe his policies are best for America, especially those who sincerely have the goal of protecting the lives of the unborn. But I also respect those who see the immense moral problems with this President and choose to vote a different way. And I respect those who don’t believe the presidency has much impact on the issue of abortion anyway, but has tremendous impact in other areas that impact people’s lives everyday and they are compelled by their Christian conviction to vote differently.
Please don’t tell me that you can read the above history and not at least admit that this upcoming presidential election is complicated for Christians. (Factor in the way that race has been used in politics and it becomes exponentially more complicated. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is certainly not blessed in this case.)
Please don’t tell me (or others) that I’m not a faithful pastor for not telling people they must vote for a particular candidate in this election. I believe that I am actually being a faithful pastor by preaching God’s Word verse-by-verse and helping people to think from a biblical worldview, not by legalistically binding their conscience.
Please don’t tell me (or others) that all true Christians will vote for a particular candidate.
Please don’t tell me (or others) that courage is only standing for what your crowd wants you to say. Trust me, “my crowd,” doesn’t want to hear this. It takes courage everytime I post about politics in a non-partisan way and certainly whenever I post about race. Everytime there is backlash, which is deeply disturbing because of what it reveals about the idols of the hearts of some. I am deeply grieved, sad, disappointed, angry, and, honestly, sick to my stomach over this.
Wake up, “sheeple” (I hate using that term pejoratively because it is a beautiful description of God’s people, but since others use it and it actually applies in this situation in the way that it is now used in the vernacular, I will use it this one time.)! You’re being played. Don’t blindly follow any political party and don’t blindly demonize any political party. Don’t allow your conscience to be shaped more by CNN, FOXNEWS, MSNBC, OAN, or talk radio than by Scripture.
Vote according to your consciences guided by Scripture, but don’t think that there is one Christian candidate or one Christian way to vote.
There are two major political parties in this nation, each with deep problems from a Christian worldview. There are certain areas where both parties reflect Christian values and certain areas where they don’t. There are good people (still!) in both parties that are working for change within and without. Think as a Christian and make the best choice you can according to your conscience.
In the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.” Kyrie eleison.

Charles Spurgeon on “Duty-Faith”

2020-04-22 09.22.38On May 8th, 1864, Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon from Titus 1:2 provocatively titled “What God Cannot Do!” The text refers to God who “cannot lie.” After denouncing the pervasiveness of lying among humans (including an interesting reference to the deceitfulness of King James “whose name dishonours our English Bible”), Spurgeon expounds upon the text’s teaching of the impossibility of God lying. The “first practical conclusion” drawn from the text in the final point of application touches upon the issue of whether it is a duty for sinners to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Spurgeon finds help against the hyper-Calvinistic teaching that since sinners lack the ability to believe the gospel, they are not therefore responsible. Spurgeon infers that the Scripture’s teaching that God cannot lie requires one to hold to “duty-faith.”

Brethren, if it be so that God cannot lie, then it must be the natural duty of all his creatures to believe him. I cannot resist that conclusion. It seems to me to be as clear as noonday, that it is every man’s duty to believe truth, and that if God must speak and act truth, and truth only, it is the duty of all intelligent creatures to believe him. Here is “Duty-faith” again, which some are railing at, but how they can get away from it, and yet believe that God cannot lie, I cannot understand. If it be not my duty to believe in God, then it is no sin for me to call God a liar. Will anyone subscribe to that—that God is a liar? I think not; and if to think God to be a liar would be a most atrocious piece of blasphemy, then it can only be so on the ground that it is the natural and incumbent duty of every creature understanding the truthfulness of God to believe in God. If God has set forth the Lord Jesus Christ as the propitiation for sin, and has told me to trust Christ, it is my duty to trust Christ, because God cannot lie; and though my sinful heart will never believe in Christ as a matter of duty but only through the work of the Holy Spirit, yet faith does not cease to be a duty; and whenever I am unbelieving and have doubts concerning God, however moral my outward life may be, I am living in daily sin; I am perpetrating a sin against the first principles of morality. If I doubt God, as far as I am able I rob him of his honour, and stab him in the vital point of his glory; I am, in fact, living an open traitor and a sworn rebel against God, upon whom I heap the daily insult of daring to doubt him. O my hearers, there are some of you who do not believe in Christ; I wish you would look at your character and position in this light. You are not trusting in Christ for your salvation. Remember, “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar;” those are John’s own inspired words, and you are, every day that you are not a believer in Christ, virtually writing upon your doorpost, and saying with your mouth, “God is a liar; Christ is not able to save me; I will not trust him ; I do not believe God’s promise; I do not think he is sincere in his invitation to me to come to Christ; I do not believe what God says.” Remember that you are living in such a state as this, and may God the Holy Ghost impress you with a sense of the sin of that state, and feeling this your sin and misery, I pray God to lead you to cry, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” This, then, is our first practical conclusion from the fact that God cannot lie.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “What God Cannot Do!” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 10 (1864), 261-262.

The entire sermon is available online from The Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Seminary.

Prayer to Open Kentucky House of Representatives This Morning (Text)

2020-03-04 00.00.58

Our Sovereign God,

We pray to you recognizing that you are in control over all things. There is not one maverick molecule in the universe. All planets, stars, comets, molecules, microbes, and viruses are under your sovereign control. You work all things after the counsel of your will. None can stay your hand or say what doest thou.

We acknowledge that not only you sovereign, but you are a loving father over creation, and especially to those who know You. Not one bird can fall from the sky or one hair from our heads without you knowing and caring. You knit us together in our mother’s wombs. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. You know our bodies better than we know our bodies. You know disease better than doctors know disease and, ultimately, we rest in your loving, sovereign care of us.

We also thank you that you have given us as human beings the ability to understand disease and infection and how it spreads. Thank you for the medical community that is working so hard to prepare us for, respond to, and treat this current health challenge. Thank you also for civil government which was established by you to protect its citizens. Thank you for our governor and his team and those advising them from the medical community. I pray for strength and health for all those making decisions and recommendations that impact the public safety of so many.

Thank you also for members of the House and Senate who are serving their constituents by keeping themselves and others informed and find themselves in the difficult position of giving advice to those in their districts. We pray for health and strength for these legislators, their family, and the staff that supports them.

Please be with this body today as they conduct the business of this Commonwealth. Give them peace as many of them are separated from their families and homes in this time of uncertainty. Give them all your peace that surpasses human understanding.

Most of all we thank you for your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into this world of sickness and sin as an expression of your sovereign plan and fatherly love of this world. Thank you that by His sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, He conquered the grave, defeated death, took away death’s sting and, in the words of the author of Hebrews, delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery! May all who hear these words and all across our Commonwealth and around the world, find peace and comfort in the grace and mercy through faith in the Lord Jesus.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!