Is the gospel sufficient to deal with systemic racism?

Is the gospel sufficient to deal with systemic racism? Yes, but only if we understand and proclaim it in all its implications.

The gospel is the story of God’s work in the world through Jesus: His life, death, resurrection, and future return. The gospel has many implications, but we tend to just focus on one: Personal salvation.

Personal salvation: Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are what make it possible for us to be forgiven and saved. This is a core implication of the gospel, but it is not the only one. When we reduce the gospel to personal salvation – as important as that is – we diminish its power. [1]

The person with this limited view of the gospel has very few resources to deal with racism or practically any other sin. The best he could do is say that at least we can hope for a better existence when we die.

Personal sanctification: Having been cleansed of our guilt, the believer is given a new heart. She is transformed in her inner being and experiences continuing sanctification through the Holy Spirit over time that causes her to be more like Jesus.

The Christian who understands this takes an essential next step, both in her Christian walk and in her ability to confront sin in its various forms. She can now begin the process of self-examination, confession, and personal responsibility. She can identify issues within her own heart and disciple others to see the same.

The creation of the people of God: The gospel has an important communal application. It reconciles Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free, into the unified body of Christ. This teaches us to see our brotherhood in Christ as the essential characteristic which bonds us together. All other identities of nation, language, race, and partisanship become secondary at best.

This understanding of the gospel allows for the formation of reconciled communities that bear witness to the peace-making Kingdom of God. In such communities, we begin to learn from and love one another. As one part hurts, so the whole body hurts. We can then begin to see the world from a different perspective. This new perspective is an essential next step in dealing with systemic racism.

The cosmic renewal of all things: The gospel has personal, communal, and cosmic implications. Jesus is coming again, and when he does, he will bring about perfect justice and righteousness on the earth. This is the hope for all believers and, indeed, for all of Creation.

This view could lead us to inaction. If Jesus is going to sweep away the old, why should we do anything? Why not just hunker down and wait for his return? We find the answer in the second implication of the gospel – personal sanctification. As we become more like Christ, our values are brought in alignment with his values, or loves with his loves.

We see that he loves justice, so we love justice. And when we love justice, we pursue it, in hope that while we will never accomplish it on this earth, our love for our neighbors drives us to approximate it within our sphere of influence. The fact that true justice will come spurs us on, knowing that our work is not in vain.

Here we see the gospel in all its glorious implications. This gospel is what drove people like William Wilberforce. He understood the personal and societal implications of the gospel and worked for justice. He knew the transforming nature of the gospel was our only hope, but he saw that transforming work as extending beyond (and springing forth from) personal salvation or sanctification, into the community of the church and beyond.

Two errors: This full vision of the gospel saves us from two errors. The first is to view the gospel only in its individualistic implications. This leaves us few resources to sufficiently love our neighbors.

The second is to conclude that the gospel is really not enough and that if we want to deal with systemic racism we must, then, seek some other solution. Many people are seeking to solve racial issues in this country, but some are not doing it from a perspective antithetical to Christianity. Beware of these false narratives. At best they deal with the symptom of the evil in the world, without properly reckoning with its cause.

For people who long for racial justice, we owe it to the world to present them with a distinctly Christian solution. That means we must have one.

The gospel is sufficient to deal with the problems of the world, but only when we see it in all its glorious implications.

[1] Beth Moore described this “reduction” of the gospel message in a more colorful way on Twitter: “

The current state of American Evangelicalism is what we get when the gospel is reduced to an entrance exam instead of a whole way of living, serving, loving & self-giving. The point of discipleship & Bible study is to grow in relationship with Christ and in resemblance to Christ. American Evangelicalism needs to file a missing person’s report. We have lost Jesus.

Mourn sin and Identify sin. Two reflections on George Floyd’s death

In the second half of our church’s “family conversation” mentioned in the last post, I talked about the killing of George Floyd and the events that surround that event. I certainly can’t speak authoritatively or exhaustively on the topic, but I wanted to share two passages that have helped me process and come up with a response. Again, here is a portion of the discussion, which is applicable to a broader audience:

The first one I think of is Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

I have been reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s sermons on the Sermon on the Mount and I love what he says about this verse. To paraphrase, he says that this is a mourning over sin. First, we mourn over our sinful and hopeless condition. Second, we mourn over what that sinful condition leads to, our sinful and rebellious actions. Third, we mourn over the sin in the world and the effects of that sin in the world. Mourning and lamenting are a good first step for us.

A member of our church shared a video of her son-in-law and he modeled this so well. We need to allow ourselves to see and feel the brokenness and injustice in the world and then mourn over it. His heart is so evident in that video. It was very moving. It was moving because it was personal, because he entered into the heart of his brothers and sisters. I was convicted by that video.

Let me talk to you white people – and that’s the majority of our church – you and I have a privilege, a luxury that many African Americans do not have. We can ignore this issue if we want to. We can check out whenever we want. I just want to invite you to do something different, to mourn. Even if you don’t know exactly what you are mourning, enter into the mourning of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The second passage I think of is the entire book of Jeremiah.

I was preaching through the book recently and I made the observation that Jeremiah both points out the universality of our sinful condition and calls out the sin of specific individuals – the powerful civil and religious leaders. We need to go beyond saying “All have sinned”, which is true, and be willing to deal with sin, not just in the abstract, but in the concrete.

I have to do that in my own personal life. When I confess my sin I should not just say “Lord, I sinned, please forgive me.” I need to say “Lord, I feared man instead of fearing you” and “Lord, I was impatient with my children” and “Lord, I was callous toward my brother.” Naming our sin is an important part of confession.

The same principle applies to these events. It is good to say “All have sinned” but it is better to say “Here is a specific sin. Here is a specific rebellion. Here is the way in which specific people are being unjustly treated by other people. Here is my part in that whole mess.”

That means we can and should use words like “systemic racism.” It means acknowledging the historical reality and present experience of our African American brothers and sisters. We can say “racial hatred and violence work in more than one direction” and that would be true, but we should not fail to acknowledge that in our setting and in our nation and communities these exist in asymmetric and unequal ways.

If we fail to do that, we will also fail to adequately deal with the specific injustice. It is true that we will never defeat racism this side of heaven. But we can work towards its end. We can and should work towards a more just future in the hope that Jesus will make all things right, and in the power that he gives us.

Where do we go from here? I don’t really know. The problems seem so large, so much bigger than us, and they are. So for now mourn the fallenness and injustice of our world. Name and confront the sin, and be specific. Then go to God in prayer. Ask him to guide our steps. Trust in the gospel to do its slow and reconciling work in you, and in our world.

Six values that inform the decision on how/when to resume in-person services

In a “family conversation” with my church I shared six values that are driving our decisions on how/when to reopen in-person portions of our ministry. Much of the conversation was unique to our church, but I think the six values themselves are applicable to a wider audience.

These values sometimes live in tension with the others, leading church leaders to think creatively and make difficult decisions. These values are not unique to us our to our church. Pastors, staff, and elder boards all over the country are wrestling through them and their implications.

Value #1: God intended for his people to regularly gather.

While I’m grateful that we have Zoom and Facebook Live, and believe that God is using those tools right now for the spread of the gospel, the current model of virtual services is not ideal and is not, in the long run, sustainable.

I believe that the New Testament expects that his people will regularly gather around the Word and sacrament, participating in fellowship and worship.

However, the New Testament is not always clear about the nature of those meetings such as their size and location. Acts 2:46 tells us that the church met in the Temple courts and in people’s homes. Church buildings are great, but maybe not the only way to “do church” right now.

Value #2: The health of our church members.

As I observe Jesus’ ministry in the gospels, it is clear that he cared about both the spiritual and physical well-being of those who followed him. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He fed the hungry.

While the first value draws me to think on the spiritual importance of gathering, this second leads me to articles and health guidelines which draw out the risks of gathering.

Caring for the health of those who attend our events is one of my duties as a pastor. To disregard it would be pastoral malpractice.

Value #3: The health of those in our community.

Jeremiah 29:7 tells us to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city.” In a pandemic, gathering in the wrong way or at the wrong time does not only affect those who gather, but those to whom they might spread it. We cannot simply say “I do not care about whether I live or die” since we do not live in an individualistic bubble.

We are part of a broader society and have a responsibility to our neighbors. Every decision we make impacts our neighbors whom we are called to serve and love.

 Value #4: The witness of the gospel.

What does it say to our culture to re-open before it is safe or to re-open in an unsafe manner? For many, the answer will be, and has been: “They do not care about life. They care about continuing to receive money.” Or, perhaps, “They want to make a political statement against their political opponents.”

These accusations may not be true and may not be fair, and we cannot be controlled simply by how others perceive our actions (that would be the fear of man) but, for the sake of the gospel witness, it matters how we present ourselves to our neighbors.

More importantly, we need to search our own souls and ask whether what we are doing fits with the gospel we proclaim and adorns that gospel with love and truth.

Value #5: Honoring our governing authorities.

Our church’s relationship with the governing authorities are complex and those authorities do not have an ultimate authority over the church. However, the Bible emphasizes that we should honor those authorities. If they are not calling us to disobey God, obedience to authorities is the default position.

In Michigan, churches are exempt from the stay-at-home order and so, to meet in any form for worship, would be technically legal as far as I understand. However, I believe that proper honoring of the authorities involves observance not only to the letter, but the spirit of the law.

Even if we do not always agree with those authorities, we are at least called to show them the respect and honor that is their due.

Value #6: A respect for the medical and scientific community.

Underlying the values of #2, #3, and #5 is a value for medical experts who are issuing guidance on when and how to safely meet.

In many sectors of evangelicalism respect for these experts is being undermined in what I believe to be a dangerous and unbiblical way. I say unbiblical because it ignores the doctrines of common grace and general revelation. General revelation tells us that God speaks through his creation and that truth can be discovered through a process of observing the creation around us. Common grace tells us that God sends rain on the just and unjust alike. That is, he gives even to unbelievers the ability uncover that truth.

The history of medicine, its incredible advances over time, have shown us the truths of these doctrines. Therefore, we will continue to listen to and read the advice of the broader medical community. This doesn’t mean they are always right, but it does mean that they are the most reliable source of this type of information right now.

These values, along with a desire to properly disciple the church, leads to a tension and that tension requires creative thinking. These values lead me to ask not just “if and when” we can open, but “how” we can do it in a safe, God-honoring, government respecting, neighbor-loving way.

What Does the Structure of Mark 6:31-8:30 Teach Us About Spiritual Growth?

Talk about a click-bait title!

The Bible teaches, not only in its content, but also in its design and structure.

Check it out. The structure of Mark 6:31-7:37 is as follows:

  • Jesus feeds the five thousand (6:31-44)
  • The disciples cross the sea and land (6:45-56)
    • The disciples show a lack of faith and understanding
  • Jesus conflicts with the Pharisees over the nature of defilement (7:21-23)
  • Jesus talks to a woman about bread (7:24-30)
  • Jesus heals a deaf and mute man (7:31-36)
  • The crowd makes a confession of faith (7:37)

Mark 8:1-30 follows this sequence:

  • Jesus feeds the four thousand (8:1-9)
  • The disciples cross the sea and land (8:10)
  • Jesus conflicts with the Pharisees over the need for a sign (8:11-13)
  • Jesus talks to the disciples about bread (8:14-21)
    • The disciples show their lack of faith and understanding
  • Jesus heals blind man (8:13-21)
  • Peter makes a confession of faith (8:27-30)

Some of the parallels are clear, like feeding of the crowds and healings – in both cases Jesus uses spit in the healing process (7:33, 8:23). Other parallels are less obvious. But I am convinced that the overall structure holds. This begs the question: Why did Mark structure his book like this or, the related question, why did Jesus repeat similar miracles like feeding the crowd?

There may be many reasons for this, but I think the most obvious is this, our first lesson about spiritual growth: Jesus knows we need to learn and re-learn the same lesson. We need repetition before we “get it”. Take a look at the disciples. In both sequences, though at slightly different times, the disciples lack of faith and understanding is pointed out:

Mark 6:50-52

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Mark 8:14-19

14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

The disciples don’t get it, which is kind of surprising given that they have had the inside track since he called them. They left everything to follow him. Jesus explained the parables to them when their meaning was hidden from the crowds. They saw the miracles of the loaves and the fishes. And yet, they are still described as lacking in spiritual insight. They have ears but don’t hear and eyes that don’t see. At this point, they are much more like the hard soil than the good soil, except for the grace of God.

And this teaches us the second lesson about spiritual growth: Most of us don’t totally “get it” all at once. We need repeated encounters with Jesus.

When I think back over my life I can think of a handful of pivotal moments of spiritual growth but, in all honesty, even those “big ones” only produced a small amount of the spiritual fruit that I’ve seen in my life. Most of my growth (if I can point to any) has come from “routine” encounters with Jesus and his people: Reading scripture, study, attending church, prayer, confession, and working through daily toils.

Will a single sermon change your life? Maybe not, but a lifetime of them will.

Will you have an epiphany the next time you open Scripture? Possibly, but it is more likely that your daily routine of reading the Bible will slowly but steadily enlighten your mind and align your values.

Will that camp experience bring about lasting transformation? Yes, but only if it is followed up through discipleship in a community of faith.

The disciples had their ups and downs and so will we. Jesus was patient with them, and I am incredibly comforted by that fact. The best news is that the disciples ended well. God faithfully completed the work he started in them – by teaching and re-teaching them through his power and presence.

A Call to Prayer

Today, May 7th, is America’s National Day of Prayer. While every day, for the believer, is a “day of prayer”, we can set aside today to specifically bring our nation before God in prayer. Please consider the following prayer requests:

Confess and repent of sin.

Begin with a posture of humility.

The Bible records instances of both personal and corporate confession of sin and we need both. Begin by repenting of your own sin, as the Holy Spirit convicts you.

Then move on to the nation and the America church. At the national level, confess our injustice (failing to treat others as persons made in God’s image) and idolatry (putting other things ahead of allegiance to God). At the corporate church level, ask God’s forgiveness for our moral compromise and failure to be faithful witnesses to the gospel.

Pray for your civic leaders.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Ask God to give our leaders – national, state, and local – wisdom in how they carry out their civic duties. Ask God to guide them in administering justice in their various spheres of influence.

Pray specifically for our moment of crisis.

Pray that God will spare us of both a public health and an economic/social disaster. Pray for those impacted the most. Pray for vulnerable (physically, emotionally, socially, economically) people. Pray that God we will grant wisdom in when and how to re-open aspects of normal life.

Pray for the witness of the American church.

Pray that God will give the church a spirit of reconciliation in a world of divisiveness. Pray that the church will model love of God and neighbor. Pray that we will have “peace the surpasses understanding” as we are freed from the fear of judgment and death. Pray that we will not be ashamed of the gospel but will proclaim it clearly and boldly. Pray that the light of our good deeds will shine brightly and adorn the gospel. Pray that, in all we do, we bring glory to God.

Pray for individuals near and far.

Pray for those within your direct circle of care and influence – family members, friends, co-workers, and members of our church.

Pray also for believers around the world, especially those being persecuted because of their faith.

Finally, pray as the Holy Spirit gives aid.

Is Bill Gates behind a plot to usher in the new world order of the Antichrist?

In the past week two people recommended to me a video by Pastor J.D. Farag, a self-appointed biblical prophet. In the video he makes the claim that Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci are the “global players” who created the coronavirus pandemic in order to reduce the global population and provide vaccines which simultaneously give people the Mark of the Beast described in the book of Revelation.

While Pastor Farag said some things with which I agree, I believe that his mixture of biblical truth, tenuous speculation, and misrepresentation of facts is a danger to a clear gospel witness.

Farag’s basic argument

The video is split into two sections. In the first 26 minutes Pastor Farag shares his theory for how Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci, and Dr. Deborah Birx fit into biblical prophecies concerning a global government, economy, and religion.

His argument, which focuses on Bill Gates, is based on several important points. First, Bill Gates is a nefarious actor who wants to reduce the global population through abortion and vaccines. Second, he and Dr. Fauci “predicted” that a pandemic would come, which implies that they planned it (a “plandemic”), and are thus behind it. Third, that Bill Gates plans to use this pandemic as a reason to use vaccines to implant miniature microchips into the global population which will be required for people to do business. Fourth, these chips constitute the “mark of the best” described in Revelation.

Checking his claims

My first observation from this video is that many of the points he makes involve a lot of inference and speculation. As I researched his claims, however, I learned that some of his claims are simply false or are gross misrepresentation of the facts.

I will not address every claim, but here are a few examples by way of illustration:

Is there a 666 patent for tracking people using implanted microchips?

Pastor Farag points to the patent W02020060606A1 (notice the 666) as evidence for a global tracking system. He claims (or strongly implies) that it involves implanting a microchip into the skin in the form of a micro-tattoo. The patent number does exist, and it does involve tracking bodily activity and cryptocurrency, but it is about wearable technology (like a smart watch). It makes no mention of a tattoo or implanted microchip (source).

Pastor Farag links this patent to Bill Gates and project called ID2020 to prove his point. Again, he misrepresents the facts. You can read more about it here: source.

Do Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci’s foresight of a pandemic show they planned it?

Pastor Farag also makes a big point about Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates warning of global pandemics or leading efforts to simulate pandemic responses. He muses, “I wonder how they knew?” They knew because we have plenty of historical precedent to know that pandemics of this nature are a danger to humans. It is pure speculation to imply conspiracy when simple wisdom and foresight are a much plausible explanations.

Does Bill Gates want to reduce the world population through vaccines and abortion?

To prove that Bill Gates is nefarious Farag points to a TED talk where Gates said “First, we’ve got population. The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s headed up to about nine billion. Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by, perhaps, 10 or 15 percent …”

This is a real quote, and on its surface may appear damning, especially if you believe that (1) reproductive health services equals abortion, (2) vaccines are also intended to reduce the population, and (3) Gates is talking about the population, not the population growth. Farag clearly believes (1) and implies (2) and (3).

Point 1: Abortion is tragic, and Bill Gates probably (I could not verify) imagines this as part of reproductive health. That’s terrible. But, in what I was able to discover, His biggest emphasis is on contraceptives and other forms of family planning. I do not mean to minimize the tragedy of abortion, but it does not appear to be Gates’ emphasis.

Point 2: Gates has the counterintuitive view that in places where there is high infant mortality, women have more babies because they know some of those babies will die. Ironically, then, high infant mortality leads to greater population growth. If infant mortality is decreased, through vaccines, then population growth will decrease. While the effectiveness of this plan is debated, he clearly believes that vaccines will save lives and are not harmful.

Point 3: It is clear from the context of the quote that Gates is talking about reducing population growth, not the overall population. He does believe the world is better served through reduced population growth. I do not share his view, but it is very different from saying that the population should be reduced. (source)

A mixture of biblical exposition and speculation

As Farag transitions from his “prophetic” speculation into more mainstream biblical commentary (again, most of which was very good) he takes up the mantle of Jeremiah. He is Jeremiah, the doom and gloom prophet, who is telling people what they can’t handle. His opponents, then, are those who love their lives too much and therefore reject the truth. In doing this, he sets up anyone who disagrees with his speculation (like me) as a “false teacher” who is saying “peace, peace where there is no peace.” As such, he is dangerously mixing biblical truth with his own personal speculations, and misrepresenting those who disagree with him.

A danger to a clear gospel witness

In the last ten minutes he gives a clear explanation of the gospel. For that, with Paul, I am glad that at least the gospel is going out. But before presenting the gospel he has put up a massive and unnecessary stumbling block. Skeptics will listen to the first 26 minutes, research, and see through much of what he is saying. If they see that the first half of his argument is discredited, what will they think of the second half?

With so much uncertainty about what is going on, and with such a desire to see Jesus return, as he has promised to do, it is not surprising to see theories like this. In fact, the history of the church is filled with such speculations and predictions whenever there is a crisis of any sort. However, I think it is better, instead, to stick with what we know. We do not need a detailed picture of the end to know that it is coming. We can still call people to faith and repentance, without this extra “prophecy.” And, I believe in doing so, we become more faithful witness to Jesus.

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Hand Washing and Defilement

We have a lot in common with the Pharisees these days. We are obsessed with hand washing.

In Mark 7, the Pharisees confront Jesus because they saw “some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed” (7:2). My wife would confront me about that, too. But, the concerns of the Pharisees were a different from those of my wife. The Pharisees were concerned less about a viral infection than they were about moral infection or, as they called it, defilement.

We have hand washing charts. The Pharisees had “the tradition of the elders.” Both involve rule and ritual to defend against an unseen contagion. Let us consider more closely the logic of the Pharisees: God had established the Israelites as the holy people of God – a people set apart from the nations. As such, everything they did should be holy. Since the priests had rituals for washing their hands and they were set apart, it followed that the people, also being set apart, should follow the practices of the priests. In doing so, they set apart even common meals as holy meals.

The opposite of holy and set apart is common, and a synonym for common is defiled. So, to fail to wash your hands in the right ritualistic way defiled your food. Add to that the idea of defilement as a contagion that spreads and eating defiled food with defiled hands defiles the person who eats it. Defilement, like a viral infection, comes from the outside, and we need to protect ourselves against it through rule and ritual. Such was the logic of the Pharisees.

The logic has a certain appeal to it, but it fails on two counts.

First, in practice, it was hypocritical.

We err when we think that the Pharisees were simply too strict in following God’s laws. We often use the word legalism to mean something like that. But, according to Jesus, their problem was not that they were too strict, but that they disregarded God’s law. He says they “let go” (7:8), “set aside” (7:9), and “nullified” (7:12) God’s commandments in favor of human traditions. Some of their “traditions of the elders” were not just unnecessary add-ons, but downright contradictory.

Jesus gives the example of the practice of Corban which prevented children from following the commandment to honor father and mother by preventing them from using property set aside as “Corban” (banned) for such a “common” use.

Their practices, then, were hypocritical because while they gave an appearance of piety, below the surface they exposed “hearts far from God” (7:6). Or, as Jesus says elsewhere, they were greatly concerned about tithing on the mint and cumin, but neglected for justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

Second, in principle, it misplaced the source of defilement.

The hand washing rule showed that the Pharisees were concerned about defilement from an external source – unclean food or unwashed hands. After revealing their hypocrisy, Jesus next shows that they have misunderstood the source of defilement: “Nothing outside a person can defile them” (7:15). Food just goes into the stomach, Jesus says, not the heart.

What goes in does not defile. What comes out does. Our thoughts and behaviors defile us – they make us unholy. And what comes out has an interior source: our hearts. Our hearts – the core of our being – lead to what we think and do. What we think and do defiles us.

The fact that moral defilement comes from inside is both good and bad news. The good news is that nothing outside of us can make us morally dirty – not the food we eat, not dirt on our hands, not a virus or disease, not evil that someone else has done to us. Many people live with a sense of shame because of the wicked actions of others. Jesus’s words here are a comfort.

Bonus: In saying this, “Jesus declared all foods clean” (7:19) so… bacon!

The bad news is that the only way for us to avoid defilement is for someone to transform our hearts. We need to be cleansed – not through healthy eating or hand washing – and utterly remade. Thanks be to God, that’s exactly what Jesus does for us.

Postscript: Food and hand washing still matter

The Bible does not denigrate the body. There is a moral component to how and what we eat. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and the agents of how we carry out much of our service and obedience to God.

We have a responsibility to care for our bodies. But that’s not to say that some foods are inherently “clean” or “unclean” (the language of having a dietary “cleanse” is oddly religious language), but that how we treat our bodies comes from the heart – a heart interested only in pleasing the flesh or a heart concerned with keeping in step with the Spirit.

A Really Long Saturday

Dear Church,

Today is Holy Saturday, the day of anxious waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The disciples waited in fear but, on this side of the resurrection, we wait with anticipation.

But this Saturday, things feel different. Instead of gathering together for a pancake breakfast, lively worship, and the warm company of friends and family, we will turn on your computers, watch a sermon, and maybe have a Zoom call. It will still be a celebration, but a muted one. This is a reason to grieve.

On this Saturday we find ourselves, again, in a period of anxious waiting, not only for 24 hour hours, but for who knows how long (at least through the end of April) when we can once again gather together as the body of Christ.

I’ve been thinking all week – and actually the week before that, too – about Romans 8:18-25. It contains within it the lens by which we can view this period of waiting, and not just this short period, but the whole of where we stand in history.

As I read over the text, I made four observations:

First, all of creation is groaning: For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For creation was subjected to frustration” and “We know that the whole of creation has been groaning.

Why is creation groaning? Why has it been subjected to frustration? Because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden. Their rebellion led to a curse upon the ground. The world, once perfectly suited to the well-being of mankind, was corrupted. While it retains much of what makes it hospitable, it is now also decidedly hostile.

We may ask, “why is the Coronavirus here?” And, while there might be more than one correct answer, at least one of the answers is this: We live in a created world that has been “subjected to frustration” because of the sin of humanity. This is part of what it means to live in a fallen and groaning world.

Second, we, too, groan: Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firsfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.

The “we” in this passage is those who have the Spirit, who believe in and have been saved by Jesus. Christians are not immune from the sorrow, suffering, and sickness of this world.

I saw an interview where a woman was attending a large church service that was still being held despite calls to avoid social contact. When asked if she was worried about contracting the virus or giving it to others she said, “No. I’m covered in the blood of Jesus.” I love the atonement as much as anyone, but that’s not how the atonement works. Christians do not get a special immunity from disease. We live in the same fallen world.

In fact, being a Christian will open you up to another sort of suffering; suffering for the sake of Christ. When Paul talks about his “present sufferings” in 8:18, he’s probably talking about the troubles and persecutions he has had to deal with on his missionary journeys.

Third, we have hope in the redemption of our bodies: We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.

We mourn and wait, but not as those who have no hope. We hope for the redemption of our bodies, an event described in 1 Corinthians 15, when our mortal bodies will be clothed with immortality, our corruptible flesh with that which is incorruptible. We hope for the resurrection when Christ returns. Our new bodies will not be subject to disease or decay.

How can we have this incredible hope? Because we have the firsfruits of the Spirit. That is, we have the immortal and incorruptible life of Jesus present with us through the Spirit already. Paul elsewhere describes Jesus as the firsfruits, the first among many who will be raised from the dead. Because we believe in the resurrection, and because we have the seal of the Spirit producing evidence of that resurrection life, we wait in hope.

Fourth, all creation, too, will be liberated: “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

The God who makes us new will make all things new. He will redeem, restore, and remake this fallen and decaying world. When he brings us who are his children into glory, he will set free his creation from the curse. The old will be swept away. If you think the present creation is beautiful – which it is – just imagine what is to come!

So, this Saturday, wait. Mourn if you must. That inward groaning that comes from seeing that things are not the way they are supposed to be, is both natural and appropriate. But wait in hope.

That sense of anxious waiting you feel right now is but a microcosm of where we have stood in history for over 2000 years. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit through the resurrection. Easter is not canceled because it has already occurred. But, we do not have the full experience of the adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For that, we continue to wait.

Do you long for the time when we can gather again for worship? Good. I certainly do. Now long – and wait expectantly – for the day when we will be gathered on the New Earth when Christ returns.

In hope,


Rejecting an image of Jesus

Read Mark 6:1-6. Jesus was rejected in his hometown, not because the people knew too little about it, but because they that they knew too much.

Or rather, they thought they knew who Jesus was, and their preconceived notions about him blinded them to his true identity.

They were familiar with him and with his family and they couldn’t get past that familiarity. Even though they heard of his miracles and were amazed at his wisdom, they just didn’t – couldn’t – believe that this carpenter was someone special.

I suspect the same dynamic in this post-Christian world is true today. Many of us are so familiar with Jesus – or rather, with a preconceived notion of Jesus – that we fail to recognize the real man. We have constructed an image of Jesus (a self-help guide, a political mascot), found that image wanting, and then rejected it. We tried the Jesus thing, and gotten past it.

Maybe that’s true for you. Have you rejected Jesus? Consider whether you have rejected Jesus, or an image of Jesus. Approach Jesus in the gospels themselves. Approach him in prayer.

Maybe it’s true for your friends. Consider that they have a false notion of Jesus but may experience that their notion of Jesus as over familiarization: “I already know all about Jesus, I don’t want to know any more.” Through God’s grace, point them to the real man.

Don’t let over familiarization with Jesus lead you away from him. In the narrative of Mark 6, this attitude led to offense, and, in Luke’s account, violent rejection. Instead approach him as a disciple, as a new wine skin ready for his new wine.

Jeremiah 22 and Abortion

When I was preaching in Jeremiah 19 last week, I read these verses:

19:3-5 ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.

A congregant talked to me after the sermon and said, “These verses make me think of abortion.” I agree.

If you believe that life within a mother’s womb is a precious person in God’s sight, made and formed in his image, then what is abortion but the shedding of innocent blood, a sacrifice of our own children, for which we bear a national guilt?

This week, I will be preaching on Jeremiah 22. Here God gives a specific call to the Kings and officials of Judah.

22:3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

God calls the Kings and officials to exercise justice. That justice involves protecting the most vulnerable from wrongdoing. And, while not every law of the Old Testament can be woodenly dropped onto today’s context, the principle still remains. God still holds those in authority to a standard of justice and that justice still involves protecting the innocent and vulnerable from violence and wrongdoing.

I have sometimes been challenged with the assertion that abortion is a moral issue, but not one that the government needs to be involved with. I disagree. Abortion gets at the heart of what a civil government is supposed to care about, justice for all. And, just like God holds leaders to this standard, we should, too.

Of course, this logic applies to more than just abortion. It applies anywhere people are vulnerable to injustice. May we be a people to exercise our influence and resources, whether or not we hold a position in the government, to rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed.