Please Be in Prayer Tomorrow…

Brothers and Sisters,

Tomorrow is a day for particular prayer with respect to the Supreme Court of the United States.  As you may know, tomorrow the court will hear a case from Mississippi known as Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  In oral arguments, the justices will specifically consider, “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional” (see the Supreme Court website).  As has been widely reported, this case has the potential to overturn the infamous and wicked decision reached by the court in Roe vs. Wade (a decision that made in utero murder a legal “right” across our country).  While, sadly, the overturn of Roe vs. Wade will not make abortion illegal everywhere, it will lead to its abolition (or effective abolition) in some states.  Depending on how it happens, an overturn could be a major statement of justice consistent with God’s character and commands.  For such a development we should hope and pray.

As Christians, we know that life is God’s good gift, even when it begins amidst tragic, evil circumstances.  We know life begins at conception and extends through death.  We know that human beings come into existence, created in God’s image, in their mother’s womb.  God forbid that we would extend our violence into such a space!  God be praised when that violence is restrained or otherwise barred!

Will you pray tomorrow for what takes place in the Supreme Court’s chambers?

…Pray that God will overrule and overturn the rebellious foolishness of our country.

…Pray that the nine justices – Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Thomas, Justice Breyer, Justice Alito, Justice Sotomayor, Justice Kagan, Justice Gorsuch, Justice Kavanaugh, and Justice Barrett – will listen with wisdom.

…Pray that God will give power and clarity to the words of the Mississippi Solicitor General, Scott Stewart (who will argue for the overturn of Roe vs. Wade).

…Pray that God will expose and render powerless the words of those arguing for the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (and thus in favor of Roe vs. Wade), Julie Rikelman (of the Center for Reproductive Rights) and Elizabeth Prelogar (the Solicitor General of the United States).

It may be that the Mississippi law in question is ultimately not the best model for dealing with the matter of abortion.  But, for tomorrow, that’s not our chief concern.  Our chief concern is that the law of this land not condone and enshrine the genocidal evil that is abortion.

I’ll end this email where perhaps all conversations of abortion should end, indeed, perhaps all conversations about sin of any sort.  God’s grace in Christ is sufficient to cover your every sin.  There is no sin and no sinner for whom Jesus’ death was not sufficient to cleanse you in the sight of God!  Has your life been touched in some way by murder in the womb?  If so, the good news of the Gospel beckons you to come to Christ in repentance for the forgiveness of that sin and any other.  I will not cast stones at you (I too have sinned), I will only exhort you, invite you, plead with you.  You need not be defined by your sin.  It need not be your identity.  A life of freedom and joy in the body of Christ awaits those no longer burdened by the blood of another human being (Proverbs 28:17).

Praying with you,

P.J.

A Mighty Fortress…Is Our God!

While I’ve neglected this blog for some months, I find the afternoon of Reformation Sunday a good time to stop and offer a few thoughts; thoughts that formed a greeting for my church family with this morning: 

Lucas Cranach the Elder, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Reformation was nothing less than a rediscovery – in Scripture itself – of the Gospel by the church, or a portion thereof.  Put differently, the Reformation was a rediscovery of confidence in the Gospel.  While as a whole the Reformation was a process that took place over time (and, arguably, is still taking place), it began with special intensity on October 31, 1517.  On that day, reportedly, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed what came to be known as the 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Not quite four years later (and 500 years ago last April), Luther appeared in front of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, at the Diet of Worms, and there confirmed his determination to stand on, and for, the truth of God’s Word at all costs (Luke 21:12 comes to mind).  

It’s interesting that in our day most associate October 31st with Halloween.  Popular imagination increasingly links this day to what Paul calls the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  Martin Luther wrote a hymn titled, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”  The third verse of that hymn reads:

And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.  The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure: One little word shall fell him. – (Hymns for the Family of God, #118)

How can we sing those words with real confidence?  Only if we believe the Gospel that Luther and others with him preached, a Gospel summarized in what we now know as the five “solas” (or “only” statements) of the Reformation: We are saved by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (sola Christus), for the glory of God alone (sola Deo gloria), according to Scripture alone (sola Scriptura).  It is this Gospel that we rejoice in today because, as the Holy Spirit through Paul tells us, this Gospel is “…the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, ESV). 

Happy Reformation Day! 

A Prayer for FBC: “Lord, Shake Us!”

Being Californians, the people of Felton Bible Church know something about earthquakes.  They (we) know that most earthquakes subside (and blessedly so!).  The ground shakes, and quivers, and rolls for a time, before returning to its “normal” state.  That’s true of most earthquakes…but not all.  One quake began approximately 2,000 years ago, and it’s only been gathering strength since the shaking started.  In the day that Jesus died, Matthew 27 tells us the earth shook and the rocks were split (Matthew 27:51b).  Of course, these were only two of the powerful signs that accompanied Jesus’ crucifixion, soon to be followed by his powerful resurrection.  The earthquake that happened that spring day somewhere around A.D. 30 is still going strong…and stronger…and even stronger.  It began in the literal earth and it transferred into the hearts of men and women the world over.  The earthquake that happened when Jesus died proved a mere warning tremor for the globe-shaking wave that birthed Jesus’ church; a wave that continues to the moment in which I’m writing.  We sometimes think of the church with a “ho-hum” perspective born of routine daily life.  I assure you, God does not.  The world is shaking at the hand of Christ as he works through his people!  

Here then is a prayer for the people who gather in Jesus’ name as Felton Bible Church:

“Oh God who shakes the earth out of its place so that its pillars tremble, let the shaking that began at Jesus’ death overtake us!  Shake us oh God.  Grant that a ripple wave of divine seismic activity would find its way to the San Lorenzo Valley and ignite our hearts with the holy fear of joy in Jesus.  Your voice shakes the wilderness, and we, Lord, are living in the wilderness.  So, let it shake us!  We need to be shaken oh Yahweh from our complacency, from our weariness, from our angst, from our habits of sin, from our inattentiveness, from our comfortable and yet unfruitful patterns of thinking and living.  Permit that the cross would grow so enormous in our minds that it pushes out all lesser contemplations.  Let the earth quake beneath our feet and bring with it the smell of Jerusalem – a waft of the old, and an overpowering scent of the new.  Your angels cry out like an earthquake; let us hear their voice!  You freed your servants Paul and Silas in a great earthquake.  Free us!  Our voice, our hearts, our expectations, and our prayers are turned to you.  Will you now shake this place?  Let the Spirit so move among us that the aftershocks reverberate for years to come.  Oh Sovereign Lord of all Creation, shake us, the people of Felton Bible Church.  It’s in Jesus’ name we pray…Amen.”  

(Job 9:6, Psalm 29:8, Ezekiel 3:12-13, Acts 9:26)

The Stunning Stupidity of Satan

I’m amazed by the stupidity of Satan in dealing with the Son of God.  I make that statement advisedly and circumspectly, mindful of Jude 9-10.  And yet, it is true, Satan was profoundly dumb when he came “face-to-face” (as it were) with Jesus Christ.  Here’s what I mean: 

Maybe you recall the incident in which Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness of Judea, just before Jesus began his public ministry.  Both Matthew (Matthew 4:1-11) and Luke (Luke 4:1-13) describe the event in some detail, though with a slightly different order between the two gospels.  What fascinates me most at the moment is the second effort of Satan as recorded in Matthew, the third as recorded in Luke.  In this case, Satan took Jesus to a high place on the temple in Jerusalem and quoted Scripture, saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Luke 4:9b-11, ESV).  Satan couldn’t have said a stupider thing to living Son of God.  Why?  Because he chose to quote for Jesus from Psalm 91!

The words that Satan quoted for Jesus come from Psalm 91, specifically verses 11-12: “For he [meaning Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel] will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”  Satan, apparently, forgot what Jesus did not.  He forgot that Psalm 91 continues with verses 13-16, and especially verse 13! Jesus, steeped in the Scriptures…Jesus, the Word incarnate…did not forget the rest of the Psalm.  Here then is Psalm 91:13-16, with verse 13 highlighted in bold: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.  Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.  When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.  With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (ESV).  

Now, it must have been that when Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 to him, Jesus’ mind continued through the rest of the song.  It must have been that verse 13 rang in Jesus’ thoughts with a special clarity, calling to mind other truths…like, for instance, the first promise of a Messiah as spoken by Yahweh to the serpent (Satan himself) in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  It must have been that when Satan quoted Psalm 91, and Jesus thought of verse 13, he contemplated truth that would later reflect in Peter’s words from 1 Peter 5:8-9a: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him firm in your faith…”  Do you see what happened?  In quoting Psalm 91:11-12 to Jesus, Satan spurred Jesus’ mind toward verse 13 (and following), which then reminded Jesus of his role as the snake crushing Messiah, and also helped him to see Satan for what he was (and is): a lion’ish devouring adversary of God who cannot stand before the faith of God’s people!  Satan made a blundering tactical error on the day he tempted Jesus, and in the end it cost him the battlefield (not that he ever stood a chance of winning in the first place).  I love it! 

We should note here…and it’s important to note…that Satan’s tactical error didn’t happen by chance.  Jesus forced him into this stupid move.  How? By simply applying God’s Word to the temptation of the moment.  When Satan met Jesus with temptation, Jesus met Satan with God’s Word.  I can imagine that Satan, in exasperation, finally thought, “Okay then, if you’re going to use Scripture against me, then I’ll use Scripture against you!”  How well did that work out for the evil prince of demons doomed to Hell?  Jesus – God embodied, the GOD-man, divinity-in-humanity – used God’s Word against his adversary as a weapon of war (see Ephesians 6:10-18a, especially verse 17).  If that’s how Jesus did battle with Satan and Satan’s temptation, should we who follow him do any less?  

Brothers and sisters, perhaps Satan isn’t nearly so stupid in dealing with us as he was in dealing with the Son of God.  Perhaps he isn’t so prone to tactical error when coming against our sinful flesh as he was when tempting the sinless Messiah.  But you know, as Christians, we’re not supposed to think of ourselves except as people in union with Christ.  By God’s grace we are united with Jesus in a “one-flesh” union as it were (see Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:25-27), through faith in him as Lord and Savior.  So, in the truest sense, when Satan comes against us, he again comes against the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have available to us the same sword of the Spirit that Jesus picked up for battle. We can rest assured that when we wield it against the adversary, Satan will make the same stupid errors he did in the past; the same tactical, battle-losing errors as before.  It may not happen immediately, but the moment will come when Satan overplays his hand.  When he does, we’ll be left in possession of the field, victorious in the day of struggle, all to the glory of Christ! 

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed, His truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” – Martin Luther

SLV High & An LGBTQ+ Flag – Episode 3 (“Radio Silence”)

Readers of this blog will know about the issue that arose in May when my daughter’s school – San Lorenzo Valley High School (Felton, CA) – and all the public schools in Santa Cruz County chose to fly the LGBTQ+ pride flag.  This move was egregiously inappropriate, and thus necessitated a response.  You can read about the unfolding response in my two posts from May 18th and 19th.  Since then, more has taken place.  Let me review events thus far, and bring you up-to-speed on some of the recent developments:

Step 1 (May) – Email and letter to the SLVHS principal and the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District (SLVUSD) Superintendent (who has since begun what is, I trust, a well-earned retirement from her career in education).

Step 2 (May) – A second email to the SLVUSD Superintendent, based on her response to my first communication.

Step 3 (May) – An email to Dr. Faris Sabbah, the Superintendent of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, and our five county supervisors – Mr. Zach Friend; Mr. Ryan Coonerty; Mr. Greg Caput; Mr. Bruce McPherson; Mr. Manu Koenig.  In this email I described my concern and also attached both my initial letter to the SLVHS Principal/SLVUSD Superintendent, and the letter sent by my daughter.  The only response I received back came from Dr. Sabbah.  You can read his letter to me here.

Step 4 (June) – On June 6th, I sent a letter (via email attachment) to the five members of the SLVUSD Board of Trustees, preparatory to participating in the public comment portion of their June 9th meeting.  You can read a copy of that letter here.

Step 5 (June) – On June 9th, I spoke virtually during the public comment portion of the SLVUSD Board of Trustees meeting.  For approximately two minutes I outlined the objection to the inappropriate display of the LGBTQ+ pride flag over public school campuses.

Step 6 (June) – Approximately two weeks ago, I called the S.C. County Supervisors’ office inquiring as to why none of the supervisors responded to my May communication.  The administrative person who answered politely listened, expressed concern, took my phone number, and indicated (as I understood her) that I should hear back from the supervisors.

Step 7 (June) – Yesterday, June 28th, I called the S.C. County Supervisor’s office a second time, expressing my profound dissatisfaction with not having heard back from any of our elected representatives.  Once again, the administrative person who answered listened, took my contact information, and stated that she would notify the supervisors.

Step 8 (June) – Also yesterday, I responded to Dr. Sabbah’s letter to me from May 19th (see above).  While I appreciate Dr. Sabbah taking the time to write, his response did not adequately address the situation.  You can read my letter to Dr. Sabbah here.  I sent this letter attached to an email, addressed to Dr. Sabbah and, again, to the five county supervisors.

Since this incident began in May, one of the most concerning aspects, from my perspective, is what I’ll call “radio silence.”  With the exceptions noted above, I’ve received NO response to the objection I raised regarding the LGTQ+ flag over public schools, and NO engagement with my reasons for why this display was so inappropriate.  Mark that…carefully.  To date, I’ve contacted ten elected representatives of voters (of which I am one) in Santa Cruz County – our five county supervisors, and the five members of the SLVUSD Board of Trustees – and not one of them has engaged with me personally on this issue.  To be fair to the SLVUSD Board of Trustees, my statement to them did not ask for a specific response.  And yet, none of the Board’s members acknowledged receiving the letter I sent on June 6th in advance of the June 9th meeting, and none of them has contacted me for discussion in the aftermath of my public comment.  I appreciate the work our Board of Trustees does, and I know their time is limited.  Nonetheless, this is no small issue and I think it warrants their attention beyond listening to a brief two-minute statement.   More egregious in my opinion, after repeated attempts at contact I have yet to hear back in any manner from any of our elected county supervisors.  Folks, in a democracy we elect representatives to work in various capacities on behalf of their constituent communities.  That requires such persons to be responsive and engaged when members of the community raise serious, substantive concerns…not passively dismissive.

Here’s hoping that the radio silence will end…

SLV High & An LGBTQ+ Flag – Episode 2

Yesterday I posted a letter that I sent to the principal of my daughter’s high school, and the superintendent of her school district, after the San Lorenzo Valley High School flew an LGBTQ+ pride flag immediately underneath the American flag.  In that letter I expressed my deep concern for the school’s action, and I tried to articulate why flying this flag is profoundly inappropriate.  Today the saga continues.  In response to my letter, I received an answer that did not effectively address the issues I raised.  For appropriateness sake, I will not post the email that was sent to me, but I will post my response.  What follows below is my second email, delivered today to the high school principal and the district superintendent.  

Note: Before you read on, if you live in Santa Cruz County it’s very important that you know this is a county-wide effort orchestrated by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.  Schools all over the county are flying the LGBTQ+ pride flag, and thereby deeply offending the consciences and religious convictions of, I trust, many children and families in our community.  It is possible for us to respect, and love, LGBTQ+ individuals as fellow human beings created in the image of God, without taking the unnecessary and wholly inappropriate step of displaying these flags on public school campuses.  If you live in Santa Cruz County, I highly encourage you to express your objection to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and the various County Supervisor offices. 

My email sent on May 18th

Ms. SUPERINTENDENT, 

Thank you for your response.  I’m grateful for the consideration.  That said, I don’t see that you’ve addressed the concerns I raised in my email.  The issue is not simply that the LGBTQ+ pride flag replaced the California state flag.  Rather, as I tried to articulate, it is inappropriate for a public school to display the LGBTQ+ pride flag in the first place.  The flag is unnecessary and profoundly, even aggressively, offensive to students and families associated with SLVHS.  

I’m unclear here as to why it matters for SLVUSD that the Santa Cruz County Office of Education is involved in this effort.  Isn’t the SLVUSD an independent school district, and thus free to choose whether or not it will participate in this “event”?  It seems to me that responsibility for the decision to fly this flag lies with SLVHS and SLVUSD.  If I’m wrong in that understanding, I’m happy to be corrected.  

This is not an issue that I can let rest with the response I’ve received thus far.  I intend to forward my letter on to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, as well as to the five County Supervisor offices.  Additionally, I’d like to address this issue with the SLVUSD Board of Trustees on June 9th.  May I ask for your help with how I should manage placing my name on the agenda for that evening?  

Thank you for your time.  Please understand the seriousness of this matter for myself, my daughter, and, I believe, other families across Santa Cruz County. 

Respectfully, 

P.J. Davis 

SLV High & An LGBTQ+ Flag

Today my daughter’s high school – San Lorenzo Valley High School in Felton, California – decided to fly an LGBTQ+ pride flag immediately underneath the American flag (where, previously, the California state flag would appear). Below is the email I sent to the principal and district superintendent in response (with names redacted):

Mr. PRINCIPAL and Ms. SUPERINTENDENT

I was profoundly disturbed to hear today about the LGBTQ+ pride flag flying in front of SLV High School, immediately underneath the American flag.  While I am out of town on business and thus was not there to see it in person, my daughter NAME – a tenth grader at SLVHS – and my wife both told me of the flag’s presence.  I think such a display highly inappropriate for several reasons, including the following: 

1. A question of allegiance – Per district policy, it is our national flag and the flag of California that warrant display at any district school facility.  Such a policy is entirely appropriate since these flags represent the political unions under, and in which, we live as citizens of this country and residents of this state.  Both the United States and the State of California have a rightful claim on my allegiance, and rightly demand my appropriate submission to their authority.  This is not the case with the LGBTQ+ movement.  The LGBTQ+ pride flag is not commensurate in meaning, stature, or consequence with either the U.S. flag or the flag of the State of California.  Rather, the LGBTQ+ pride flag makes a political, social, and even religious statement that many, myself included, find profoundly offensive.  It demands recognition and condonation of what many, myself included, find deeply immoral.  The LGBTQ+ movement has no right to demand the allegiance of anyone in our society, and thus its flag does not belong in a public space.  Whereas, particularly in a public school setting, the national flag and the flag of California proclaim an inherent unity, the LGBTQ+ pride flag is inherently divisive.  

2. A question of official bias and inappropriate condonation – As I note above, the LGBTQ+ pride flag communicates a political and social message that lies beyond the pale of what is appropriate for a public school.  Flying such a flag effectively demands, albeit implicitly, that those associated with the school condone the truth claims asserted by LGBTQ+ advocates.  And yet, those truth claims run directly contrary to the deeply held religious convictions of many in our society, including at least some of the students in our schools.  Since when did it become appropriate for a public school to blatantly prefer the socio-political message of one party in profoundly moral questions of sexuality and gender?  

3. A violation of conscience – Especially in the context of a public institution (like a school), when someone walks into a building displaying a flag, that person comes – literally and figuratively – under the authority, or the message, of what that flag represents.  This is even more the case when the person in a question is a “member” of the institution whose building they enter.  Consider a student walking onto the SLV campus and passing underneath the LGBTQ+ pride flag.  The implicit message communicated to them is that by attending SLVHS they must submit themselves to the demands and truth claims asserted in the message conveyed by the flag itself.  And yet, again, you have students who daily attend SLVHS and believe – as a matter of deep, sincere, conviction – that homosexuality is wrong, that there is such a thing as a biological man and biological woman, and that gender is not a transitory, self-determined reality.  By flying the flag as happened today, SLVHS implicitly tells those students that their convictions – even religious convictions – are false, their perspective bigoted, and their opinion not welcome.  The situation worsens when passing under this flag in order to access their campus becomes, in effect, a daily violation of conscience for such students.  

In short, I’m amazed that SLVHS and SLVUSD have taken such an unthinking and insensitive position as to publicly display a flag other than our national and state flags.  This action seems to me wholly unnecessary, and therefore aggressively offensive to those who cannot condone the LGBTQ+ philosophy and agenda.  I respectfully request that SLVHS no longer fly any flag, of any group, movement, or organization, other than the U.S. flag and the flag of the State of California. 

Finally, you will soon receive a letter from my daughter NAME.  I’d like you to know that she wrote the letter of her own accord, without my prompting, and without reading what I’ve written here.

I await your response, and I am ready to address this issue publicly at the next Board of Trustees meeting on June 9th.  

Respectfully, 

P.J. Davis 

300 vs. 30?

Mark 14:3-11 is stunning.  I never noticed quite how stunning.  In verses 3-9 we encounter a fantastic act of worshipful devotion, one that Jesus says will never be forgotten wherever the Gospel goes the world over.  I refer here to the unnamed woman (she’s unnamed in Mark…per John 12 it’s Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus) who breaks a “flask” of incredibly expensive “pure nard” and uses it to anoint Jesus’ head.  Mark’s narrative puts the value of this “ointment” at 300 denarii.  Realize – and this will become especially important in a moment – that a denarius was a silver Roman coin worth about one day’s wage (1).  Needless to say, this woman spends a small fortune in her profound act honoring the Messiah. 

Next to his female counterpart, Judas’ actions in verses 10-11 make one’s stomach turn.  Whereas Mark’s account of the woman, Mary, is relatively detailed and beautiful, the narrative about Judas’ is short, terse, and sparse.  There’s no need to belabor the explanation.  The facts are brutally obvious.  Judas betrays Jesus…for money.  The unnamed woman spends extravagantly to love and honor Jesus Christ.  The named disciple sells Jesus “down the river” in hopes of obtaining a price.  You can’t escape the utter wickedness of this moment. 

Now, here’s something to ponder, maybe in a “gut-busting sort of way.”  If we jump over to Matthew 26:15, we learn that the Jewish leaders set Jesus’ price at “thirty pieces of silver.”  Matthew isn’t specific, but I think it’s reasonable to suppose these pieces of silver were denarii, so that Judas received a total of thirty denarii.  Compare then the two amounts of money: 300 denarii for the woman who worships, and 30 denarii for Judas who betrays.  If we take the woman’s amount as the “standard,” then Judas betrays his Lord for one-tenth of the total.  Judas betrays his Lord for a tithe.  A tithe!  Under the Law of Moses, the law Jesus fulfilled, the law Judas would have at least given lip service to, the tithe was God’s portion of all that he gave to his people (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:22).  Judas “owed” (as it were) a tithe to his God.  Instead, he betrayed his God for a tithe.  Judas took to himself what rightly belonged to God.  Do you see the wickedness and high-handed rebellion in this moment?  Judas exchanged the glory of God for his own glory (Romans 1:23), and the result was his death (Matthew 27:5)!

It’s easy to read Mark 14:3-11, see this devastating comparison, and turn away mostly unscathed by the encounter.  But, isn’t that missing the point?  Shouldn’t the stark contrast between Judas and this woman raise questions in our minds?  Who am I?  What’s my response to Jesus Christ?  The questions get very practical, very quickly, including as we think about money: Do I spend extravagantly (whatever that means) in honor of Jesus Christ?  Or, do I “sell” my Lord in a ruthless exchange of glory that seeks for myself what rightly belongs to him?  How will my actions be remembered in future days when generations yet to come tell the story of the Gospel spreading the world over?  How will yours?

 

Note: Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version (ESV). 

(1) See “Denarius” and James Swanson, A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Greek New Testament, #1324. 

God Does Not Fail…

When things fail on earth, nothing fails in heaven! 

In Psalm 80 (a psalm of Asaph) the writer opens with this statement: “Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who are enthroned above [or “upon,” per the ESV] the cherubim, shine forth!” (NASB).  Depending on when in Israel’s history the writer of this psalm composed his work, it was a poignant song indeed.  Recall that in a sense Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, literally sat enthroned above the cherubim as he dwelt with his people.  The Ark of the Covenant – the visible symbol of God’s presence with Israel – had as its top a single carved piece of piece of acacia wood, overlaid with gold (Exodus 25:10-22).  Per God’s command, the crafters of the Ark carved the top into an ornamental “mercy seat,” with two cherubim on either end.  The figures of the cherubim faced inward, toward the mercy seat, with their wings spread to cover the seat itself (imagine the exquisite craftsmanship!).  God said this of the mercy seat: “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 25:22, NASB).  Yahweh was present with his people as he sat symbolically enthroned upon, or above, the cherubim whose wings covered the mercy seat of God himself. 

Now, in the sad course of Israel’s history, by circa 586 B.C. (if not before) with Nebuchadnezzar’s burning of Jerusalem and its temple, the Ark of the Covenant ceased to exist on earth.  No, it’s not tucked away in some U.S. Government warehouse, despite what Harrison Ford might lead you to believe.  Did God, did Yahweh, cease to be the God who sits enthroned above the cherubim in the day of the Ark’s destruction?  Such a failure would suggest a failure in God himself.  It would suggest that Yahweh is not, and never was, the all-powerful, sovereign God of the universe that the Hebrew Scriptures declare him to be.  Of course, the answer to this question is, “No”, praise God! 

The failure on earth – because of sin – of Israel and its Ark changed nothing in the heavens.  Israel’s descent into defeat and chaos because of rebellion against God only pointed all the more to the reality, power, mercy, grace, and judgment of Yahweh who sits enthroned above the cherubim.  We know this because, as Hebrews says, the things of Israel’s earthly worship – tabernacle, temple, Ark, etc. – were only “copies,” only earthly shadows, of a heavenly reality (Hebrews 9:23-24).  Thus, the Ark of the Covenant depicted as a tangible symbol what is spiritually true; God sits enthroned above the cherubim.  Ezekiel saw and testified to this reality.  He described seeing living creatures, cherubim, over whose heads “there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal…And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne…and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance…Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” (Ezekiel 1:22b, 26, 28; ESV).  The copy may perish, the earthly shadow may disappear, but the heavenly truth of God and his power stands inviolable.  It is not changed – God’s glory is not affected – one iota by “success” or “failure” on earth. 

Why is this truth worth a moment to meditate on?  Well, isn’t it helpful, isn’t it comforting, isn’t it bracing to know, beyond the reach of doubt, that when things fail on earth (including when we fail), nothing fails in heaven?  Isn’t it a rock in times of trouble, a light in dark places, to know that God sits enthroned above the cherubim, come what may?  If your citizenship is in heaven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then the world can go to “hell in a handbasket,” but you need not be shaken.  You can live with grace, mercy, confidence, hope, joy, and love, secure in the knowledge that he who sits above the cherubim, he who occupies the mercy seat, has, and will, shine forth! 

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” – Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)

The Military and Transgender Service

Recently, the Biden administration rescinded a presidential executive order that banned the service of so-called “transgender” individuals in the U.S. military (Note: I use “so called” here not to be derisive of precious people created in God’s image, but because I don’t believe “transgender” is a term that in any sense describes reality).  Both this move and likely future efforts to secure transgender military service in law are profoundly bad for the military, and for the national security of the United States.  Affirming transgender service in the U.S. military will have a slow-but-steady corrosive affect that, over time, will weaken our armed forces.  I make this rather strong prediction for three reasons briefly discussed below: reality, radical self-autonomy, and morality.

To begin, the U.S. military is a fundamentally realistic organization (or set of organizations).  The armed forces depend on realism.  They depend on a firm grasp of what is true and not what is fanciful.  Without this commitment to realism, military professionals cannot make accurate assessments, for instance, of an enemy’s strength; or of wise military strategy; or of the necessity for the use of force in a given situation.  The art of war depends on an iron-clad commitment to what is real.  Transgenderism, on the other hand, asserts a flawed perspective on reality.  It demands the fanciful supposition that a man can become a woman, or a woman become a man.  Transgenderism pushes against the biologically given realities of male and female.  It attempts to separate the concepts of gender and biological sex and suggests that we can view both as malleable.  Transgenderism even goes so far as to deny the very concept of gender as a meaningful descriptor of human beings.  At the very core of human identity, transgenderism demands unreality.  To allow transgender service in the military is to introduce unreality into the military’s most important asset, its people.  Over time, the effect of doing so will be to compromise the military’s grasp on reality.  Imagine the danger to this country when that happens.

Second, organizationally and culturally the military depends on a team ethic; on a shared sense of conviction and duty regarding the task at hand and the right way to accomplish that task.  The services spend incredible amounts of time, effort, and money training military members to think and operate as a team.  There is no room – or at least there shouldn’t be – in the armed forces for radical self-autonomy (hence the reason the Army’s “Army of One” slogan was so profoundly dismal).  Enter then transgender ideology, which is all about radical self-autonomy.  Transgenderism asserts the right of every individual to determine for himself or herself their true gender state, no matter how unreal that determination becomes.  Even more, transgenderism asserts the right of gender fluidity, such that one can change gender as one pleases, presumably moment-by-moment if it suits one’s fancy.  Such radical self-autonomy stands completely at odds with the military’s collective ethos.  While the effects of official capitulation to radical self-autonomy in the ranks will not be felt all at once, given time transgenderism’s impact on the military’s team ethic will prove disastrous.

Finally, the military needs a strong moral foundation.  It needs a consistent, steady, and unwavering grasp on right and wrong.  We ask our military members to function daily in a terrain fraught with serious moral hazard, including the deadly serious question of using lethal force on a large scale.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t suppose that the U.S. military has ever had an unassailable grasp on morality.  It is, after all, made up of morally flawed human beings.  But, say what you will of the U.S. military’s moral steadiness or lack thereof in the past, we should be deeply concerned for anything that chips away at the moral foundation of our armed services.  Transgenderism is a “chipping” influence.  The transgender ideology is morally wrong.  For a man to live as a woman is sin (and vice versa).  It is contrary to God’s design in creation (Genesis 1:27); contrary to God’s purpose and plan as revealed in his law (Deuteronomy 22:5); contrary to the truth (Acts 5:3; Romans 1:24-25); and contrary to the Gospel proper (Ephesians 5:1-11, Galatians 5:16-25).  Transgenderism is a corrosive influence on morality.  As it grows within the ranks of the armed forces, it will undercut the moral clarity so essential to making right decisions in matters of the greatest consequence.

Let me end with two last thoughts.  First, none of what I’ve said above supposes that anyone, Christians in particular, should adopt a hostile attitude toward those caught in the lie of transgenderism.  Such persons need not hostility, but the clarifying, truth-telling, sin-destroying love of Christ.  Of course, it’s also essential to remember that speaking the truth, as I’ve endeavored to do here, does not constitute “hostility,” no matter what thin-skinned postmodern culture might say.  Second, what is a Christian military professional to do in a day when the commander-in-chief publicly supports transgender service?  Well, perhaps the time will come when the best answer is, “Resign.”  I shudder for that day.  I shudder for the day when followers of Jesus will no longer understand themselves free to serve in the ranks of our armed forces.  But unless, or until, that day arrives, let me suggest a “Naaman-like” approach to “saluting smartly and pressing on.”  Give some time to reading and praying over 2 Kings 5 and hopefully you’ll catch my drift.