God Is Moral And We Are Not

I recently was studying Genesis chapter three and came across a thought. I'm putting it out here to generate comment.  
Over a couple of decades, I've tried to understand the word, "moral." Here is a working definition which captures what I know of this word. Moral means, “knowing the difference between good and bad." Dictionary.com seems to agree when it defines moral as an adjective meaning "of, pertaining to, or concerned with the ... distinction between right and wrong."
Are we all OK with that definition?
So, we get to Genesis three and morality is the presenting issue. The serpent - who we later are told is an embodiment of God’s angelic adversary, “Satan” or “Lucifer” – brings this characteristic before Eve in chapter three, the first five verses. The serpent asks Eve about the one restriction placed on her and Adam. He then tells her that she is missing something; she is missing “morality.”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?"
 2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,
 3 but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"
 4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die.
 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:1-5 ESV)
By the definition we have above; is God “moral?” Sure – and the serpent affirms that: God knows good from evil. God being moral is a good thing. Remember, at this time God had declared that all was "very good."
But, at this point in time, are humans “moral?” No – that’s exactly the point that the serpent is making. Humans are not, yet, moral – is that a good thing or a bad thing? It’s a good thing because, again, God had described the situation as “very good”.
But Eve is deceived (2Cor 11:3) into thinking that “morality” will make her more wise. She eats the apple – gives some to Adam and he eats. Are their eyes opened to “morality?” Yes.
What’s the result? It is not good.
I’m going to mess with you a bit.
Is “morality” a good thing?
In my reading of the text, there were two options presented to Adam and Eve. One was “obedience” to God’s clearly revealed will. The other was the promise of “morality.” As it turned out, which was the better option? Obedience to God’s clearly revealed will is always better than “morality.”
Not obedience to ungodly man-made rules.
Not obedience to an ungodly philosophy of life.
Not obedience to ungodly dogma or ideology.
Not obedience to some obscure or bizarre interpretation of God’s word.
Obedience to God’s clearly revealed will.
Humanity does not use morality well, at all. Our consciences are unreliable (Rom 2:15; 1Cor 8:7 1Tim 1:5, 4:2; Tit 1:15; Heb 10:22). In fact, we genetically pre-disposed to do very badly at morality. That is because we are born broken and act accordingly. 
The problem is that while God being moral is a good thing, human “morality” is always messed up and many times creates judgmental attitudes, oppression, legalistic rules and regulations, and sometimes even monstrous evil.
Yep, we learned about good and evil. But we are so small that when we try to do good, we accomplish evil instead.
I think of a five year old child in grandpa’s tool shed. He looks at the shiny and powerful chainsaw. He knows he can probably start it up – he’s seen it done. Does anyone think that’s a good thing for the child to do?
Only when we get God’s help do we have a chance at doing morality well. Why? Because he is God and we are not. 

So now, humanity is “moral.” 

Comments, questions, concerns?


Nominal Phelps

Was chatting with a friend about the passing of Fred Phelps, erstwhile 'pastor' of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
We were wondering how anyone could operate in association with the liberating power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for so long and yet be so unlike the Jesus that gospel proclaims.
Of course the answer is obvious: like so many others, Phelps' so-called faith was "nominal." The word 'nominal' comes from the Latin word for "name." Essentially, Phelps seems to have been a Christian "in name only."
And Jesus knew about that sort of thing. In his sermon-on-the-mount, he said to those who claimed to be working in his name, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."
Phelps' lack of love and his propensity towards hate, retribution, and anger is a part of his life story both as part of his family life and the reason he was disbarred. Even in his activity as an attorney for working to dismantle the Jim Crow laws in Kansas, it seems to me that he was fueled not by a desire for justice as much as a means to vent his anger at those around him.
Certainly Phelps hurt and damaged many people during the course of his "ministry." Not only those who had to endure his energetic hatred, but then those who came under his sway in the course of exercising authority as a "pastor." They have been exposed to a twisted counterfeited lie of 'gospel.' Will those people ever get the real gospel preached to them?
Let me affirm that God, in fact, does hate sin. But when God himself describes himself, here's what he wants the greatest prophet in the Old Testament - Moses - to know about what God is like:
"The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exo 34:6-7 ESV, emphasis added).
Folks, notice - yes, God doesn't take kindly to those who are guilty. That's at the end of the description. But also notice that God doesn't lead off with that. God wants Moses to know that, primarily, God is merciful, gracious, patient, exceptionally generous, and - here it is - FORGIVES iniquity, transgression, and sin. So when God gets down to "visiting iniquity," he's talking about 'lower order' things. And why that should be is for another post.
The point is that Phelps' "gospel" (I put that in quotes because it) is not a real gospel. And the Apostle Paul knew that would happen. He said, "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:9 ESV)
Folks, and I especially address this to my friends from school and work who loved to point to people like Phelps and claim they represent Christians and Christianity. You are partially right! Yes, Phelps and the other hucksters who have gone before him (and will come after him), they do claim to represent "Christianity." But their "Christianity" is a misleading, twisted, lie. I'll personally go a bit further - really; suggesting that Phelps and the other nut-cases represent real Christianity is a convenient straw man. And now the question is: why do you want to erect that straw man??
If you want to know what real Christianity is about, you need to read what Jesus and the guys he appointed for the task said the gospel was. Read the Bible, interpret it well, and listen to the real gospel of Jesus.


Sacrifice And Stuff (Rom 12:1)

Well, this is the last time you are going to hear from Eugene Peterson and myself for some time. Let's make it worthwhile...
Our scripture this morning is found in Romans 12:1. I’m going to read it now:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
As mentioned before, the Lord's Table is - Biblically - an extension of the Passover meal. They are both parallel and intersecting events. Both are meals that occur before a mighty, epoch-changing, redemptive act of God. As much as the redemption of Israel by God through Moses defined the Israelites and Judaism; that is but a starting point for the complete redemption and salvation accomplished by Christ.
Sacrifice is central to salvation.
Sacrifice is God's way of dealing with sin. All of the other self-help projects and movement that we have, or ever will, create - while having some value - will never be enough. All of those can, in ways, make the world better.
But none can accomplish salvation. That comes from God. And God's way of salvation is sacrifice.
Now there was, back in Paul’s day, several religious and philosophic schools out there that resisted the need for sacrifice – or even salvation, for that matter. In their thinking, there was the “spiritual” world and the physical world. The spiritual realm was about ideals; it was wonderful, pure, and more real. But the physical world was about the flesh. It was evil, corrupt, maybe even an illusion. The thought that God, who is spiritual, would become flesh in Christ was not merely hard to understand; it was religiously offensive! That God would deal directly with the physical world … well, it just ‘wasn’t done.’ Such a notion was contrary to what they thought, knew what was true, and … ewe! … it was Bad Form, impolite, nonsense. Crazy talk!
Yet the Bible tells a very different thing about how God works in the world. God is neither repulsed by nor intimidated by the physical world. After all, he created it – and it was good. But – as we know – things went wrong.
The world now needs fixing – and we need saving. We are in grievous mortal peril, we are lost, and we feel the clammy fingers of death around our throats. We need to be saved!
And God’s way of salvation is sacrifice.
Notice that sacrifice always involves "stuff,” “things” - physical material: flour, grain, lambs, goats, incense and structures to put them on, like 'altars.' Leviticus is the Operator's Manual for righteous sacrifice. And sacrifice involves stuff: physical things – even the flesh of animals. Physical sacrifice impacts spiritual realities. That is completely contrary to the spirit of the age that Paul lived in.
We are, by the way, to bring our best "stuff" to be sacrificed. Why? Partly to remind us that the best we can do is not good enough. God has to take it and do something with it. That's part of the anticipation of sacrifice: what will God do with it? Exercising this faith that God can leverage these small things into a great salvation is part of Biblical worship.
But, until Christ came, all of that sacrifice was temporary, transitory, not permanent. Until Jesus became sin for us, having died once for all; sacrifice taught us that salvation was an uncertain thing. We had to trust that God would be pleased with the fragrant aroma of our best stuff being burned up before a priest. Now Christ's sacrifice completes that lesson: all of the sacrifice that we might attempt is useless. It was always about God doing salvation, and it still is!
Sacrifice always involved stuff and in Christ's sacrifice, it was his physical, bodily death through the shedding of his innocent blood. Again, stuff: wood, nails, thorns, body, blood.
No; sacrifice is not an obsolete concept. If worship is rightly defined as the presentation of God's truth and our response to it, then Romans 12:1 helps us see the continuing role of sacrifice even after Jesus' death. Paul implores us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. Now that's a twist! No longer do we offer our best. No; now we offer our-selves. Not as an atonement for our sins - because Christ has already completed that. But as a reasonable response to that truth. We sing, "Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord to thee."
Of course, you know the problem with living sacrifices, don't you? Right? Well, they keep standing up and walking off the altar! In the paradox of our salvation in Christ, we are both crucified with Christ and no longer live; yet I now live because Christ who lives in me.
Sacrifice, salvation, and stuff.
That is why Jesus has us remember our salvation using stuff: bread and wine. Without the concrete physical stuff, it becomes easy to drift off into the spirit of our age – which is not unlike Paul’s time. We can drift into a ‘Jesus-as-Great-Example’ gospel. Sure, that is true, as far as it goes; but it does not go nearly far enough. Jesus is more than merely a great example.

We can also drift into a spirituality of ideas about Jesus rather than receiving the very life of Jesus. God does not want us to be merely “spiritual” people; he also wants us to live out our ‘spirituality’ in our physical, every-day life in this world. The bread and cup - these physical symbols - remind us of the sacrifice that is just as real as the stuff that God used to secure our salvation.


Remember And Proclaim (1Cor 11:23-26)

Eugene Peterson, in his book, "Christ Plays in 10,000 Places" has greatly stimulated my thinking about the Lord's Table. Again, here are some thoughts that come from that work, as I have processed them...
The church is a funny thing - by that I mean that it is quirky, goofy, and occasionally silly. And I also believe that Christ is quite fond of his 'bride,' in all her quirky self.
And here’s the really quirky thing: the church is a wide spectrum of understanding and mission. We have the cloak and incense bunch on one end; the store-front missions, independent fundamentalists, and Pentecostals on the other end; and the middle-church of the Presbyterians, Methodists, and established Baptists.
Friends, all of them is us. We are all the church; a rather diverse spectrum we are, indeed. Yet, in all of that, we affirm and practice - on a regular basis - the special gathering that we variously label: “Eucharist,” “Lord's Table,” “Breaking of Bread,” or simply “the bread and cup.” Excepting the Quakers, we all do this.
Biblically, there are many things - in scope and depth - that are accomplished in the Lord's Table. But here are two: the remembrance of Jesus and the proclamation of Jesus.
Let’s start with “Remember.”
This word means more than a mere mental activity. It is a re-enactment of what actually happened. It is more than recalling the memory of what Jesus did – though it most certainly is that. It also calls us to participate right now, at this Table in what he did and continues to do. This is where our Roman friends get confused: Jesus is not actually re-crucified. Hebrews, chapters 8 through 10 are clear about that. But as we go through our time here, we affirm that Jesus does continue to work redemptively in our world today, and we re-present him in these physical symbols of body taken and blood received. At the start of our week, we reaffirm that the gospel is for everyday, weekly life.
That takes us to the second thing that is accomplished ... Proclaim.
We proclaim the Lord's death. In what we do this morning, we - as a group - are preaching Christ crucified and raised. In a way, the Lord's Table is a parable of action to be observed by the world Christ came to save. We are exhorted: "How are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?" (Rom 10:14b) Alas, relatively few have taken that offer to be saved. Yet, we act out a parable which means this: "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
So that is the proclamation: Salvation is accomplished in Jesus' death, and only in his death.
These two things, to remember and to proclaim, are the intertwining magnetic poles of the Lord's Supper. We always remember the crucifixion of Christ and then always proclaim what has happened.
Remember and Proclaim.
But there is an implied warning here. If we emphasize one of these over the other, we get disoriented - our compass goes askew.
·        Yes; we can “over-remember” - if we only remember and are not also authentically proclaiming Christ
·        And, yes, we can “over-proclaim” - if we only proclaim and we do not also remember the grace we received in Jesus' death
Or, putting it more simply: we can be over-devotional or over-active.
Here, at the table, we are called to remember and proclaim; to be devoted and to act. As we do the Lord's Supper here together, we are encouraged to then co-operate with God as we leave this place.

Both together here and apart later, we remember and proclaim.


The Hope Of Glory (Col 1:27)

Again, I need to remind you that I have been prompted and substantially helped by Eugene Peterson in his book, "Christ Plays In 10,000 Places."
We will start with this verse, Colossians, one-twentyseven:
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
The world - it is a mess.
History shows this to us, the newspaper jounalisically reports that fact, and when we examine our own lives we can testify and confess: we are a mess. But the gospel message brings hope - salvation from our (diplomatically phrased) "mess."
OK, let's be clear: it is not our “mess;” it is our disobedience and sin.
But this begs a question: what is left for us to do? In our theology of sin and salvation, we reflexively respond, "Nothing! Christ has done it all!"
Jesus does tell us to still do some things. Look at Luke 22:19.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
Jesus tell his disciples, both then and now, to do some thing. We are to do the "Eucharist," as many other believers call the Lord's Table. And faithful followers of Christ have done exactly that ever since.
We receive Christ crucified in our remembrance of him - his death as his body was broken and his blood poured out for our sins.
We receive what God has offered to us - and we sit at table and eat it.
And … We become what we receive.
Remember when your parents used to say, "You are what you eat?" It was meant to encourage the consumption of wholesome foods. And then we would smart-alekey about it and retort: "If I eat only carrots, am I going to become a giant carrot?" and then imagine ourselves like some cartoonish character.
But God says, "Yes!" to that: we become what we receive.
Remember our last sermon series? Paul encourages his friends in Philippi to receive in their minds those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, loving, and commendable - those things that are worthy of praise. And as we receive those things, because of our relationship to the resurrected Christ – we become more like those things … more like Jesus himself.
In our celebration this morning, we acknowledge our responsibility to become what we receive. It is as we remember Christ that we both symbolically and mystically receive him. Jesus said, "This is my body, which is given for you" and "This cup that is poured out for you..." "Do this in remembrance of me."
We become what we receive.
As we received Christ, we became righteous in him. We remember, "Christ in you [and me!], the hope of glory!"
Now - let me make this clear - you do not become a follower of Jesus by eating the bread or drinking of the cup. The bread and cup are only for believers - those who recognize their sin before God and put their confidence in Jesus' atoning death as the substitute for the penalty they deserve. Basically, you can't get to second base until you touch first. There is no effect on a person taking bread and cup unless that person is a believer.
What the bread and cup do for the believer is that each time we do this little feast of remembrance, we strengthen the mental links that connect us not only to Christ's death for our sins; but also his institution of this time we are sharing now. Even back to the Passover. And further still when we became disobedient through the eating, the ingestion, the reception of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Each time we do the Lord's Table, we are reminded of the grand sweep of redemptive history.
Additionally, ,it is fitting that we do this on the first day of the week. It is a reminder that before we do anything for God in our jobs, in the home, at school, out shopping or running errands; we receive what God has done for us in Christ.
Don't you find it startling that, given all the conflicts and variations of practice across the Christian church throughout the millennia, that this reception has been so consistently done in response to Jesus' command?
We become what we receive.
That's how God made us. Our minds become what we think. That's why we gather - together - to remember him. "Christ in you - the hope of glory!"

This morning is an opportunity to re-commit to become what we have received.


Participation (1Cor 10:16)

For those of you who are new, what we’re doing here may need some explanation. At this church, we take the Lord's Table pretty seriously and devote an hour each Sunday for this distinct service. We begin the service with a brief thought  that sets the theme for the morning and then we open the service up to the men to pray, expand on the thought with other scripture, to ask for a song, etc. This month is "mine" for doing the introduction.
I am particularly indebted to Eugene Peterson and his book, "Christ Plays in 10,000 Places" - many of these thoughts were prompted (even lifted!) from that work.
Here is the text I’m starting from this morning: 1Corinthians 10:16 –
The cup of blessing that we bless,
 is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
In other translations, that word ‘participation’ is also translated as “communion,” “fellowship,” or “sharing.” But you’ll notice that the word is about doing something with or together – definitely not about “alone” or “by myself.”
God made us for group life; 'individualism' is not only not an Ancient Near-Eastern cultural thing, it not a Biblical thing.  Gen. 2:18 says that it is NOT good for man to be by himself.
God made us to group together - is probably in our genes. That is not only family life, that is also life with others. We are, "gregarious." And that carries over into how our theology works itself out in the world. We want to be a part of it all. We want to be part of the world. Not only in its beauty and mystery, but we seek our place in history and our role in society. It is not enough for us - in a God-given way - to just sit back and admire the view. God gave us that desire in Genesis 1:28 - we are to rule well over this world. Within the created order, we are tasked to participate - and it is one of our deepest desires to do just that. We are so much this way that 'passivity' and 'disengagement' are not generally considered virtues for us.
We see the world and we want to respond to it. We want to do that. We want to "get in on what's getting on" - we want to respond, to be a part ... to part-icipate. Being a spectator is fine for a while, but what we really want is to do it ourselves. Just talk to any two year child: “Mommy, I can do it myself!”
And as we become aware of the spiritual truths that God has seeded into creation itself, explicitly in the scriptures, and – of course - most fully in Jesus, we naturally and rightly want to participate in what God is doing.
Being a part of what God is doing also means we have that same requirement to be part of each other. We are, as the theologians tell us, a "community;" a group, an assembly, a people, a spiritual family. That is constantly affirmed in the Bible itself, especially in the New Testament where much of what it is to be a Christ follower is about how we do the many "one another’s” that are commanded by God.
Here’s Eugene Peterson: "there can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life apart from an immersion and embrace of community."
'Just me and Jesus' is not a Biblical idea. And that is definitely not easy. It takes no time at all to realize that our little company of believers is quite a mixed bag of saints and sinners; some of whom are not much to our liking - even those we plain ol' dislike.
God has called us to participate with each other. Be a part: to be active, engaged, to be responsive.
Fortunately, we don't do this on our own power, or ever will. We participate with God himself. Paul tells the Philippians, "if there is any encouragement in Christ ... any participation in the Spirit ... to be of the same mind." We are commanded to be together and get our heads straight.
And just before he gives specific instructions on the Lord's Table in 1Corinthians, chapter ten; Paul warns of putting anything above Jesus and then says, "the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" We are told that this time together is one way that – TOGETHER – we are part of what Christ is doing, and has done, in his saving work. We are a unified people because of Christ and this time together is one way that we participate, both with each other and with God.

Let me summarize by saying this: what we do here today is how Christ works in this world. God works in community, not the 'rugged individualism' that is so valued by our godless culture. What we are reminded of this morning is that we are – all together - part of Christ’s blood and body. And as such, God expects us to take part in what he is doing in our world.