Saturday, April 25, 2015

ANZAC Day


ANZAC Day is the day that stops a nation. And, being the centenary this ANZAC Day will stop every Aussie in their tracks as we honour those Australians and New Zealanders that fought and died for our freedom and for justice: those who gave their lives in war and conflict for the cause of peace. In particular we remember those, and are inspired by those, who died at what many call “the birth of our nation” at ANZAC Cove. Things were different one hundred years ago. Back then the children would learn and would grow up singing the following words:

To help the weak against the strong,
To guard the right against wrong,
And bear the flag of Truth along.

It takes physical strength mixed with spiritual fortitude to help the weak against the strong. Says one writer, speaking of our heroes who were at ANZAC Cove, “Mental strain and physical illness reduced the bodies of our finest youth to gaunt skeletons held together only by determination.”

Yes, it was sheer determination that held these brave men together when they were fighting to help the weak against the strong, as they laid down their lives for their friends, their mates. It was, it is, and will ever remain the honourable thing to do! It is just to guard the right against wrong, for this is to hold up the flag, the banner of truth!

In this one is reminded of a verse of Scripture that says,

“When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19b)

Those marching today should march proudly on this the centenary. With your flags and your banners waving in the breeze, breathe deeply the air of freedom as you march to the beat of liberty. And may the Australian sun be seen glinting off of the “Rising Sun” badge on your slouch hat! Yes, thank the LORD that He lifts up a standard against the enemy of truth, the enemy of justice, and of freedom.

The people who line the streets as you march today will cry out to you, saying, “Thank you!” They are thanking you for your determination to help the weak against the strong, to guard the right against wrong, and bear the flag of truth along – just like your forefathers, just like all those brave men and women who died in all wars and conflicts that have been fought in the defence of our peaceful nation.

It was a Padre, the Reverend Arthur White, who began our “Dawn Service” tradition. He had conducted a service at 0400h on the morning of the departure of the earliest ANZACs to leave Australia. After the Great War, at dawn on 25th April in 1923, he and twenty others watched a wreath they had thrown into the water. As it floated out to sea, he recited these words, “As the sun rises and goeth down we will remember them.”

How can we forget them? How can we ever forget our fallen? They have made the supreme sacrifice! They laid down their lives for their friends!

In Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem “For the Fallen” from which our “Ode of Remembrance” is taken, we find the following words:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.

Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
Yes, they fell with their faces to the foe. Brave!

Jesus set His face against the foe as He went to the cross to defeat death itself! Yes, death killed Him, but death has no victory, for He slew death by being raised again on the third day. And He didn’t die for His friends. He laid down His life for His enemies, you, me and all of humanity!

The enemy may come in like a flood, but the LORD has lifted up a standard, the risen Jesus Christ. We look to Him for ultimate justice and absolute truth. He fought the good fight. He conquered the last enemy which is death. In Him alone is there forgiveness and reconciliation with God, everlasting life, for He is the resurrection and the life.

Keep this in mind as we remember those who fought and those laid down their lives while defending our nation. They shed their blood for Australia, the land that is girt by sea. They laid down their lives for our nation, young and free! They wrote their names on history’s page that at every stage we may advance Australia fair!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

RAISING THE STANDARD


Raising the Standard

Introduction
As you know, the 25th April is the centenary of the landing of the ANZACs at Gallipoli. On 25th April the whole of Australia comes to a halt at the ANZAC Day stop-sign to spend time honouring and remembering the Australians (some of whom were members of this church) and the New Zealanders that fought and died for our freedom and for justice.

We acknowledge all those who fought and all those who gave their lives in the Great War for the cause of peace. In particular we remember those, and we are inspired by those, who died at what many call “the birth of our nation” at ANZAC Cove.

Back in those days as children they would have learned and would have grown up singing the following words:

To help the weak against the strong,
To guard the right against wrong,
And bear the flag of Truth along.

Helping the weak against the strong takes physical strength mixed with spiritual fortitude. One writer, speaking of those who were at ANZAC Cove, says, “Mental strain and physical illness reduced the bodies of our finest youth to gaunt skeletons held together only by determination.”

Yes, it was sheer determination that held these brave men together when they were fighting to help the weak against the strong! It was, it is, and will ever remain the honourable thing to do! It is just to guard the right against the wrong, for this is to hold up the flag, the banner of truth!

There is a verse of Scripture that is notoriously difficult to translate from the original Hebrew. It is Isaiah 59:19. The New King James Version of the Bible renders it thus,

“So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.” Isaiah 59:19.

The Banner
We’ll let the experts in Old Testament Hebrew debate which is the best way to translate this text, as to whether it is when the enemy comes in like a flood that the Spirit will raise a banner or standard or whether it is the LORD Himself who, like a river driven by the breath of the LORD, that comes in like a flood. But either way, the LORD will cause those in the East and those in the West to fear His name! For, “So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun.”

Earlier on in his Book Isaiah says of the LORD, “He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar, and will whistle to them from the end of the earth; surely they will come with speed, swiftly.” Isaiah 5:26. There’s that picture of the Spirit of the LORD lifting up a standard! We see the same thing going on in Isaiah 13:2, ‘Lift up a banner on the high mountain, raise your voice to them; wave your hand, that they may enter the gates of the nobles.” Isaiah 13:2. And the same is pictured again in Isaiah 18:3, “All the inhabitants of the world and the dwellers on the earth: when he lifts up a banner on the mountains, you see it; and when he blows a trumpet you hear it.” Isaiah 18:3.

So, we might all agree then that the words, “when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him” are completely in line with the Book of Isaiah and indeed the rest of Scripture!

I remember as an Army Chaplain marching in my first ANZAC Day parade here in Brisbane. The regiment I was attached to held its banner high. What a glorious sight to see them marching on ANZAC Day with their flags and their banners waving in the breeze, as they breathed in the air of freedom, as they marched to the beat of liberty, with the Australian sun glinting off of the “Rising Sun” badge on their slouch hats!

They were there because the LORD has lifted up standard against the enemy – the enemy of truth, of justice, and of freedom. As I marched on that particular ANZAC Day the people lining the streets were crying out, “Thank you!” They were thanking the “Diggers” for their determination to help the weak against the strong, to guard the right against the wrong, and bear the flag of truth along – just like our Australian forefathers, just like all those brave men and women who fought and who died in the Great War.

But we’re not here to glorify war. War is hell and we all long for the day when all wars will cease, for the times when the nations, as Isaiah says elsewhere, “Shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4b.

When we look at the news on TV we have to wonder how it will ever be possible for all wars to cease! Surely all mankind would have to rally under His banner for this ever to happen?

It was a Padre, the Reverend Arthur White, who began our “Anzac Day Dawn Service” tradition. He had conducted a service at 0400h on the morning of the departure of the earliest ANZACs to leave Australia.

After the Great War, at dawn on 25th April in 1923 he and twenty others watched a wreath they had thrown into the water. As it floated out to sea, he recited these words, “As the sun rises and goeth down we will remember them.” How can we forget them? How can we ever forget our fallen? They have made the supreme sacrifice! In Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem “For the Fallen” from which our “Ode of Remembrance” is taken, we find the following words:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

Yes, they fell with their faces to the foe. They were brave! We will remember them. We ought to! But let’s ponder our verse again, So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

The Banner Unfurled
Now, Scripture says that you reap what you sow and that our last enemy is death. In popular culture death is usually depicted as the Grim Reaper, a skeleton clothed in a hooded black cloak, carrying a scythe and pointing his boney finger at you. Death personified! Be that as it may, but how is death going to be conquered? In other words, how ultimately is the Spirit of the LORD going to raise up a standard against death? Well, it’s the stock answer to every question asked at Sunday School, isn’t it? The answer is Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus! It’s all about Jesus being lifted up.

Jesus is our banner hoisted! Jesus is our flag unfurled! Jesus is our standard raised! As a flag on a high flagpole snapping and flapping in a strong wind draws our attention, so does Jesus Christ when He is lifted up by the breath of God, even the Holy Spirit, working through men and women.

Jesus caused the Grim Reaper to point his boney finger at himself, if you will! How so? Well, it’s all about Jesus defeating death by setting His face to the foe and heading towards Jerusalem and the cross that awaited Him!

It’s all about the Spirit of the LORD lifting up a standard against death through Jesus being raised from the dead! Yes, the death of death is all about Jesus and His resurrection!

Of Jesus Paul says to the Corinthians, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26.

So, we have it on good authority then that our greatest enemy, even death itself, will be defeated. Think about it: death itself has been conquered by Jesus! He is risen!

Jesus has crushed the serpent’s head! He has defanged the serpent! He has removed the sting from death’s tail! Jesus has dealt the deathblow to death! Jesus is the standard that the Spirit of the LORD has lifted up.

Jesus Himself said before He went to the cross, “‘Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” John 12:31-32.

You know, there is a famous painting by Rembrandt called “Raising of the Cross.” Christ is depicted as already having been nailed to the cross and there are soldiers raising it with Jesus on it so that it stands vertical. However, there at the feet of Jesus is a man wearing a blue painter’s beret. Wow! It’s Rembrandt himself! He has painted himself as one of those raising the cross!

That’s the trouble, isn’t it? Jesus didn’t die for His friends. He died for His enemies! For “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8b. Yes, we needed to be reconciled to God because we were sinners when He died for us. And as sinners we were His enemies! But look at our verse again, the second half, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

Like Rembrandt in his painting, and as Jesus has said, we are to lift up Christ. Yes, the cross condemns us because God’s Law condemns us, but, at the same time, the cross saves us!

The cross condemns us because He had to lay down His own life to save us from death and the punishment thereof, i.e., the wages of our sin. Sin is our breaking of God’s Law.

We couldn’t and we can’t save ourselves because as sinners we are at war with God! But the cross saves us because Christ by His substitutionary death has received in full from God the punishment that we each deserve! And by His perfect life as our representative He has paid in full what each of us owes to God, i.e., perfect obedience to His revealed will.

In a nutshell God has imputed or accounted or transferred you the believer’s sin to the Man Christ Jesus and punished Him instead of you. God pummels His Son on the cross. Then God imputes or accounts or transfers Christ’s righteousness to you the believer. And then He pats you on the back and says to you, “Well done good and faithful servant!”

What did you do to receive along with the Christ Jesus the reward of everlasting life? Nothing! You did nothing! It was the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who did it all! It was God who put the Grim Reaper back in his grave where he belongs, and where he’ll never bother you again, forever – if you are a believer!

Yes, the Spirit of the LORD lifted up a standard. For Paul says to the Romans, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11.

The Spirit of the LORD who raises the standard has raised Christ from the dead and will likewise raise all who trust in Him from the dead unto everlasting life. God has given us His Spirit as a token or deposit of this good news!

The 1998 Oscar winning war epic, Saving Private Ryan, tells the story of the daring rescue of Private Ryan, the last survivor of four brothers, by a Captain and a small unit that had been sent to find him. They find him and they bring him home alive. It was loosely based on a real event.

Well, “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. Jesus is the Captain who has single-handedly rescued us. He has rescued us from all our enemies, sin, Satan and self. He even has rescued us from our last enemy which is death! He will bring us home alive!

Conclusion
When you look around the world today, when you look at the news, when you see the wars that are going on, when you see the apparent decline of Christianity in the West, you may be thinking that the enemy is coming in like a flood. Well, don’t despair, just keep in mind, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

Raise the standard! Lift up Jesus Christ! Lift Him up in your home with your family. Lift Him up at school or at work or whatever you do. Yes, raise the standard!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

TO SWEAR OR NOT TO SWEAR?


To Swear Or Not To Swear?

If we define “swearing” as “to use offensive words when we speak” then two questions need to be asked: 1. Which words are offensive? 2. Offensive to whom? 

Let me start by noting that we live in an age where it would seem that almost everyone is taking offense at almost everyone else! I speak off course of the Political Correctness Movement whereby many people are afraid to express outwardly in words what they are thinking internally – just in case someone somewhere somehow chooses to be offended by their comments!

If we believe in free expression then others ought to be permitted to voice their heartfelt opinions. However, this is not to say that some pushback should not be permitted and/or expected. However, shouting “Fire!” as a joke in a crowded theatre or joking about bombs in an airport are a couple of examples of extremely poor taste and are definite stupid and offensive uses of free speech! Therefore, there ought to be consequences for thoughtless and careless use of words.

However, as we zoom-in on the issue we are trying to address, which is the use of swear words in everyday speech, when we talk about “offensive words” we generally mean “four-letter words.”

But what makes a swear-word offensive? The answer in general terms is twofold: Company and Context. Even polite people have been known to utter expletives when receiving an injury to their body! However, as we zoom-in even more, here we are attempting to address the issue of how to totally refrain from the use of foul language in all conversations and situations. How do we go about doing this?

 Well, first off we ought to refrain from using blasphemy. When God worked His grace in my heart some twenty seven years ago I found that I immediately stopped taking the Lord’s name in vain! God says in the Third Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Exodus 20:7. I’m guilty as sin! Guilty as charged! So I stopped using the name Jesus, Christ, God etc. as swear words on account of my new relationship with God.

However, this doesn’t mean that I’ve completely ceased from all blasphemy. How so? Because, as with every one of the other nine Commandments, there are dimensions to the Third Commandment that continue to expose me as a sinner! Taking God’s name in vain includes a very long list of things I had never even thought of. These are listed in detail in the Westminster Larger Catechism Question 112. What is required in the Third Commandmend? And Question 113. What are the sins forbidden in the Third Commandment?[1]

Let’s not tie ourselves in knots over swearing! If we keep in mind that the primary purpose for God giving us the Ten Commandments is to show human beings that they are sinners, and as such are in need of a saviour, i.e., THE Saviour Jesus Christ, then we shall be set free from throwing our hands up in despair at even attempting to keep such impossible commands or any blatant refusal to try to keep them!

Jesus is the Saviour of sinners. The Law shows us that we are sinners and, used by the Holy Spirit, convicts us of the same. “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24. Elsewhere Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15. Jesus is the same Person who, as God, gave the Ten Commandments in the first place. Therefore, how can we continue to take the Lord’s name in vain seeing as He has gone to the cross to receive the punishment we are due for breaking God’s Commandments and has paid the price in full? Surely we would demonstrate that we are ingrates if we continued to take the Lord’s name in vain.

But let us zoom-in even closer on the use of four-letter words. I once knew a man in whose everyday speech every second word or so was a swear word. Yet whenever he spoke to his mother all foul language would immediately vanish! This man would go a long way in cleaning up his act if he spoke to everyone as if he were addressing his own mother! The Fifth Commandment is: “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12.

God is our heavenly Father. By His Spirit He is with us wherever we go. The land He is giving us is (the new heavens and) the new earth! Would we use foul language in His presence? And is He offended by our use of foul language? Well, the Third Commandment is still pointing us to the Saviour of sinners! Therefore, if you find yourself swearing apologise, i.e., confess your sin to God, knowing this: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. “And if anyone sins, we have and Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1b.

What’s the bottom line? How does one stop using swear words?

First, Take God with you wherever you go and honour God your heavenly Father by your speech. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Second, Try to set lift the tone of every conversation you have by avoiding foul language. “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” 1 Corinthians 15:33.

Third, discipline yourself! “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection…” 1 Corinthians 9:27a.

Fourth, before you use a swear word ask yourself if the God who loves you and sent His Son to die for you would be pleased to hear it!


[1] Q. 111. Which is the third commandment? A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Q. 112. What is required in the third commandment? A. The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.
Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarrelling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it; to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.
Q. 114. What reasons are annexed to the third commandment? A. The reasons annexed to the third commandment, in these words, The Lord thy God, and, For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain, are, because he is the Lord and our God, therefore his name is not to be profaned, or any way abused by us; especially because he will be so far from acquitting and sparing the transgressors of this commandment, as that he will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment; albeit many such escape the censures and punishments of men.
 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

PIONEERS


Pioneers

 When I think of pioneers I picture wagon trains rolling across western prairies as seen in the old Westerns. However, it goes without saying that Adam was the very first pioneer. After the LORD God had formed him He put Him in His garden (Genesis 2:8). We can imagine Adam pioneering the five senses by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting things in the garden and processing the information. Adam pioneered scientific study and exploration by studying, cataloguing and naming the living creatures (Genesis 2:19-20). Adam pioneered marriage when the LORD God made a female ‘clone’ of him and married the couple (Genesis 2:21-23). Adam and Eve pioneered families by having offspring (Genesis 4:1-2: 5:3-4).

Of course, the major thing that affects us all began when Adam pioneered sin (Genesis 3). To sin is to disobey God either by failing to do something He has commanded you to do or doing something He has forbidden you to do. Thus when Adam sinned he was pioneering private interpretation of God and His revelation (2 Peter 2:20). He wanted to interpret the facts according to his own set of criteria and not God’s! All humanity has followed suit (Romans 3:23). God makes Himself known by the things He has made and by His written Word (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20), neither of which is open to private interpretation. Thus Adam became the pioneer of every argument and every pretension that sets itself against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5).
It was only after God had confused their tongues at the Tower of Babel that the wagon trains began rolling across the earth in tacit obedience to God’s Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1:26-28; 11:9). Pioneers discovered new countries and continents as mankind began to spread and settle throughout the earth. Man even took his wagon trains to the surface of the moon and back! The Presbyterian Elder Buzz Aldrin pioneered partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the moon! The Communion elements were the first food and liquid consumed on the moon. The bread and wine proclaim the death of the One who owns all creation until He comes again!  

Enter the new Adam. Jesus Christ by His life, death and resurrection is the pioneer of the new humanity. He has redeemed His people from their sin and His creation from the adverse effects of human sin. Saying, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me’ He sent the wagon trains into all the world with the Good News of salvation. He has pioneered the salvaging of human beings and their planet (Colossians 1:19-20). He is the firstborn over all creation. ‘And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist’ Colossians 1:17. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection and as such He has pioneered for us the conquering of death. All who follow Him will defeat death too! He pioneered the interpretation of creation and all therein and the Scriptures. We are to interpret these in light of Him. He is the Word, the key to truly understanding all things. He is wisdom incarnate. He is reason in the flesh.

Jesus has pioneered everlasting life for all who will hitch their wagon to His train. If you haven’t done so already, join the pioneers, and follow Him into the new frontier. There is a new heaven and the new earth that need exploring.        

Thursday, April 2, 2015

JESUS: The Sin Removalist


Jesus: The Sin Removalist

“The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’” John 1:29.

Introduction
Jesus is referred to by various descriptive names in the Bible. In one place the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus “Our Passover.” In another place Jesus refers to Himself as the bread from heaven. He calls Himself the Vine and also the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. He says elsewhere, “I am the door.” We see in the verse of Scripture before us that Jesus is called the Lamb of God. Therefore, it would be good to do what John Baptizer is inviting us to do. There’s Jesus walking towards you. Look at Him as He draws nearer to you.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have a load of sin you’ll be wanting rid of. And, since Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who better than Jesus is there to take away your sins from you?

The general gist of what we’re looking at in the following is this: Keep on handing over your sins to Jesus Christ the Sin Removalist.

The Pick-up
Each of us has a load of sin we need removed. According to the Bible we live in a world full of sin[1] and that each one of us is full of sin.[2] Now, when the Garbos[3] go on strike the garbage piles up in the street! Sometimes the garbage piles so high the Government has to send in the army to remove it. Sin is the pile of rotting Garbage that comes between us and God. And God won’t come near us until the garbage and its stench is removed. Therefore God sent His Son Jesus Christ to remove the sin of the world. God loaded the sins of His people onto the back of His Son. Then God incinerated our sin. The incinerator is Calvary’s cross. God poured out His fiery wrath upon His Son as He hung on a cross with all our sin. Jesus Christ, then, is the Sin Removalist!

Now then, since each one of us contributes to the sin of the world, each of us has a load of sin that needs to be incinerated on Christ’s cross. We know that Christ died for the sins of His people some 2000 years ago. I wasn’t around then and neither were you. However, Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.[4] Therefore we today can look to Him and seek Him to take away our sins for us. Otherwise, at the end of your life you’ll be left with a pile of rotten sin on your back with no one to remove it. And, according to Scripture, the God who hates all sin will pour His fiery wrath upon you. Horrible as it sounds, this means that you will be incinerated forever, which means eternal conscious torment in the fires of hell!

Now, I know that hell is not a popular subject nowadays. And who likes talking about a place about which Jesus says, “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire – where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:47. It’s a picture of the dump outside of the city of Jerusalem. The carcasses and the offal of the sacrificed animals were thrown into the dump and burnt. Those carcasses around the edge of the fire were full of worms and maggots. It’s a horrible thought and who in their right mind would want to spend an eternity there, especially those who have seen the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world! But it’s all to do with sin, isn’t it? – the sin of unbelief which is prevalent today.

Think about it, every time you break even the least of God’s commandments you are throwing another piece of rotten garbage on the street! And, just as you can be fined if caught littering on the street, so God holds each one of us accountable for every one of our sins. However, the penalty is not a slap on the wrist. And what is sin? “Sin is the want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.”[5]

I’m sure you reckon that you are reasonable creature. You have the God given ability to reason whether something’s right or wrong. And of course we apply our reasoning in light of what the Bible says is right and wrong. We measure whether a thing is right or wrong against what God says in His Word.

Now let’s test our ability to reason: Is it right or wrong to murder your next door neighbour? Instead of borrowing sugar, you kill him for no reason, is that a right or wrong thing to do? It’s a wrong thing to do, isn’t it? But what makes it wrong? If you are one of those who been brought up to think we were not created by God to be His image but that we all evolved accidently from slime you’ll have some troubling answering that question. How can it be morally wrong to rearrange a bunch of chemicals, i.e., murder someone – if that’s all we are? Well, the Bible says God designed and made us in His own moral image. So, we’re not a bunch of atoms and gases that accidentally bumped into each other one dark night Therefore it’s wrong to murder your neighbour because God who made us says so!

So, let me state again that sin is ANY failure to measure up to whatever God requires, or any disobedience to any of His commands given as a rule for creatures with reason. Does that sound reasonable to you? We all know about the sins we see each other do outwardly. But what about those sins we commit inwardly? What about those invisible sins, the ones that no one else can see? No one but God that is! There’s a spiritual dimension to sin then.

You’re sinning inwardly by hating someone in your heart! You’re committing murder in your heart. You’re sinning inwardly or spiritually by lusting after another’s wife or husband! You’re committing adultery with him or her in your heart! I can’t see what goes on in your heart, but God can! However, I know that I sometimes pile up garbage in my own heart. How about you? I’ve got one or two old banana skins in my heart. They cause me to slip from time to time. Therefore, I need to watch out for the Sin Removalist and have Him take them away!

What was the first piece of garbage to be produced in the world? It was a piece of rotten fruit, wasn’t it? It wasn’t rotten when it was hanging of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden. But it started to rot when Adam sunk his pearly-whites into it! God had told Adam not to eat the fruit of that tree. Did Adam listen? No! So the rotten garbage of sin began to pile up.

As Adam and Eve had children it began to pile up more and more in the streets of the world. It was Adam then, who produced the first load of rotten garbage.[6] And each one of his descendants all the way down to you and me have added to it.[7] The sin of the world, then, is the sin that separates us from God. And the garbage dump is a place full of filth and disease. And so became the world after Adam disobeyed God. However,  God sent His beloved Son into the world to remove the world’s garbage. So, Christ is the Sin Removalist who takes away the stinking load. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

 Truth be known, we can hardly move for the amount of sin around the place! Sin restricts us. It trips us up. We fall over it. We even wallow in it like a pig in mud. Even those good things we try to do are to God like filthy rags![8] As Job says, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!” Job 14:4. A world full of sin cannot produce something untainted by sin, can it? So how are we to get back to a Holy, Righteous, Sinless and Perfect God? Well, the only way back to the presence of God and Paradise is for Him to come and remove our load. i.e., our load of sin.

When I lived in Canada I had a friend who had his own garbage removal business. I gave him a hand for a few days. It was nothing like what we now have here in Brisbane Australia, you know, where the guy sits in his cabin and the big arms pick up you wheelie-bin. No! Back then wheelie bins hadn’t caught on in Canada yet. So what we had to do was run after the garbage truck and throw the garbage bags into the back of it! I did this for three days one hot summer. Yuk! (And the pay was even worse!) But anyway, he sometimes got called out at night to pick up a dead deer or elk or even a moose from lying in the middle of the road. I gave him a hand one night to manhandle a dead white-tailed deer into the back of his wagon. I was thankful that it was the freezing cold winter and not the roasting hot summer. For you know how terrible is the smell of rotten carcass in summer! Well, the sin of the world has the stench of death clinging to it! The trouble is that we’re so used the smell that we hardly even notice it. However, the Son of God came willingly to take away the sin of the world. God loaded the sin of the world onto His Son’s back.

Jesus became the scapegoat for all those who lay their sins upon Him. The Bible illustrates it like this: In Leviticus 16:6 we’re told that once a year, “Aaron the high priest, shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering.” And according to Exodus 12:5 it was permissible to use either a young sheep or goat. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference between and sheep and goat anyhow. Anyway, the sheep or goat had to be without a blemish on it. Then lots would be drawn to decide which of the two would get to do what. One of the animals would be sacrificed as a sin offering required by God, while the other would be set free in the wilderness.

Now, both the scapegoat and the sacrificial goat picture what Jesus did as the Lamb of God. Take the scapegoat. Israel would confess her sins before God. Then the high priest would lay his hands on the head of the goat. As he held its horns the sin of the people would symbolically be transferred or imputed onto the back of the goat. The young goat or sheep would be led into the wilderness. It was the lamb that takes away the sin of the people. It was their scapegoat. Of course, it didn’t really take away their sin. The scapegoat just reminded them of their need to have their sins removed. And as for the other young sheep or goat, well, after the sin of the people was symbolically transferred or imputed to it, it was sacrificed.

Now then, it’s not hard to see how this applies to Jesus. Think about the time when Jesus was baptized by John. Mark 1:4-5 says, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to Him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.”

So get the picture, the people of God are confessing their sins. And having water applied to them as a the picture of the washing away of the filth and stench of sin. And then we read in John 1:29, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” After Jesus was baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, Mark in his gospel says 1:12, “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” Therefore Jesus fulfilled the role of the Old Testament scapegoat.

But what about the other young goat or sheep that was to be sacrificed? Well, Jesus fulfilled that role too, didn’t He? The justice of God demands that our sins be paid for, either by you or a substitute. Christ is our scapegoat who takes away our sin. And He is our sacrificial Lamb who pays the debt we owe to God for our sin. So then, we’ve seen that Jesus Christ the Sin Removalist. And each of us needs Him to pick up our sins and take them away. Even as we have our garbage picked up and taken away.

Now we need to consider the place where Jesus went when He took away our sins.

The Delivery
Jesus took away our sins upon the cross, didn’t He? My friend, the one who owned his own garbage truck had to go to the city dump every time his truck was full. He would take the Perimeter Highway which had to be the bumpiest road in Winnipeg! Before they would let him into the dump they would get him to drive unto a platform. They would weigh the contents of his truck and charge him certain dumping fees according to the weight of his load. Jesus had the weight of the world’s sin upon Him. And the price He had to pay to dump our sin was death (as per the wages of sin[9]).

The bumpy road to the cross was slow and painful for Jesus. Behold! The Lamb of God betrayed and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane! Behold! The Lamb of God as they took Him away to sacrifice Him. Behold Him as they paraded Him down the street. Behold Him as they spat upon Him as he walked along the road to His death. Behold Him as His legs buckled under the weight of our sin, your sin and my sin. Behold Him as He set His face to take the muck and filth of our sin to deliver it to the city dump.

If you want to see what it’s like to be in hell then look no further than Christ on the cross. Listen to a Man whose soul feels forsaken by God. Hear Him cry out, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me? ... My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.” Psalm 22:1,15.

But see if you can catch His eye before He goes there. See if you can catch His eye as He walks along the road. See if you can get Him to take your sin with Him to the dump too! If you can see Him you won’t be too late to catch Him. He won’t race away. He’ll wait for you. That’s why He came. He came to take away the sin of the world.

Confess your sins and repent of them. Place them on the back of Jesus as He struggles up Calvary’s hill. Only He can bear your sins. He can bear the sin of the whole world! But you have to behold Him in order for Him to take away your sins.

What’s it like when you forget to put out the garbage and you miss the garbage collection? You’re left with a bin full of garbage and you have to try to dump it by yourself, don’t you? I remember when we were out in Springsure (Central Queensland) I missed the garbage collection. Of course it was about 40 degrees Celsius in the shade. So I loaded the maggot infested garbage into the church’s new car and drove along the dusty road to the village dump.

Jesus Christ carried our sin on His back and He walked to the city dump. He made one trip and one trip alone when He went to the cross with our sin. But let’s say a person missed out on Jesus taking away his sin. Let’s say this person was you. Would you be happy to deal with your own sin? What do you think will happen when you get to the city dump? (For that is where God will send you.) What will you do with all your sin when you are weighed on the weigh scales? What will you use for money to pay to dump your sins when all you have with you is garbage? What will you do when you’ve used up all the credit God has given you and now at the end of your life He’s demanding payment?

God demands the penalty of death for sin and there you and I are sitting with a whole life full of it! So it’s a bit useless to say that you don’t have any sin since God is weighing you on the scales. And the trouble is that God demands payment for even the smallest of sins – the payment is death. Look at Jesus on the cross if you don’t believe me – that’s the price of sin! And the sin He had wasn’t even His sin for He was sinless! No, it was the sin of all those who look to Jesus to be delivered from their sins. It’s better to catch the eye of Jesus and have Him take your sins away now, because if you die without them being removed, you’ll spend eternity paying for them. However, always remember that God forgives those who have had their sin removed by the Sin Removalist.

What’s it like then to have your sins forgiven? Well, Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” We know we are in Christ Jesus, and we know our sins have been taken away, when we are beholding Christ. When you keep on looking for Christ and keep on looking to Christ you know you haven’t missed the Sin Removalist. For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Conclusion
Always remember that Jesus is The Sin Removalist. He is the One who has picked-up the sins of those who keep on keeping their eyes on Him . He is the One who has delivered us from our sins by taking them to Calvary’s cross. So keep on beholding the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And, to keep your conscience clear, as you become aware of them, keep on handing over your sins to Jesus Christ the Sin Removalist.


[1] Romans 8:20-22.
[2] Romans 3:23; Galatians 3:22.
[3] Australian term for garbage-collectors.
[4] Hebrews 13:8.
[5] Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 24.
[6] Genesis 3:11.
[7] Romans 5:12f.
[8] Isaiah 64:6.
[9] Romans 6:23.

Monday, March 30, 2015

GOD: The Healer (Moral Injury continued...)


God: The Healer

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18.

Introduction
Notice what the LORD is saying in this verse. Almighty God is inviting us to reason with Him. He is inviting us to confess our sins to Him and have Him forgive us for them. However, more importantly, God is saying that He will forgive you your wrongdoings! Like removing our backpacks after a long foot-blistering hike we are to unburden ourselves of our load of sins. As we hand over our sins to God He takes away our guilt and our shame. This in turn results in us no longer having to struggle with a guilty conscience! Thus we move from Moral Injury to Moral Repair.

A Reasonable Faith
It stands to reason that if God wants us to reason with Him then first we must believe, (i.e., have faith) that He exists. The writer to the Hebrews says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6. Think about it, the reward for diligently seeking God (among other things) is peace of mind, i.e., the removal of a guilty conscience.

Some people have actually said to me, “I wish I had your faith.” Well, according to the Bible every human being believes in God. We simply suppress that knowledge through our own wickedness. To say that we know God is simply another way of saying that everyone begins with the presupposition that God exists. Each of us inherently knows that God exists because God has built it into our being. We are made in His own image and likeness. From here it is simply a matter of what people do with that congenital presupposition that results on whether they will end up with a clear conscience or not.

Almighty God your Maker is inviting you to reason with Him. However, it stands to reason that you would not be reasoning together with God if He is absent from the conversation or dialogue, absent from your thoughts. Strange as it may seem, this is the way that some people treat God, as if He is simply a mathematical abstraction or philosophical equation and not the personal Triune God who created us in His own image and likeness. It is because God is a Person, (actually God is three Persons, i.e., the Father, the Son or Word, and the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19), that we are able to have a personal conversation with Him.

Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” John 14:6.  We speak to the Father in the power of the Spirit through the Son and God speaks to us by His Spirit with His Word. In other words, we pray to Him and He replies to us through His Word, the Bible.

But again, notice that we are not speaking into the void. We are not calling out in an empty building, “Is there anyone there?” God is! And He is everywhere at once. We are to reason with God, the God who is there! Think about it, if you do not believe that God exists then why would your conscience be troubling you? Why do I ask this? Well, your conscience is part, a big part, of one of the ways that God is using to make His existence known to you. This has to do with you being made in His image. As a mirror would not reflect your image unless you existed, so you and I would not be the image and likeness of God if He did not exist! However, God through His Word, the Bible, says that we are His likeness. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.” James 3:9. Like a “Hall of Mirrors” our own sin distorts us individually as the image of God. Therefore, none of us (apart from Jesus) gives His true reflection.

A Reflecting Faith  
 Wrestling with one’s own conscience (a prominent symptom of Moral Injury) is a first step on the road towards reasoning with God! Feelings of guilt come about when one has failed or is failing to measure up to one’s own idea of moral good. The conscience is the measuring stick whereby we determine how far we are short of the mark. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.

Let us once again reflect on what Richard Sibbes said: “The conscience is the soul reflecting upon itself.” Note the difference between the soul reflecting upon itself and wrestling with one’s own conscience. Whereas the former is you reasoning with yourself, the latter is you arguing with yourself! Isn’t it better simply to examine your own reflection that to attack it like some angry bird attacking its reflection in a window pane?

Here’s the rub: Healing begins for the individual when he or she recognizes that Moral Injury, like its sibling PTSD, is a spiritual problem. Now it becomes easier to see one of the reasons why Western psychiatry and psychology are having so much trouble healing people suffering from the symptoms of PTSD and Moral Injury. These systems are based on an Atheistic premise which denies the existence of soul and/or spirit as commonly taught in the Bible and Christianity. The Bible says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14. The bottom line is that spiritual things (including spiritual problems such as PTSD and Moral Injury) are spiritually discerned.

Now, this is not to say that modern psychiatrist and psychologists can offer no help to their patients. However, like any other science that detaches itself from God and His Biblical revelation, they are missing the key component of what they are dealing with, which is God and that which is His image, i.e., human beings.

One discerning doctor I was talking to about PTSD said, “You know? PTSD is so hard to fix because we’re dealing with something invisible!” Think about it, we only know that a person suffering from PTSD or Moral Injury by way of revelation. If that sounds too Biblical then let me state it in another way. We only know that PTSD and Moral Injury exist because someone has told us about them. We cannot see, hear, taste, smell or touch PTSD and Moral Injury. They remain invisible until someone reveals them to us.

If this is beginning to sound a bit like gobbledegook to you then I would suggest that it is because Western Science has had some success in trying to extricate itself from the science of Theology. This is what I mean by Atheistic science. It follows a Materialist philosophy and it ignores and even denies that which is spiritual. Therefore, the road to recovery for those suffering PTSD and Moral Injury (and Western Science itself!) is a return to the inclusion of Theology in scientific discussion instead of its present ostracism.

“God is Spirit.” John 4:24. And a human being is a soul-spirit with a body. (2 Thessalonians 5:23). God is invisible (Colossians 1:15) and so is the spirit and the soul of a human being. God is the Father and the Son/Word and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). “The Word became flesh” John 1:14, which is to say that Jesus is God and also is a soul-spirit with a body, i.e., a human being like us. How do we know that Jesus is God? The same way we know that someone has PTSD or Moral Injury. Revelation!

Because PTSD and Moral Injury are spiritual we are only offering band-aid solutions until we acknowledge the “Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9) and ask Him to intervene and heal us. Spiritual healing is the healing of our spirit by God’s Spirit. Once healed, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honourably in every way” Hebrews 13:18.

Conclusion
The first step toward being healed of your PTSD and/or Moral Injury is to acknowledge that as a human being you are God’s moral agent by His creation, and as such you have broken His Moral law and need to seek and to receive His forgiveness.

The second step is to acknowledge that God has made you like Him, i.e., triune in Nature. You are body and soul and spirit, i.e., a soul-spirit with a body, and as such and with God’s enabling are able to dialogue (i.e., reason with Him).

The third step is to acknowledge that you, like the rest of humanity, as a human being are fallen in nature. There already is something morally wrong with you from conception and birth. This is discovered with the first pang of conscience!

The fourth step is to acknowledge that your accusing conscience is revelation of that which is spiritual, i.e., God and the human soul and spirit. It lets us know that something is wrong with you and that you need God the Spirit’s help and healing.