Leviticus 19 and Matthew 5:38-48
We live in a world of calculated arrogance, where we either judge one another with impunity and self-righteousness or we refuse to properly discern or judge between right and wrong as if there was no real right and wrong. We use our tendency toward sin as an excuse for it. And in so doing we make a mockery of the Grace of God…
Our scripture passages this morning begin with a command to be holy and conclude with the admonition that we are to be perfect, just as God our heavenly Father is holy and perfect. So what does it mean to be holy? Or Perfect?
Ga-do’-shim: Holy; set apart; saintly or sanctified; belonging to; sacrifice; an act of consecration.
Telios: Perfect; complete in all its parts; full grown or of full age; mature in or completeness of, Christian character; fulfilling the necessary process; to function at full-strength, capacity, or effectiveness. It is the same word from which we get the word telescope which implies an unfolding to full length in order to fulfill its purpose, not to look closely, but the action of unfolding or extending in order to be useful.
The words are synonymous. To be holy is to be perfect, in perfection we become holy. And if we are commanded, not encouraged but commanded to be perfect and holy how is it that we dare say we cannot attain to it?
To be holy and to be perfect is a simple task, perhaps not always easy but certainly very simple. God’s word lays it out for us.
revere your mother and father, keep the Sabbath, judge your neighbor justly, reprove or correct your neighbor, love your neighbor as yourself, keep God’s commands, rise before the aged, and defer to the old; Fear God, love the alien that lives in your land as yourself; turn the other cheek; give more than is asked; go further than you are forced to go, Give to everyone who begs from you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..
Do not turn to idols or make cast images; don’t reap to the very edges of your field; don’t gather the gleanings; don’t strip your vineyard bare; don’t gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; don’t steal; don’t deal dishonestly; don’t lie; don’t swear by God’s name; don’t defraud your neighbor; don’t revile the deaf; don’t put a stumbling block before the blind; don’t be partial to the poor and don’t defer to the great; don’t hate any of your kin; don’t oppress the alien; don’t resist an evildoer; don’t refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you…
Seven BASIC things to do…
- Respect and love your family…all of them.
- Keep the Sabbath, do not neglect worship…
- Correct your neighbor’s behavior and love them
- Keep God’s commandments
- Respect the elderly, Love the immigrants
- Give more than is asked or demanded
- Love your enemies and those who persecute you
Seven basic things to avoid…
- Don’t idolize anything
- Don’t be greedy with your gain
- Don’t ever be dishonest in your dealings with others
- Don’t steal
- Don’t reject those who struggle to hear or to see, spiritually and physically
- Don’t be partial to anyone for any reason – rich or poor, alien or evil person
- Don’t refuse anyone in need
So simple and yet so difficult…apparently. It’s easy if we treat them all individually. But when they overlap it seems to become much more complex. When we look at how they intersect with one another we realize the difficulty of this simple task…to be holy and to be perfect.
We may feel like we respect our family members but how often do we approach the idolization of family when we put our biological family ahead of our church family? When we put vacation with them ahead of attendance at worship even though a church is close by, when family visits and we avoid coming to church because they don’t want to or when we don’t even deal honestly with our parents shortcomings…
Reproving our neighbors may be easy if their sin affects us, but what about when it affects their relationship with the Lord, when they are clearly living outside of God’s will, behaving in ways that dishonor God, that reject his command to be holy, maybe even when fellow church members miss church just because they are a little upset with the members of the church? Or the pastor of the Church? Do we correct them? Do we challenge them to get back to church? Do we encourage those living together outside of marriage to get married? When we fail to correct our friends and our neighbors we become dishonest in our dealings with them, we are being partial to them because they are our friends or neighbors and we value the relationship with them above our own standing and/or their standing with God. Remember that the scripture says we are to reprove our neighbors or we will share in their guilt. And what does it say if we fear correcting them more than sharing in their guilt? God makes it clear that a part of our job as Christians is to act as the conscience of culture. It is our job to correct those who err.
We may think that we give more than is demanded or asked of us but how is it that we can always seem to afford a trip to Disneyland but not a more generous contribution to the church, we can often afford to eat out but we aren’t willing to give something up in order to give something to the homeless or the hurting. We’ll come to church on the Sunday’s it is convenient but we can’t find time to show up for the church wide clean up? These are important questions. Self-criticism is a necessary work of the Holy Spirit to which we must open ourselves.
We don’t feel we are partial but what about the alien in our land? How do we treat the well-dressed wealthy banker versus the t-shirt bedraggled bum on the street corner? What about those around us who commit acts of atrocity? Can we say we love them as ourselves, which we are commanded by God so to do? And how does that love bring itself about in such situations? How do we as Christians open ourselves to the hungry, the hurting, the homeless, the hurting, the refugee? Do we reject them just because they don’t follow American law? How does the church speak prophetically to our government about the immigrant situation remembering that our families were also immigrants even as Israel was in Egypt?
I said these are simple but they certainly are not easy. And yet God calls us to be fools for Christ… Paul, in discussing the role of the apostles versus the regular church going pretenders, the pretentious, and the proud says this:
We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish (the skubala) of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. (I Corinthians 4). This is the same letter which he began, by saying the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Can we say with Paul “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead? Can we see ourselves as unfitting as Peter is reported to have been in asking that he be crucified upside down since we was unworthy of being crucified in the same fashion as the Lord?
I fear that we too often think more highly of ourselves than we should. I adjure you to run the race. To beat your bodies into submission. God’s word encourages us to forsake all…
“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In an age and a situation that so wants to use scripture to justify the activities of the governing authorities, that seeks to put personal safety ahead of trust and faith in God scripture admonishes us not to:
“store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I adjure you, I dare, as your pastor, to reprove you and to beseech you to begin to risk your life, to risk your financial well-being, to risk your reputation, to stand for the things of the Lord. To put your trust in him. To live the perfect life, the life that is pleasing to him, the life which may cost you friends, family, your reputation and your well-being.
Begin to live the perfect live. To be holy even as your heavenly Father is holy.
Respect and love your family…all of them; but so too Keep the Sabbath; Love your neighbor and do that by being willing to reprove or correct them; Keep all of God’s commandments; Respect the elderly and love the immigrant; Give more than is asked or demanded and in so doing show our love for your enemies, blessing those who persecute you.
Don’t idolize anything including your financial gain; Don’t ever be dishonest in your dealings with others and in so doing you won’t steal; Don’t reject those who struggle to hear or to see, spiritually and physically; Don’t be partial to anyone for any reason – don’t elevate the rich, or look down on the poor, love the immigrant as yourself and be a blessing to the evil person; Don’t refuse anyone in need.
The Grace of God is given to us that we might rise above our sins. It is given to us in order to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that we might grow to full maturity in the faith. That our faith might be perfected. That we might be holy, set apart to stand as a model for what the people of God should look like. It is not easy, to be sure. It cost Jesus, his life. How much moreso should we be willing to sacrifice everything we have to attain to the glorious crown of victory. Holiness is calling. Perfection is waiting those who will struggle with the work of the Spirit in their lives.
As Paul addressed his favorite church family “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Back in 2009/10 the Session of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church adopted a statement similar to this:
“The Session of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Sanford, NC hereby declares it belief:
- That Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all and the way of salvation.
- That Holy Scripture is the triune God’s revealed Word, the Church’s only infallible rule of faith and life.
- That God’s people are called to holiness in all aspects of life. This includes honoring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the only relationship within which sexual activity is appropriate.
We therefore renew our personal commitment to the three historic confessions of faith and life stated above;
As a Session we affirm these confessions and to declare that we will not ordain, install or employ in program areas of the church any person who will not affirm them;
We urge the 2001 General Assembly to instruct the General Assembly Council to require that all program personnel make written commitments to uphold these three confessions and ensure that the confessions are reflected in all programs and policies of the church; and
We pray that the Presbyterian Church (USA) will return to a full faith in Jesus Christ, who gives her life.”
More recently we have been engaged in discussions regarding what constitutes a “leadership position” and whether or not this statement and our divergent beliefs about the nature of sin and repentance constitute a prohibition from serving in leadership positions.
Does oversight of children, teaching, service on boards, or even organ playing, singing in the choir, and other such participation constitute “leadership.” Certainly ordination and Installation as Deacons, Elders, and Pastors does in most peoples’ minds. But the other positions are more of a volunteer and of a less directive or authoritative position. The above statement does not establish policy for positions which are not ordained, installed, or employed.
These are the matters that often times lead to disagreement within leadership circles.
One thing I have noted in every congregation I have served is the hesitancy to use any disciplinary process on members of the congregation. Fortunately, most of the issues requiring discipline are handled personally, quietly, and respectfully. I have yet to come across a member which wasn’t willing, when their particular “sin” was pointed out to them, to step back in order to avoid conflict in the church.
But still there is always the matter of discussing whether or not discipline should be administered. I strongly fear that creeping political correctness, which we see in the public arena, has found its way into the church. The question of “who are we to judge?” has hindered proper use of church discipline in far too many cases. A failure to act in such matters may easily be deemed by those which should be disciplined as tacit approval.
Scripture directs us to speak the truth in love. It affirms its own use to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness. And the church, through its leadership is commended to maintain, the peace, unity and purity of the church.
The church is not a social club open to anyone who wants to be a part of it. The church is to represent and to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. The Kingdom of Heaven is one free of sin, free of pain, free of dissension…a monumental task to be sure.
In fact the long-standing and widely accepted “Great End of the Church” are: the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of Divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of Social Righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
I firmly believe that when we fully embrace our role as described in the Great Ends of the Church, issues such as the proper role of discipline in the church and the broader question of who belongs in the church or who rightly is a part of the church will become mute points.
Solo Deo Gloria!
We all likely agree that sin is bad and that forgiveness is good! Thanks be to God that forgiveness is ours in Jesus Christ.
But sin as sin cannot be forgiven apart from the components thereof.
- There must be an offense against God’s will.
- There must be a vehicle of grace, given by God, not to overlook the sin but to crush it, to pay the price for it, if justice is to be accomplished.
- There must be both an identification of this sin as sin in the life of the believer as well as a desire to repent of it.
If any of these component parts is missing, the sin is unforgiven.
We sin by committing certain acts (as well as failing to act in accordance with God’s will) because ultimately sin is an offense to God.
Those who understand their actions to offend God and sincerely repent of (or turn away from) their sin, seek the grace given by God in Jesus Christ.
Those who refuse to accept that their actions constitute sin and refuse to repent of their sin remain in their sinful state. Their sin is not forgiven.
Who, with this knowledge would choose to remain in their sin? Only those whose hearts are hardened against the will of God. Those who love their sin more than they do God. There are many in this position today. There are those who want to overlook the sins of others as a vehicle for remaining in their own sin. “Judge not lest ye be judged” is a phrase used by many, perhaps even without recognizing it, as a means of protecting themselves from the judgement of others. Judgement however, is not dependent upon the standards of mankind. It is based on the word of God. When we confront one another, in love, seeking to help one another with the plague of sin, we advance the word of God, we assist in the eradication of sin, and we become the kind of people that advance rather than retard the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We are commanded to “speak the truth in love” to this end, that we assist one another to grow in the grace of God. In an age of self-interest, political correctness, and an absence of any ultimate truth, we neutralize God’s word and work. It is a hard thing to stand willing to judge one another because in so doing we subject ourselves to the same standards and, by implication, ask others to judge us.
That scripture clearly states: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” And few of us want to make ourselves open to the judgement of others or to be judged in accordance with the same standards we might use to judge others. It’s easier just to loosen the standards so that we all get along.
But the scripture continues: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We first commanded to take a long hard look at ourselves, to remove the plank (the sin) in our own life, so that we might be able to see clearly enough to help others remove the specks in their eyes. The implication is clear that we are to be about cleansing ourselves from sin. We are to actively confess and repent of our own brokenness so that we can assist our fellow Christians in their pursuit of forgiveness. Why then would we restrain ourselves? Why would we not enter into discussion about our own sins and seek to assist others in pursuing the grace of God?
Those who have truly experienced the grace of God are willing to subject themselves to the word of God. They eagerly seek to be right with God irrespective of the cost. A passion to lead a righteous life naturally includes a passion to assist others in leading a righteous life.
“Everyone has sinned. No one measures up to God’s glory. The free gift of God’s grace makes us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free. God gave Christ as a sacrifice to pay for sins through the spilling of his blood. So God forgives the sins of those who have faith. God did all this to prove that he does what is right. He is a God of mercy.”
“So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Sin is bad. Forgiveness is good. Opposition to the truth and an unwillingness to speak the truth in love puts us at odds with God.
In speaking to those who refuse to allow themselves to be judged by the word of God and who do not feel it is the church’s place to judge others according to the word of God, Paul writes: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
And “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
These words are directed at the church, at those who should know better, but who refuse to make the difficult decision, who approve of those who refuse to repent, who twist and flaunt the word of God as a means of escaping the difficult task of being the church. Let us not be counted among them.
Esther’s Uncle Mordecai addresses his niece as she is faced with a challenge that could cost her her life: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance…will arise from another place…And who knows but that you have come to your…position for such a time as this?” The church is facing an increasingly minor role in our culture. If we are unwilling to speak the truth, that truth will come through another means. Who knows but that we have come to this situation for just such a time as this!
Solo Deo Gloria!
A recent article in the Layman (http://www.layman.org/covenant-network-bisexuality-basics-honoring-the-bi-in-pres-bi-terian/) has prompted this new blog post. We are all acquainted with the computer based spell check programs that, on occasion, change the word we spell to something else. I recently received a note where the word “seem” came across as “Sean.” Quite likely the author typed something like “sem” and the auto check corrected it to what it thought the author intended. In this case one would have to force the spelling of “Presbyterian” to “Pres-bi-terian.”
In the run up to elections we are often confronted with someone who wants to “fact check” the information being put out by their opponent and inevitably they are able to see their way to a completely different set of facts. And so it goes with the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer) element of the PC(USA).
In the Layman article linked above Rev. Layton E. Williams (self identifying as a “bisexual/queer feminist” http://reverendfem.com/about/) plumbs the depth of perversion and “queer spirituality” embraced by so many today in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It seems to almost approach the abomination that causes desolation referenced in Matthew 24:15 as occurring in Daniel 12:11.
There are so many references to sexual perversion in the Bible that one wonders how one can read the texts so differently.
Romans 1:18-32 is, perhaps, the most explicit. Those refuting as normative, a heterosexual monogamous sexuality often refer to this as “the clobber text.”
“18For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
On the fact-checking side of things, Layton’s comments hardly stand the test of Biblical truth.
But it was the spell-check side that really got to me. Layton uses “Pres-bi-terian” in her workshop title, specifically “Bisexuality Basics: Honoring the ‘Bi’ in Pres-Bi-Terian.” The first thing that came to mind was why not “Perverse-terian” or “Perver-terian?” If we are going to change the spelling why not honor both the deceitful aspect and the spelling aspect and at least be honest about what we are doing. But then I remembered that honesty in this post Christian context is relative – that is, that honesty is viewed as whatever advances the individual’s own personal desires and interests.
And so many are asking why I stay in the Presbyterian Church (USA). While I admit it is getting more and more difficult to do so, I still believe that there is a prophetic role to play – to call out the unbelievers, those who pervert true justice/God’s justice – that those who “not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” will be subject to the justice of God which establishes God’s righteous decree that “those who do such deserve death.” Now I am not advocating that we as the church take that into our hands, just that we recognize what God’s righteous decrees declares on such matters. And we know that true justice (not our perverted human interpretation of that) will eventually come. Certainly God’s grace wins the day but that is for those who have been called according to his purpose and a perverted sexual ethic is NOT according to his purpose.
And so I stay and say, “Repent!” “Turn!” In the spirit of Mark 1:15 – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
I imagine the day may come when the “big tent” in which I pastor and preach will find it’s not big enough to encompass those such as I, but until such time and even afterward I will declare to those so lost in the cultural abyss of perverted sexuality – Repent!
For those in the Presbyterian Church (USA) seeking a way out and for those seeking to minister effectively within the denomination I suggest checking out: http://www.oneby1.org/.
Contemplating a comeback!
I will stay active on FB with some folks but will be letting this blog go the way of others…
A letter mailed to the congregation we currently serve…
August 6, 2014
Dear Beloved in Christ,
It is with mixed feelings of joy and sadness that I write to inform you that I have accepted a call to a church in North Carolina. I realize that I leave behind friends, family, unfinished work and unresolved tensions. But having given this situation much prayerful thought, Carol and I are in agreement that the time has come.
We leave a church that has grown in its commitment, in its financial health and in its desire to live a life of faith. We have laughed, we have prayed, we have studied and we have grown together. You took us in as we returned from overseas mission and helped us to find a home in a country we hardly understood. For that we are truly thankful.
We go to a church that will allow us to advance an already successful ministry and just as importantly to be close to Carol’s parents. We have never lived closer than six hours away and much of that has been oversees. As they age we want to be able to be close and to help provide the care they need. This position allows us the best of both worlds.
We know that there will be some concerns and to that end we invite you to a time of fellowship following the worship service on August 17th. We’ll meet downstairs and discuss the future of FPC and the Halleads. I’ll do my best to help you understand what lies ahead and answer any and all questions you may have.
I respectfully ask that you keep the Halleads and FPC in your prayers during this time of transition. We anticipate September 7th being our last Sunday with you. It should be assumed that the Session will call for a congregational meeting on August 31st. In the interim, I will try to make myself available to anyone who wishes to meet to discuss this move.
In gratitude for the years of service together,