Monthly Archives: October 2012

Connecting the Ballot Box to Thanksgiving

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  (Galatians 6:7-10)

Our Separatist (Congregational) forefathers came to America from England on the Mayflower to practice the Christian faith freely and separate from the English government and King James.   In the words of William Bradford, written from his firsthand account On Plymouth Plantation, they came here to establish a church where they could worship God “according to the simplicity of the Gospel, without the mixture of men’s inventions, and to have and to be ruled by the laws of God’s word, dispensed in those offices and by those officers of pastors, teachers, and elders, according to the Scriptures.”  The authority of the state run church in England was at odds with the authority of God revealed in Scripture.  Christians found themselves asking, “Do we violate our consciences and God’s Word to obey the political authorities or do we disobey those God has put over us because they cause us to violate our religious conscience?”  By separating themselves geographically from the reaches of the state run church, they would be able to worship God and practice the Christian religion without inappropriate governmental interference and corruption.  They sought to escape religious prosecution in England where they, according to Bradford, “lived among the enemies of religion.”   The Pilgrims embarked on the costly journey across the Atlantic arriving in poor health and with very little in the way of earthly provisions.  Even so, they persevered in the faith and in their devotion to God, finding many blessings in the midst of their trials.

Some non-Christians arrived with the original Separatists and others soon followed them seeking financial opportunity, often at the expense of others in the new land.  Chaos, crime and dissension quickly crept into local communities and even the church, causing Bradford to remark, “Where the Lord begins to sow good seed, there the envious man will endeavor to sow tears.”  Contrary to popular belief, the Separatists, and later the Puritans, were not self-righteous or self-reliant.  Their establishment of Congregational churches and local governments (beyond the original Mayflower Compact) recognized the importance placed on the local community and on its need to care for one another.  Harvard professor David Hall writes, “they published a code of laws and made them accessible to everyone, believing the rule of law protected against unjust and arbitrary authorities.  Civil courts practiced speedy justice and local juries of one’s peers encouraged reconciliation and restitution.”  Their churches remained rightfully separate from the government’s control and the civil society linked political power with the ethic of the common good found in the Bible.

Because of the early influence of our Congregational forefathers, we can be thankful that our federal, state and local governments were established with the purpose of seeking the common good and that we now have an opportunity to elect candidates and vote on legislation that will continue to seek that founding Biblical purpose.  If we are Christ’s disciples, we are responsible to further that purpose, as we approach the ballot box on November 6th, as witnesses to Christ in a culture that too often redefines liberty as a matter of personal entitlement rather than an obligation to the common good.

We can also be thankful that the separation of church and state endures, despite numerous recent attempts to define and amend it for political and ideological gain.  We must advocate for continuing the religious freedom in which this country was founded, lest we find ourselves one day facing the same dilemma which caused the Pilgrims to set sail on the Mayflower.  Finally, we can thank God that we now live in a republic and not a monarchy.   It is a republic where the voices of its citizens and those of the nation’s founding fathers are often heard and heeded.  As Christians we have an even greater reason for thanksgiving this time of year, as ours is a hope far greater than any government or political candidate, for we know the One whose voice is always heard and is sovereign over all.

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“Grace or Waste?” – Mark 14:1-11


Our last two weeks in Mark’s gospel have focused on Jesus’ second coming and the final judgment.  Now we’re brought back to the present reality: Jesus is only two days away from His death on the cross.  The future will have to wait for the present.  It’s hard to believe, but we are now in the last section of Mark’s gospel.  From now on, Mark records the events leading to the cross with crisp precision, mentioning even the days and times of days.  This is surprising for Mark who has, to this point, panned out to give us the big thematic picture and is rather to the point compared with the other gospels.  He will now draw our attention to the focus of the entire gospel – the death  of Christ for sinners.
In this week’s passage, we see perhaps the last act of kindness toward Jesus, as a women anoints Him with an alabaster flask of pure and expensive Indian oil.  It seems to us a rather odd way of blessing Jesus, but as we look further there’s a whole lot more to this story.  Those in the story have a variety of opinions about what the woman did, and all of them have more to do with Jesus  than the woman mentioned.
Sandwiching the woman’s act of kindness is another narrative illustrating undoubtedly the most hateful act of betrayal against Jesus.   An act perpetrated by of one of His own apostles.  It may seem odd to insert the story of anointing Jesus in between the narrative of such a heinous act.  Yet this is a technique we’ve seen Mark use time and again, and it should cause us to wonder how one story relates to the other.  So, how do you think they do?

This Sunday, like investigators, we’ll be examining each of the witnesses to these events in order to try and make sense of it all.  We’ll dig deep to learn Jesus’ message for you and for me in all of this.  Take a few minutes to read through and meditate on the passage, asking yourself, “What was going on in the minds of each of the persons mentioned?”

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“Ready or Not” – Mark 13:24-37

Ready or not, Jesus is coming.  This is His warning, not only for Christians, but for all people.  In the last verse of Mark 13, Jesus said, “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”  We are not to be wasting time by living as if this world is all there is.  We are not to get overly focused on the timing of the end of this world and Christ’s return.

Pastor and author Sinclair Ferguson said, “How sad it is that instead of seeing Jesus teaching as a way to live in the future, as to spur on further obedience and faithfulness, it has often been used as an excuse for either controversy or laziness in the Christian church.”  We know Ferguson’s pointed remark is right.  A stroll through our favorite Christian bookstore on online Christian book distributor’s website proves it true.  Books and movies on this or that view of the end times are what sells, which means this is what many Christians want.  Yet the Bible only teaches two things for certain about the return of Christ: He will return and no one except for the Father (not even the human Jesus) knows when.  Understanding these two things and removing our obsession with uncertain details can radically alter the way in which we live our Christian lives in the present.

The point of this week’s passage, for instance, is that we are to live in awareness that the Master (Jesus) could return at any time.  Mark’s gospel illustrates that in the fourteen compact verses contained in this week’s passage, while Matthew does so in an entire chapter and a half! (Matthew 24:41-25:46).  If Jesus’ words in Matthew and Mark don’t encourage you to more rigorous faithfulness, perhaps you have not yet let Jesus last words in our passage have the last word in your own life – “I say to you all – Watch!”

Consider the following questions as you meditate on this weeks passage.   What are the ways in which Jesus suggests we should live?  What are the practical implications of verse 31 – “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”


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