Our sin will find us out. There will be no sighs of relief that we escaped the condemnation due us for our transgressions. Our sin that we tried so hard to hide throughout our lives will be laid bare. And there will be no defense that can be made. We stand guilty, our sin exposed. Yet God paints for us another scenario, one where there are no games, only grace.
Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)
His past had come home to roost. After years of philandering, the now elderly man sat in the dock awaiting the verdict. His barrister had done his best but nothing was certain until the jury had rendered its verdict, nothing except the reality that he was indeed guilty of rape as charged.
The movie had built to a climax. Flashbacks gave the viewers inside knowledge of how it had all unfolded, and it had been just as the woman on the stand had described the event from twenty years earlier. But would she be believed? Was the Crown’s case compelling and unequivocal enough to elicit a guilty verdict?
It was not. The jury foreman was instructed to answer two questions. One, had they reached a unanimous verdict? Yes. Two, was the verdict guilty or not guilty? Not guilty. The man in dock collapsed in on himself like a giant sinkhole, unable to sustain his weight, his shoulders heaving with sobs of relief.
The accused and his legal team had played the game well.
That cannot be the case for you, or for me, or for anyone who stands before the tribunal of the living God. Our sin will find us out. There will be no sighs of relief that we escaped the condemnation due us for our transgressions.
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By Joel Ellis — 4 months ago
Good preaching is not just teaching what to do this week or how to think about a single issue. It is forming us in the likeness of Christ. It is a means of grace used by the Spirit to chip away the remaining sinfulness and carve us more and more in the form of Jesus. It is training discernment, teaching us not only how to view one thing but learning how to look at everything through the lens of creation and covenant, Scripture and the life of our Savior, cross and future crown.
By the grace of God I am what I am… (1st Corinthians 15:10)
One of the greatest challenges in weekly preaching is remembering that you must meet your audience where they are and help them in their daily walk with Christ. The typical Reformed pastor spends a lot of time with books, reading old volumes of theology and sermons written by men who have been dead for many years, sometimes centuries. He may also spend time online or actively corresponding with other men about current theological controversies and the latest issue which has been designated the true test of orthodoxy. But when it comes time to write his weekly sermon(s), if he is a good pastor, he must remember that he was sent by Christ to shepherd a particular flock of sheep. He is not pastoring an audience on YouTube. He is not enlightening the broader presbytery by the brilliance of his exposition or saving his denomination by the power of his elocution. He is a shepherd sent to lead, feed, water, and protect particular sheep, and most of those sheep have very different priorities than their theologically attuned pastor.
Reformed churches are, rightly, critical of evangelicalish churches where the sermon is always something like Seven Ways to Have a Better Marriage or What Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour Can Teach Us About Loving Jesus. Such preaching neither edifies saints nor points the unbeliever to Jesus Christ.
By Jeffrey Stivason — 7 months ago
What is the difference between an ancient man calling a piece of wood a god and a modern man calling a biological man a woman? They are both a fabrication. The ancient may have been able to work out a pulley system to move the arms or head of his wooden idol but how different is that from injecting a hormone into a male breast so that it will lactate? Both are a fiction. Both are manipulations of reality.
Whatever we may think about an idol, foolish as it may be, we must not be in doubt about the infatuation that these chunks of metal and blocks of wood inspire in their worshipers. idols are precious to idolaters. What is more, idolaters are often witnesses for their idols, even though their witness proves their folly. In fact, idolatry is the epitome of sin lacking sense. We see that in the Scriptures. Just think about the description in Isaiah 44:12-17. The prophet tells us that a man plants a tree, he prunes it, cares for it and when it is tall enough, he cuts it down and cuts it in half. With one half he builds a fire. He cooks his food and warms himself with it. And he says, “Ah, I am warm; all is well!”
But with the other half of the log, he takes a chisel and shapes it. He measures it and uses a chalk like to make sure the lines are straight. He labors long like this even going without food and water using his strength to craft the wood and in the end the piece of wood looks like an image. The man sets up the image and then does the oddest thing, he bows down to the wood in worship and even prays to it saying, “Deliver me, for you are my god!
Now, anyone who hears that story from Isaiah is going to laugh because it sounds so utterly foolish. In fact, people are wont to disparage the ancients for being primitive, underdeveloped, and lacking in understanding. But let’s wait just a minute. What if we were to ask one of those ancients about this story. What might they say?
Well, we might be surprised at the sophistication of their answer. Take Psalm 135 as an example. There, in verses 16 and 17, the Psalmist explains the psychology of idolatry. He writes that idols have “mouths but cannot talk…eyes but cannot see…ears but cannot hear…noses but cannot smell, throats but cannot make a sound.” All very obvious observations. But notice verse 18, “Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” What’s the point? Simply this, idolaters make their idols in their own image. The idolater has no instincts for God. He has no eyes with which to see him, no ears with which to hear him, and no mouth that he might praise him. Idolatry illustrates ignorance. Certainly, that is an answer steeped in reflection.
Now, what’s my point in bringing this to your notice?
By John Washington — 2 years ago
The subject of father-absence remains taboo among many black activists, even though the rate of father-absence among blacks is horrifying. For these activists, any attempt to discuss black cultural failures is a kind of victim-blaming and a distraction from what really ails the black community—the persistence of white supremacy.When my mother called me in from play one afternoon to meet the man seated in our living room, her introduction was redundant—I immediately knew who he was. And, right off, I did not like him. His absence had been a painful matter in my life. The house that we lived in explained some of it. It was unfit for human tenancy—a decaying hovel with a leaking roof, creaking structures, and a termite infestation. I was ashamed to let anyone other than my closest friends know where I lived.
I was 12 that year of 1956. This was the Jim Crow South where poverty was the default condition of the black masses. Black males were restricted to the lowly crafts of ditch digger, janitor, and farmer, unless they catered directly to the black community, in which case the jobs of preacher, teacher, and shop-owner were also open. Most worked the hardscrabble categories so there was poverty all around, and since my mother was the only breadwinner, our poverty was wretched.
But this is not a story of black victimhood. This is, instead, an essay about a flaw in black culture that is just as uncomfortable for me to speak about as it is for my black brothers and sisters to hear. But a problem must be acknowledged before it can be fixed. And the failure of black fathers is among the worst problems afflicting our community.
My mother was a maid. Since her $25-a-week salary did not go very far, I was a skinny kid with a constant cold, owing to a poor diet and a house that grew Arctic in the winter months. There was a wood stove in the living room and another in the kitchen but their heat did not radiate beyond those rooms. We only ever used the kitchen stove for cooking in order to save fuel. To keep warm during winter, we slept under five blankets. If a glass of water was left out overnight, it had iced over by morning. There was no hot running water.
The poverty programs back then were designed to ensure survival. They were not like those today which help a person through life. Even if programs like those had been available, my mother’s stubborn pride would not have allowed her to use them. I am not criticizing the safety net of our current welfare system. I am a liberal. But my mother’s code of honor was simply part of who she was—a tough lady.
Most devastating for me was the psychological impact of my father’s absence. The most miserable moments of my childhood were when other kids asked me where my father was. In the days before we understood conception, I could just tell them that I just didn’t have one. But after we all learned a bit of biology, the question became so upsetting that on a few occasions I had to walk away from play activities.
I didn’t know what to tell them because my mother refused to speak of this man, even when I asked. He was a forbidden topic in her house, and so I learned to keep my mouth shut. I found out later from an uncle that my father regularly beat my mother which is why she divorced him when I was born. This shows her grit and gumption, for in those days, women could scarcely fend for themselves economically, and so battered wives were condemned to suffer as punching bags. But not my mother.
Growing up without a dad made me feel as though I lacked the full humanity and manhood of my cousins, friends, and classmates. From what I can recall, every other black home seemed to have a father. Southern blacks were already second-class citizens and I felt even lower than those around me. And since I did not have the self-confidence and self-esteem of my male peers, I sought adventures later in life to compensate. In the Army, I volunteered for paratroop units, fought in Vietnam, and was disciplined for insubordination four times. I boxed as an amateur. I drove at 120 miles an hour on the German Autobahn. I ran marathons. I worked as a demolitions specialist and as a long-haul truck driver. And I would hang out with some of the most ferocious males I could find.
Does the criminal behavior of some young black males today owe something to a sense of lost masculinity? I feel sure that this is so. A friend who works as an Army recruiter told me that so many black males have criminal records, the military is no longer the instrument for building machismo that it was when I joined. So, in inner-city communities where viciousness defines manhood, darker paths have become the option.
In 1965, a controversial report entitled “The Negro Family: A Case of National Action” was published by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist working at the Labor Department. Moynihan concluded that a lot of the social problems affecting American blacks owed to the disintegration of the black family. “At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society,” he wrote, “is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time.” He went on:
As a direct result of this high rate of divorce, separation, and desertion, a very large percent of Negro families are headed by females. While the percentage of such families among whites has been dropping since 1940, it has been rising among Negroes.
The percent of nonwhite families headed by a female is more than double the percent for whites. Fatherless nonwhite families increased by a sixth between 1950 and 1960, but held constant for white families.
It has been estimated that only a minority of Negro children reach the age of 18 having lived all their lives with both of their parents.
Once again, this measure of family disorganization is found to be diminishing among white families and increasing among Negro families.
These figures were troubling, but they only offered a hint of what was to come. By the time the “Moynihan Report, Revisited” was published in 2013, 73 percent of black children were born to unmarried mothers. The figure for non-Hispanic white children was 29 percent:
I was stunned. A few months ago, I mentioned this to a black activist who was working on the problem of black violence in a nearby town. He had been trying to figure out why violence seemed to be endemic among their young black males and had reached a dead end. When I suggested that father-absence was not properly socializing black youth and asked him if he had read the Moynihan Report, he told me that the report was written by racist right-wingers determined to condemn blacks for their own misfortunes. I didn’t bring it up with him again. For now, the town’s solution is recreation centers.
It was not the first time I had heard the report dismissed in this way. It was basically the attitude of the black community upon the report’s publication. The backlash from the community was so militant and damning—reviling its author in the process—that the Johnson Administration dropped the issue and turned its attention to the Vietnam War. This reaction was not entirely surprising, given the demonization of blacks by many whites since first contact in the 1400s. Denigration used to justify outrageous and dehumanizing treatment produced a hypersensitivity among blacks that reflexively prevents us from accepting criticism from outsiders. Criticism from insiders has become something like heresy.