P A S T O R ‘ S   B L O G

In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. – Proverbs 3:6

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Mirroring God

Our mirrors today are so well-crafted that they reflect, almost without a flaw, whatever is before them. There are two things that can change the image that is reflected from a mirror: the mirror becomes distorted or broken in some way, or the image before the mirror changes.

In Genesis 1, we learn that when God created humankind, male and female, in his image. Of course, God is invisible, but when he created us, he created us to be an image of himself. In a sense, at creation humanity was a reflection of God. (We could spend a lot of time reviewing all that has been said about the image of God and what it is that we reflect, but that goes far beyond the point of this blog.) Again, God created human beings in such a way that we were meant to reflect his image. God meant himself to be seen in his image bearers.

We do not have to read much further into Genesis to discover that the image that we reflect has become distorted. A mirror that is smashed into hundreds of pieces still reflects that which is before it, but it does so improperly. Likewise, a mirror that has become warped will reflect an image, but the image will be distorted, often mocking that which it is meant to reflect. (We think of curved mirrors in fun houses as an example.) As image bearers of God, because of sin, we no longer faithfully reflect who God is. The images people see of God in us are broken and distorted, and although something of God may be seen in us, they can’t see what God intended to be seen had sin not entered the world.

But what if we move the mirror so that it is no longer facing God? In the Old Testament, the people began to worship other gods, the gods of the nations around them. In effect what they were doing was point themselves at something other than the Lord, and they began to reflect that image to the world. They became image bearers, not of the God who had created all things but, rather, of the gods they themselves had created. Not only was the image that they reflected distorted and broken, but it also didn’t reflect anything of our Creator God at all. What we might say, then, is that the god we worship becomes the image that others see in us. If we worship the Lord, then even though we reflect a broken image, it is still an image of the Lord. If we worship other gods, the image we project resembles the other gods.

In the second commandment, we are told that we may not make an image of any created thing for the intention of worshipping it. The commandment is broad enough to include not only images of other gods but also images of the Lord. There is good reason for this. In the Golden Calf narrative (Exodus 32ff.), the Israelites construct a statue of a calf and they proclaim that this image represented the gods (or, perhaps, God) who had brought them out of Egypt. At first it appears that they have switched gods, but in verse 5 of that same chapter, Aaron declares that there will be a “festival to the Lord,” indicating that this golden calf was probably meant to represent the Lord.

We can understand why the people would have wanted such an image. The golden calf (picture a muscular yearling bull) depicted that their God (god) had power. Already he had displayed that power when he defeated the Egyptians and freed the Israelites, but the Israelites were unsure of the future, and they wanted to be assured that the God (god) they followed would lead them onward to the Promised Land and provide them a home there after displacing those who already lived in the Land. A yearling bull (bulls were among the most powerful animals of the time) seemed to be a perfect image by which the Israelites could gain assurance. Who doesn’t want a powerful God?

But there was one thing they didn’t consider. When they made the golden calf, they were hoping to say that they would appear powerful to their enemies, that the image they reflected to the world was powerful because their God (god) was powerful. The nations would see them with their god, and they would be afraid. But the thing that they didn’t consider was this: by making God into a statue, they had also made him unresponsive. It doesn’t matter how much they prayed, sacrificed, pleaded, threatened, cajoled or otherwise tried to convince the golden calf to respond, it would remain unmoving and unresponsive. And that is not who God is.

It is because the Israelites made this image, that God begins to use a term that sticks with them through the centuries: they are stiff-necked. Stiff-necked is not stubborn, although it can be that; it is better thought of as being unresponsive. The covenant God had made with his people involved their response of service and obedience, but they were doing nothing of that. They had become like the statue of the calf, unresponsive and uncaring, refusing to be thankful to the Lord for what he had done for them. Most of the times that the phrase, “stiff-necked,” is used in the Bible, it is used in reference to the casting of the golden calf. It becomes a way for God (or his spokespeople, the prophets) to say that the people are not responding to God’s covenant as they had promised to.

As we know, the Golden Calf narrative follows upon God’s covenant with Israel in which he promised to provide for his people, as long as they heeded his voice. In building the calf, they had decided to ignore God (be stiff-necked). In not responding to God, they neglected to love God or their neighbour. They had become unresponsive to the covenant, thus rendering it null and void. It was only because our gracious God decided to keep the covenant in spite of their being stiff-necked that he did not abandon them. It is because of sin, in fact, that God the Father sent a new image-bearer to be his reflection in this world. Jesus, who is the exact image of God, became what we could not be, making God known to this broken world.

The God we worship is not unresponsive as was the golden calf. Our God not only responds to our needs when we ask him for help, but more often than not he anticipates our needs and provides for us long before we even think of asking. When it comes to our salvation, God’s, “I will save you,” came long before our “Save us.” And when it comes to daily needs, if God didn’t provide for us even before we asked, we would be a worse situation that we could imagine.

Because we worship a God who is responsive to our needs, we begin to reflect that responsiveness in the way we treat others as well. Thus, the apostles would agree that it is somewhat ludicrous for us to say that we love God while at the same time doing nothing to care for our neighbours. God’s responsiveness causes us to become responsive as well as we worship him.

Perhaps one way to determine if it is truly God that we worship is to ask this question: is the image I am presenting an image of grace, love, and provision? Or am I uncaring about the needs of others? If the latter is the case, perhaps it is not the God of the Bible that we are worshipping.

~ Pastor Gary ~


Actions Reveal Our Faith

Sometimes our actions show our faith better than our words. In fact, what we do often shows how much faith we have. Following are several examples, one from the Bible and several from our lives.

In 1 Samuel 17 we read the story about David and Goliath. In that story as David runs forward to challenge Goliath, he picks up 5 stones. Have you ever wondered why he picked up 5 stones and not just one? Did David really believe that if he missed with the first stone that Goliath would give him the chance to sling another at him? Goliath had a shield bearer who would have provided the giant with protection from any subsequent stones, so David had to knock Goliath out with the first stone, or else he would be killed.

So, why 5 stones? In 2 Sameul 21:15-22, we read that David’s mighty men fought and killed four men who were descendants of Rapha from Gath. Goliath was from Gath, and Rapha, while a proper name in verse 22, also means “giant.” It seems that when David went out to meet Goliath, he had in mind that not only would he kill Goliath, but he would also put to death his four sons. Thus, the act of picking up 5 stones was not so that he could try again if he missed the first time, but, rather, as a way of saying to Goliath, “I am so confident that God has given you into my hands that I am picking up these other stones to say that you will have no descendants.” Picking up 5 stones was David’s act of faith in the Lord.

In our times, we can also see acts of faith. Most cemeteries (but not all) are arranged in such a way that those who are buried there, should they be able to sit up, would face east. Tradition has it that Jesus, when he returns, will return from the east. When Jesus returns, Scripture teaches, those who have put their faith in him will be raised to new life, and it has become a tradition that those who die in the Lord, when they are raised to new life will see Jesus coming on the clouds. Being buried in such a way is an act of faith, faith that God will raise his children to eternal life.

This does not mean, of course, that if cemeteries are arranged differently, the designers were mocking God. Maybe they just didn’t know the tradition or maybe the topography didn’t lend itself to a different arrangement. It also doesn’t mean that those who choose cremation are dismissing the teaching of the resurrection, for one does not have to be buried in the traditional way to prove their faith. Nevertheless, those who do anticipate the resurrection might choose, as a sign of their faith, to be buried in such a way so that when they rise from the grave, the first person they will see is Jesus.

Perhaps one example that might apply to our routine decisions. As followers of Jesus Christ, we know that we are called to give of what we have to support the ministry of the church and to help others. The Bible teaches that we are to give first to the work of the Lord and then trust that God will provide for us until the next paycheque. There are many who write out their cheques to the church and to charities as soon as they receive their salary, for they are confident that as they give what they have committed themselves to give, God will provide for the rest of their needs. Those who give from what they have left over after expenses, on the other hand, might be showing that they don’t really trust the Lord to provide for their daily needs.

Perhaps you can think of other examples of how our actions show our faith more than our words. In fact, it is often the case that our actions do speak out our faith far more than our words. If we truly take God at his word, it is likely that the way we live our lives will speak our faith more strongly than our words.

A few negative examples are also helpful. Superstitions are often an unspoken display of a lack of faith or of faith in someone or something other than the Lord. Knocking on wood is a remnant of the pagan practice of summoning powerful gods who lived in trees. Avoiding walking under a ladder is a superstitious way of avoiding offending the Triune God. (The lines formed by the ladder, the ground, and the wall were thought to represent the Trinity.) Avoiding stepping on cracks is rooted in the belief that a crack in the pavement might be filled with evil forces. While we might not know the origin of these superstitious practices when we engage in them, we are revealing that perhaps our faith might not be as firmly rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ as we might profess. Even if we may not know the origin of superstitions, we know that we are doing something to gain “good luck” or avoid “bad luck.” Sometimes, our actions speak the truth of our hearts, even when we don’t intend that to happen.

When David picked up the 5 stones, he knew what he was doing. He was not confident in himself at that moment, but, rather, fully aware of his dependence on God. He was so sure that God would help him defeat Goliath that he was able to pick up 4 extra stones, stones he would never have been able to use against Goliath. His seemingly insignificant action revealed where his heart was. May it be that our actions do the same.

~ Pastor Gary ~


Sphere Sovereignty

In Matthew 22:21, we find an oft-quoted verse: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Jesus is responding to a trap that the Pharisees have set for him, either to discredit him or to have him arrested by the Roman soldiers who would have been nearby. The Pharisees asked him if it was right for a Jew to pay the imperial tax, the tax that Caesar collected from everyone in his empire. If Jesus said that it was to pay the tax, he would lose credibility with many of his fellow Jews, for they despised the Romans and hated paying the tax. On the other hand, if he said that it was not right to pay the tax, the soldiers could arrest him for sedition and anarchy. Either way, the Pharisees would accomplish their goal of having Jesus’ influence curtailed.

Jesus responded with the words, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” We are told that the Pharisees were amazed, and they left him alone, at least for a while. We might ask ourselves why the Pharisees were amazed? Were they amazed that Jesus had saw their trap and had sprung it, escaping it unharmed? Were they amazed at Jesus’ cleverness? Or was their something else?

The way the Pharisees posed the question, “Should we pay the imperial tax to Caesar?” creates a line in the sand. When is it right to submit to the government and when do we cross the line? Where do we draw the line, and is it ever right to cross it? The Pharisees came from a long tradition of resisting the civil government, first the Greeks and then the Romans. Many from their tradition had chosen to die for their faith rather than do what the government demanded. They had drawn a very clear line, one that allowed for minimal submission to the government and one that should not be crossed at all. They taught that to submit to the civil government was to take a stance against God. Conversely, submitting to God was to stand against the government.

Jesus’ reply challenges the idea of there being a line which we cross. He says that we must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Jesus’ answer is not so much a clever way to escape a trap as it is a profound way of understanding who has authority over what. Jesus, in a way, was introducing us to the teachings of Abraham Kuyper, 1800 years before Kuyper was born. Many of us have been influenced by Kuyper who taught the concept of sphere sovereignty. As we know from both the teachings of Peter (1 Peter 2:13) and Paul (Romans 13:1ff.) ruling authorities are given to us by God for our good, and it is our obligation to submit to them. Thus, when the government demands taxes, they have the right to do so, and we must pay them. When they make laws, we are obligated to obey them because they have the right to make and enforce laws. God has given governments an area of life (sphere) over which they are sovereign, and we are obligated to recognize that sovereignty. Thus, we are obligated to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

We are also obligated to give to God what is God’s. Since that is the case, then we are moved to ask the question: “What belongs to God?” The simple answer: everything. Kuyper taught that there are many spheres (areas) over which various groups/persons have been given authority. Governments have authority over their nations, home owners over their homes, children over their toys, and teachers over their classrooms. In our world there are many spheres and many authority figures, but God’s sphere includes them all. Quoting Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” In other words, every sphere of life, no matter how small or how large comes under the authority of Jesus Christ.

This is the amazing thing about Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees. He put to an end the idea that submission to the government is opposition to God. Instead, he is saying that submission to the government is submission to God. At the same time, and most importantly, every sphere of life, no matter what it is, does not exist independently but is subject to the authority of God in Jesus Christ.

The implication of this is that there is no separation of church and state, at least not as we practice it today. While we can (and should) argue that there is (and should be) a separation between government and home (each has its own sovereign sphere), and while there is and should be a separation between business and education (each has its own separate sphere), the church, as the representative of Jesus Christ, has the right to speak to every sphere of life. Even more, Christians, as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, have the obligation to speak to every sphere of life, calling it to submission to the one who is Lord of all. Because everything belongs to God, all of life must be lived in service to him and all earthly authorities must be subject to his reign by being obedient to him. What is more, all businesses, all households, all schools, all service clubs, all retirees, all medical facilities – everything that exists is obligated to submit to the overarching authority of Jesus Christ. It is the church, Christians together, who have the responsibility to make sure that every sphere knows what God asks of us.

he role of a Christian, thus, is not to say with defiance “I will not submit to your authority,” for that authority has been given by God. Rather, the Christian’s responsibility is to say, “Submit yourself to the Lord for he is sovereign over your business, home, nation, etc.” Thus, our energy is not to be used in acts of defiance and subversion but in creating opportunities to instruct and guide all spheres of life to submit to the authority of our Lord and Saviour. After all, all people everywhere are called to give to God what belongs to him. Not all are aware of that obligation and not all know how to do that. We can help others understand and so learn to live under the reign of the God who has made himself known in Jesus Christ.

~ Pastor Gary ~


King of Shame

Some years ago, I heard a sermon from the Old Testament in which the pastor read a text which says that the sun lights our way. He talked about how it was fortuitous that this word, “sun,” sounds like “son,” and he went on to draw the conclusion that this particular verse in the Bible points us to Jesus Christ who is the “Son.” Nothing that this pastor said was particularly wrong, but the way he drew his conclusions does not work in every language. It certainly doesn’t work in the Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament), for the words for “son” and “sun” are very different from each other. Nor could this particular sermon be translated into French (son=fils; sun=soleil) or Spanish (son=hijo; sun=sol), although it might work in Dutch (son=zoon; sun=zon). What this pastor neglected to do was check the original languages, producing a sermon that could well have gone very wrong. When reading a passage of Scripture in English we need to be careful that we don’t make the text say something that the original languages don’t allow. In other words, let’s be careful when drawing conclusions such as the one this pastor drew.

At the same time, there are times when translations don’t necessarily reveal the wordplays found in the original languages. The Hebrew language doesn’t normally contain vowels when it is written, so to pronounce a word, one must be familiar enough with the language to be able to discern what the vowels might be. (For example, even without vowels, we can understand the following sentence even without its vowels: Jhn thrw th bll.) Originally the Hebrew Bible didn’t contain the vowels either, but at some point, Jewish scholars added vowels (which appear below the consonants), making the Bible easier to read for those who might not be adept at reading Hebrew. Most recognize that those who added the vowels were doing a degree of interpretation, although most also agree that the interpretation is the correct one. In other words, we can trust that not only the consonants constitute God’s revealed word but the vowels, which were added later are also included in that inspiration. (The scholars were very careful when they added the vowels, drawing on the wisdom and experience of hundreds of years of the work of other scholars.)

Because Hebrew didn’t have vowels originally, readers of Hebrews could add wordplays as they read the text aloud. Most people would have caught them immediately and would have appreciated what the reader was doing. Sometimes the reader would substitute the vowel pronunciation of one word into another to make a point. The example which follows shows this well.

The Hebrew consonants that are translated as “king” are “mlk”. Normally “king” is pronounced as “melek.” The Hebrew word for “shame,” when pronounced, usually uses the vowels “o” and “e.” There is an Ammonite god who the Israelites called “Molek,” sometimes written “Molech” in our English Bibles. Molek was a terrible god who people believed accepted the sacrifice of children. Thus, the letters, “mlk”, when read in reference to the Ammonite god were not pronounced “melek,” meaning king, but rather, “Molek,” meaning “shameful king” or “king of shame.” What an appropriate name for such a terrible god! The worship of Molek was the epitome of shamefulness for the Israelite people who had substituted their holy and righteous God for the Ammonite god.

We miss this play on words in the English language and even a reader of Hebrew might miss the play on words. But if the Bible was read aloud, the listeners would have not missed it. In 2 Kings 23:13, the words, “king,” and “Molek” appear in the same sentence, and we can well imagine that there was no mistaking that Molek was the “king of shame” as the reader spit that word out of his mouth as he would spit something distasteful. This is the verse where we learn that King Solomon had introduced the worship of Molek to the Israelites by building a shrine to Molek. This, by the way, was the reason that Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, did not become king of all 12 tribes of Israel, but, rather, was given reign over only two of the tribes while his rival, Jeroboam became king of the 10 northern tribes. It is as if the author if 2 Kings is almost saying that King Solomon was a little like the god he introduced, a “king of shame” as well, for it was shameful what he did. Solomon’s actions eventually led to the destruction of God’s people and their exile into Assyria (722BC) and Babylon (586BC).

It is also telling that the longing of God’s people, following the eventual destruction the kingdom of Judah (consisting of the two tribes) in 586BC and the later restoration of Israel, was for a new king, a Son of David. Solomon was not truly a Son of David, at least not in the way he led the people, for he turned them away from the Lord. The people were longing for someone like King David, who was not a king who led the people away from the Lord but, as Scripture says, was a man after God’s own heart. Years later, when Jesus was nearing the end of his earthly ministry, the people hailed him as the Son of David, not only because he descended from David, but also because he was like David in that he made it his ministry to bring the people back to the Lord. This is the kind of king that people wanted, for they had come to know what the “king of shame” had done to them.

While we may not have anything as terrible as a god like Molek, many of our leaders (political, economic, educational, and sometimes even religious) are leading us away from the Lord. We might say that they are little “Moleks,” representatives of that terrible god. The world will not do well under their reign. The Catechism says, however, that we are called “Christians,” because, paraphrasing the Catechism, we are anointed and appointed to be representatives of the Son of David, fighting against sin, offering ourselves sacrificially to the work of the Kingdom, and being representatives of Jesus Christ as we make his reign over this world known so that this world will be brought back to God. To do this well, of course, we must not follow the way so of the Molek but, rather the ways of Christ whose ways are often quite different from the ways of the world.

~ Pastor Gary ~