Friday, June 25, 2010

MacArthur & McChrystal

They now have more in common than the prefix on their surnames and their occupation. Harry Truman relieved MacArthur of his duties in Korea in 1951, and now Barak Obama has relieved McChrystal of his duties in Afghanistan.

There are points of similarity and of contrast in the two incidents. Only one point (one of similarity) concerns us here. In both cases, the men were dismissed for disagreeing with their commander-in-chief, and allowing those disagreements to become public knowledge.

I do not happen to agree with the dismissal of General McChrystal. Nor do I agree that Mr. Truman was right to dismiss General MacArthur. But, while it was perhaps too heavy-handed to dismiss the generals, it was also wrong of the generals to criticize their commander.

MacArthur believed that President Truman was violating the constitution in ordering the Army into Korea. He further believed that, if the war in Korea was so important to Truman that he would violate the constitution to fight it, then he ought to fight it all out -- including bombing the bases in China being used by the communist forces. Perhaps MacArthur was right. But, even if right, he should have challenged the President directly on these matters, and not allowed his convictions to leak out by means of actions he took in Korea.

McChrystal’s criticisms of Obama may also have been correct; but it is still a soldier’s duty to support his chief, or, if he cannot in good conscience do so, to resign. Truman and Obama are both human leaders. They may have been wrong, but it is the duty of their subordinates to submit.

I am thankful that my commander is not human, that he does not err, that I can obey him without doubt or question. MacArthur and McChrystal should not have openly second-guessed their chief, even though their chief may have been wrong. We who serve a perfect leader, have no excuse for our insubordination.

"Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God." For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

"Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev. 19:10-16, ESV)

LAW & GOSPEL

William Perkins wrote, "If anyone is to receive this righteousness in Christ for himself he must seek it where it can be found, namely in both the law and the gospel; not in the gospel alone; but first in the law, and then the gospel. We must never try to taste the sweetness of the gospel when we have not first swallowed the bitter pill of the law. If, therefore, we want to be declared righteous in Christ, then we must be content first to be pronounced sinful and unrighteous in ourselves."

What Mr. Perkins has said is not congenial to our modern emphasis on positive thinking, but it is the truth. The gospel is good news to those who have faced the fact of their sinful unworthiness. But to those who claim "I’m OK, you’re OK" the gospel is a pointless story, the solution to a nonexistent problem, the satisfaction of a thirst they do not feel.

Peter presented the good news of forgiveness only after he had cut his hearers to the heart (Acts 2:37). Those who are seeking righteousness within themselves will never, can never, grasp the gospel (Rom 9:30-10:4).

We are not under the law of Moses. We must never teach that law, or any law, as a means of salvation. But until people know enough of God’s law to know that they are hopelessly, completely, eternally lost, their ears will be closed to the gospel of Christ. Until we know that we are undone, we never welcome the hot coal of God’s purifying forgiveness (Isa 6). The law, taught as a means of salvation, is falsely taught. Law taught as salvation confirms us in our arrogance.

Paradoxically, the gospel, if taught without first demanding repentance by the teaching of God’s law, likewise leaves us feeling that we are acceptable, that we have little need to seek forgiveness.

Law and gospel, we must teach both. We must believe both.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Of No Effect

Themba Maseko, a spokesman for the South African government, has said that a strike by marshals assigned to protect World Cup fans "will not affect security." Well, I have a question (or two). If their not working is not going to affect security, why were they hired in the first place? In saying that their refusal to work will not have an effect, are you not admitting that they were of no use to begin with?

Now, let’s consider this in relation to the church.

Place your name in the blank at the beginning of the following paragraph. Then read the paragraph and ask yourself if the shoe fits. Is your involvement in the church about as effective as these South African marshals?

"Since ________ ________ is no longer a member of the church, the committee chairmen met to consider the impact this would have on the church. The education committee is not going to search for a new teacher because this member never helped with a class. The trustees do not have to find someone else to help with the cleaning and repair of the building, because this member never helped with these tasks. The worship committee is not concerned that the absence will have an impact on our singing, because this person rarely sang out anyway. The treasurer suspects that there will be no noticeable drop in the contribution due to this departure. The benevolent committee reports that this member was never known to provide assistance to those in need. The mission and outreach committee is unaware of any effort on this person’s part to help evangelize or to teach new converts. We are sorry to see them go, but it appears that the departure of this member will not actually affect any aspect of the church’s work."

Does that accurately describe you?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Neglected Blessing

It is not uncommon for preachers to focus on the disadvantages of life in full-time ministry. There are difficulties. As a general rule, there is a lack of financial security; there is the burden of an uncertain schedule; and there are certain emotional burdens involved in the task (cf. 2 Cor 11:28). But there are also tremendous blessings in this work.

I am writing this on Tuesday morning. This morning I have been able to read a number of interesting comments on the two parables that will serve as the text for my sermon Sunday morning. I am blessed with more opportunity to do this than most. I enjoy finding out what others think about the scriptures. Although I do not always agree with what they say, they often point out a line of thought that I may have overlooked.

Many of you work jobs that prevent you reading as much as I am able to do. Few of you have as many good Bible study resources as I have. In studying Matthew 13, you may not have the opportunity to consider the thoughts of John Calvin, Alfred Plummer, Craig Blomberg, Robert Mounce, Richard France, R.V.G. Tasker, Richard Lenski, Leon Morris, William Barclay, and Neil Lightfoot as I will have this week. That is a blessing and I am thankful for it.

But what do you have? What can you use to stimulate your thinking about God’s word? What can you do to make sure that you do not overlook significant truths when reading the Bible?
You have our Bible classes. The comments of the teachers and fellow students in these classes are intended to serve a purpose for you similar to that served for me by my library. What the comments in class may lack in scholarliness, they often make up for in timeliness. Our classes are far from perfect, but they are often stimulating for those who attend and participate. Are you neglecting this blessing?

Friday, June 4, 2010

"In the Name of Human Dignity"

Madonna has said that homosexuals jailed in Malawi should be released "in the name of human dignity." Pardon me for asking, but what does Madonna know about dignity? Exactly what does she imagine to be dignified behavior? I know very little about the woman, but everything I do know indicates that she is as undignified as anyone on earth.

A sane concern for human dignity would lead us to condemn rather than excuse perverted behavior. When a child takes something and puts it to a use for which it is clearly not designed, we excuse it on the basis of their ignorance. But when adults, who clearly know better, take the body God has given them and use it in an unnatural and unhealthy manner, concern for human dignity is exactly why humanity has, throughout the centuries, condemned their actions.

I am not familiar enough with the Malawian situation to say if the sentence handed down was completely just; but it is clear that the reaction of Madonna (and the Western media in general) has been completely illogical.

These men have offended human dignity. We may disagree as to how we should deal with such wrong. But it is wrong. That is beyond question. They have perverted the use of the human body. They are the ones who stand guilty of offending human dignity.