Mothers’ Day

Posted by ajenkins on July 26, 2013 under Good News, Jerusalem, Jesus, Sabbatical | 2 Comments to Read

Today was Mother’s Day at Saint George’s College. We spent the day just in the outskirts of Jerusalem at Ein Kerem and Bethlehem. While in Ein Kerem we visited the Church of the Visitation where the angel visited Mary and told her she was to be a mother. “Let it be to me according to your will.” Isn’t that the response God would ask of us all? Our typical reaction is, “yes according to your will, but….” The greatest thing about submitting to God’s will for us is  that He knows what’s best for us and will never ask anything of us that would do harm. I love the great phrase from one of the prayers in Morning Prayer. “In whose service is perfect freedom.” To “let it be according to your will” is to find perfect freedom. Yes, it sure may stretch you, but it will also comfort you and provide for you.

Following the Church of the Visitation we then visited the Church of John the Baptist. While there a group of Hatian Christians were also visiting and began to sing in the shade under the trees surrounding the church. Amazing! Glorious! I wanted to join in but it was in French. No matter, the worship was blessed.

From Ein Kerem we traveled to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity. Now you can be sure this holy spot is on every pilgrim’s tour in the Holy Land. And they were all there today. No matter, the wait, it was still an amazing moment to go through the gate of humble access (that’s a low door) and then descend below the altar of this Franciscan Church to the small grotto that has become the traditional site of our Lord’s birth. The place is wonderful, but remember, it is the people who are holy. Their reverence was inspiring.

Tomorrow we travel to the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of the Beatitudes and the Church of the Multiplication. I have been chosen to preach at our worship service tomorrow evening. Preaching by the Sea of Galilee. What a personal moment. I can’t wait.

While we have been here in Jerusalem the Moslems have been celebrating the Holy Month of Ramadan. Today was the third Friday of Ramadan, the holiest day. There were 200,000 Moslem pilgrims in Jerusalem. Yikes. You can’t imagine the traffic jams and the people jams. I guess the Holy Land isn’t always so holy.

Good Night from Jerusalem.
With my love and prayers for you,
Arthur

Holy Land. Holy People.

Posted by ajenkins on July 24, 2013 under Devotionals, Good News, Jesus, Sabbatical | 2 Comments to Read

Today, Tuesday, was a recovery day for us after 24 hours of travel and the 7 hour time change. This gave Kay and myself the opportunity to go into the Walled City. Entering the Old City through the Damascus was quite an experience. Entering the gate while thinking of the Psalm 122 was most moving. “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord. Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” Wow, and my feet were standing within her Gates. Even with that wonderful moment, it was also a bit disconcerting that upon entering the Holy City we had to fight way through the Souk. That’s the market. While winding my way through the very narrow labyrinth of streets filled with shops and shopkeepers hawking their goods, the Holy City seems far from Holy. Then I walked out of the dark street and into a sun filled courtyard and stood before the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I will not try to fully describe our brief time in this very holy place. Yes, we were drawn first to go up the very narrow, steep steps to the Rock of Golgotha. There, just as other pilgrims, I could crawl down, under the altar, and reach through to touch the rock upon which Jesus was crucified. What a moment of humility and thanksgiving. Because we were alone and not with some tour, we could tarry. I use that word because it fits. We tarried, just as Jesus asked the Disciples in Gethsemane. We sat. We prayed. We talked. We looked. We rested. We soaked. We than went around to the Holy Sepulchre. I must admit the power and the holiness of this spot was a bit diminished because it was inundated by such crowds. It was hard to get even a moment at the place where Jesus Christ burst froth from the grave. Thankfully I will have several more opportunities to visit the Holy Sepulchre during this class and following.

With all that the Holy site contains, Golgatha, the Tomb, the Resurrection, I have to tell you the holiest moment I had was at the rock that is called the Stone of Anointing. This stone commemorates the slab on which the body of Jesus may have been lain so that it could be anointed before burial. Please understand. It is only hopeful that this may be the very stone upon which Jesus was laid. But, as I stood and watched the people come to kneel and pray, as they came to place objects on the stone to be blessed, as they knelt and touched it with their lips and their prayers I realized the holiness was not in the rock. It was in the people. Then hesitantly I too knelt and kissed the stone and touched it with my forehead and the holiness invaded me. I stayed their too long. There were many who wanted a moment at this place. Yet, I couldn’t leave. Thanksgiving. Sacrifice. Redemption. Joy. Life. Hope. These were just a few of the many words and emotions that poured over me. I didn’t touch the heart of Jesus. He touched me.

I pray for you all, for a holy moment of your own. Here in the Holy City, I experienced it. The holiness doesn’t reside in the place. It resides in the people. You too are holy. Always remember “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory.”
With my love,
Arthur
Philippians 1:3

Good Night from Jerusalem

Arthur Has Left The Building

Posted by ajenkins on July 4, 2013 under Good News, Just A Thought, Sabbatical, The Parish | 2 Comments to Read

I can hardly believe the time has come for me to leave Saint James for a season. The sabbatical that all of you have so graciously granted me has arrived. I am both excited and appropriately hesitant. I am excited for all the possibilities and adventures that await me. I am hesitant due to all the possibilities and adventures that await me. You understand – it’s called the unknown.

Sunday, June 23rd is my last Sunday at Saint James. During the first several weeks of July I will take some personal time to prepare for the heart of my sabbatical and see my family. I must be a good son and go see my mother who lives in Raleigh, NC. She turns 90 soon and mostly is doing quite well. She had a real slump of health issues the past several months, but has rebounded somewhat is has some renewed quality of life. While I’m gone I certainly covet your prayers for her – Mildred Jenkins.

Also during this personal time I hope to take a motorcycle trip. I know, I know. Remember my reply whenever I’m asked, “Where do you go on that thing?” I always say, “Nearer my God to Thee.” In addition to this there is lots of preparation, a little packing and at least six books I am to read before arriving in Jerusalem.

On Sunday, July 21st, I hope to return to Saint James for the 10:30 worship that Louise and Andrew may send me out with the commissioning of the Holy Spirit and with your prayers. Please know how much your support will be needed that we all might realize the potential of this trip. This Sabbatical is not just as a vacation for me or a time of study and reflection. This can be a renewal from which all of us may benefit. I hope to return filled with memories, moments, places and people that will have impacted me, the Holy Scriptures and the prayer that it will bear much fruit in my teaching, preaching, leadership and pastoral care. I can’t wait to go and I can’t wait to return – to you.

While in Jerusalem I will take two courses of study at St. George’s College. Founded in 1887, St. George’s College and Cathedral is the oldest ongoing Anglican presence in Jerusalem and is the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

The first course I will take (the one for which Kay is joining me) is the entitled The Palestine of Jesus. It is a 14 day study tour of Holy sites and class room work with both academic and devotional aspects.

The second course I will take at St. George’s is a offered for the first time this year. Its title, The Children of Abraham. This Course will focus on the three Abrahamic faiths:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and their theologies, histories, relations, and common heritage in the Holy Land.  The course will cover aspects of the following elements in the theology of the three traditions:  Israel; Covenant; election; Promise; and Faith; and will focus on convergence and divergence in the relations between the three religions. I can’t think of any topic that has greater impact on God’s story through the Hebrew Nation and greater implications for today’s geopolitical issues, cultural issues and faith issues. Again, I can’t wait.

During the interim between these two courses, from August 6th through September 6, I will live with Rabbi Natan Ophir in his flat. I met the Rabbi on an internet site; Airbnb. Basically it is an internet bed and breakfast system. After corresponding for a time he agreed to host me for the month between courses at St. George’s.

Obviously I am excited at the possibilities of being a resident for a time in Jerusalem and the interaction I will be able to have with this Rabbi and professor at Jerusalem College of Technology. He grew up in Philadelphia, emigrated to Israel in the mid 80’s and received his PhD from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1993. Dr. Ophir is also a knowledgeable guide of the Holy Lands. I am looking forward to the discussions we can have and his directions as to the places to go in Israel.

This extended length of time in Jerusalem, Israel and beyond will allow me to move from being a tourist to the life of a pilgrim. The faithful have been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land for thousands of years. A pilgrimage is always made seeking Holy revelation. The tourist takes a tour, but the pilgrim takes time. I am going to the Holy Land not just to see the sights, but to hear from God. Speak Lord!

Arthur,  John 10:27, Acts 20:28

Recovering the True Meaning of Repentance

Posted by ajenkins on May 1, 2013 under Anglican Events, Devotionals, Good News, Reformation, Repentance, Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

By: The Rt. Rev. C. FitzSimons Allison
This past Advent my wife asked what I was going to preach about on the coming Sunday.
“Repentance,” I replied. “Oh gosh!” she replied wearily, “I wish you’d preach on something cheerful.” One can easily understand why repentance is not considered a joyful subject! The dictionary defines ‘repent’ as “self-reproach for what one has done or failed to do,” “conduct as to change one’s mind regarding it,” or “to feel remorse.” The brilliant novelist E. M. Forster claimed that, “of all means to regeneration, Remorse is surely the most wasteful. It cuts away healthy tissue with the poisoned. It is a knife that probes far deeper than the evil” (Howard’s End, Ch. 41). One could expect such a negative view of remorse from Forster’s known failure to trust Christian forgiveness. How-ever, we should not overlook the unfortunate truth in his observation.It is especially important when we acknowledge that our secular culture increasingly shares with Forster a hope bereft of divine forgiveness, where mere regret sadly replaces repentance.

I contend that the Greek word used in Scripture to express repentance distorts the true biblical meaning of the crucial term: Repent. The Greek word that is used is metanoia, meaning to change one’s mind, whereas in every context in Scripture ‘repentance’ is not a change of mind but a change of heart. The difficulty lies in the fact that the Greek language has no word for change of heart—no metakardia. Swahili has no word for atonement because there had been no experience of atonement. So Greek, bereft of Israel’s revelation concerning change of heart, is left with a superficial hope, only a change of mind, metanoia, no metakardia.

This failure to appreciate the deeper dimension of human nature was abetted by the teaching of Socrates and Plato, who insisted that knowledge produces virtue. They identified goodness with knowledge, saying that to know the good is to do the  good. Vice and evil are simply the result of ignorance.

Such belief is radically different from that of Scripture: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt,” and “If I… understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing” (I Cor. 13: 1, 2). Love comes not from a change of mind but a change of heart. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13); “The Lord is nigh them of broken hearts” (Ps. 31:18); “The wise in heart will heed commandments” (Prov. 10:8); “The heart of men is set to do evil” (Eccles. 9:13); “receive the heart of contrite ones ”(Is. 57:15); “Blessed are the poor in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). In fact, it takes nine columns of Cruden’s Concordance to list the texts regarding heart, but one column is sufficient to include all the verses regarding mind.

Because the Greek language had no word for change of heart, Greek translation gives prominence to the mind. This was bootlegged into Christianity, resulting in a Greek rather than a Christian understanding of repentance. It is not enough to change one’s mind. Our hearts must be changed, changed not by knowledge but by love.

Following this mistake the meaning of faith or belief (pistis) tends to be relegated to the mind and not, as in Scripture, more deeply to the heart. One can intellectually acknowledge the existence of God, but that is a far cry from the trust of God in one’s heart.The latter results in action whereas the former can rest in mere passive acknowledgement.

Much of the historical misunderstanding in the relation between faith and works stems from teaching that faith (pistis) is a matter of the mind instead of its being a trust of the heart that, as true faith, inevitably leads to works. Professor Ashley Null has taught us that “what the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” This, he tells us, is his paraphrase of Philip Melanchthon’s writings that so influenced Thomas Cranmer and can be seen in his Prayer Books. Knowing that the will is but an agency of the heart, Cranmer saw the virulent vanity of Pelagianism. Unless the heart is enticed, evoked, and changed, it is vain to exhort the will. The Gospel itself is the means by which the heart is changed by the message of a gracious God. Unless the heart is moved, the will cannot be effectively engaged.

It is particularly evident in the parable of the prodigal son that repentance in the pig-pen is a low level of repentance, an insight of the mind. “I can do better as one of my father’s servants.” But true repentance, a change not of mind but a change of heart, occurs when the prodigal son experiences the undeserved, initiating, costly love of his father. Similarly, Cranmer’s absolutions in both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (1928) show that true repentance comes after, not before, absolution. The grace of unearned and undeserved absolution speaks to the heart and results in the fruit of the Spirit.

There is no Socratic reliance upon the mind as the means of virtue and obedience in Cranmer’s prayer books. His use of Psalm 51 in the penitential office, “make in me a clean heart, O God…, a broken and a contrite heart, shalt thou not despise,” his responses to the Decalogue, “incline our hearts to keep this law,” and the reception of Holy Communion, “feed on him in thy heart” show clearly that Cranmer’s incomparable use of Scripture for the biblical meaning of repentance indicates a true metakardia even though there is no such Greek word.

When Dr. Null’s work on Cranmer was published by Oxford University Press, it was promised that the whole title would be on the cover. Unfortunately it was not. One has to turn inside to the title page to find it: Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love. Given the general and
understandable attitude toward the term ‘repentance’ the sub-title badly needs to be up front. Many of us feel that repentance is good for other people, but understanding that repentance renews “the power to love” makes us realize a dimension that all of us seek. “Renewing the power to love” rescues the remorse in repentance from destructive possibilities. Sin is a deeper matter than merely breaking a rule or law. It is always radically personal against others, against self, and against God. No self-hate, self-damage, despair, or the accumulation of sacrifices—the fruit of mere remorse—can rectify or redeem sin.

God’s absolution is no mere acceptance. It is God’s grace squeezing into the bastion of our hearts through the crack of remorse. This is the repentance (metakardia) that renews the power to love.

The Rt. Rev’d C. FitzSimmons Allison is the 12th Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina and lives in Georgetown with his wife Martha.

Why I’m Going To Tel Aviv

Posted by ajenkins on February 19, 2013 under Good News, Just A Thought, Sabbatical, Sermons and More | Be the First to Comment

“Why Tel Aviv?” To understand the answer to this question and the importance of this city for the Kingdom of God one must look at its past, present, and future.

Tel Aviv-Yafo is a city composed of both the ancient and the modern. Yafo (Jaffa, Joppa), the southern part of our city, is almost 4,000 years old and was, for centuries, the main port city on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Tradition tells us that one of Noah’s three sons, Yefet (Japheth), founded the city of Yafo.  Later, the famed cedars of Lebanon were shipped through the city on the way to Jerusalem in order to construct the doors of the Second Temple (Ezra 3:7). This port city was seen as such a strategic location, the gateway to Jerusalem and to the east, that it was conquered multiple times throughout history by various empires: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Turkish, and even by Napoleon. In addition to its economic significance, Yafo frequently served as a military beachhead, the land that is captured first to take the rest of the territory.

Yafo also has a great biblical significance, as a gateway for messengers of God’s love and redemption. The Prophet Jonah was called by God to go from Yafo and bring His mercy to the Assyrian people of Nineveh (in modern Iraq). This is the example in the Bible that shows God’s love for people who are not Jewish. Similarly, in the book of Acts, Simon Peter, after raising Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead in Yafo, sees a vision to take the Gospel to the gentiles for the first time. Almost immediately, he is led to Caesarea and preaches the good news to Cornelius and his men (Acts 9-10).

Tel Aviv, Israel’s modern and secular city, was founded in 1909 on the sand dunes north of Yafo. By the 1930’s the city had become another Mediterranean metropolis, designated “The White City” for its sandstone facades and Bauhaus architecture. In 1948, Israel declared its independence in Tel Aviv and supplied food and ammunition to Jerusalem in the War of Independence. It is currently Israel’s center for commerce and trade, high tech, and the military; but is widely known for its avid nightlife, white beaches, sports, and café culture. With an inner city population of 400,000 and a greater area population of 3.3 million, the Tel Aviv region contains more Jews per capita than any place on earth.

And yet with its biblical past and its abundance of modern life, most of Tel Aviv remains in darkness, spiritually dead. Though Jewish by blood and culture, the majority of people has little faith in God and has turned to the occult for guidance and spiritual food. In the book of Joshua, the area of Tel Aviv was allotted to the tribe of Dan.  Sadly, they later gave up their inheritance to the Philistines, moved north, and turned to idolatry. This idolatrous spirit continues to pervade the modern city with its large homosexual population and rampant materialism. While the number of Messianic Jews is increasing, only 0.2% of the Jewish population of Israel believes that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah.

Our hope is in the Lord and He is preparing the harvest. Tel Aviv-Yafo is still a spiritual gateway; as God sent the Gospel from this city we pray that it will return here and form a spiritual beachhead for His Kingdom to take the rest of the country. In Psalm 87: it says, “the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob,” and Tel Aviv-Yafo is one of these gates. May the Lord open up these ancient doors and transform our city to truly become His “White City;” the gateway to Jerusalem.

“Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in.” Psalm 24:9

Christmas: An Inconvenient Truth

Posted by ajenkins on November 20, 2011 under Devotionals, Good News, Jesus, Just A Thought, Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

In 2008 former Vice President Al Gore grabbed the headlines as the narrator of a film about the environment and global warming entitled An Inconvenient Truth. This short word from me is not about this film or even global warming. The “inconvenient truth” about which I wish to write is the inconvenient truth proclaimed by the truth of Christmas.

Christmas is not a shopping season. It is not a family get together to eat season. It is not even just a season to share and give charitably. Christmas is the celebration of the birth, the incarnation of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. I know that doesn’t surprise any of you, especially as I write this in a church newsletter. I am sad that it may surprise you when I tell you in all seriousness that the birth of Christ has become an inconvenient truth.

The premise of Al Gore’s movie is that we Americans see any sacrifice, no matter how slight, which might care for our environment as inconvenient. It would be inconvenient to our lifestyle, to our comfort, to our plans, to our striving for the American Dream. This is also, exactly what has happened with Christmas, the Birth of Christ and the Gospel. Scripture is filled with what have become seen as inconvenient truths because these truths may be detrimental to our lifestyle, our comfort, our plans, our striving for the American Dream.

When a society prospers and enjoys great security it is inevitable that false ideas about life, death, truth and God will flourish with little resistance. Conversely when tragedy strikes those same people no longer want what once ticked their ears, but they want answers and truth.

Sadly this is true for the visible church (meaning, the institution). As American Christians continue to gluttonously indulge themselves on the riches and excesses of life that the West has to offer, they tolerate and even welcome all sorts of twisted ideas about life, death, truth and God.
Some segments of the Church will tell you that God wants you to be rich and healthy and that if you’re not, you must be lacking faith. Another segment of the Church will tell you that no one can know anything for sure (emerging church and nature worshippers). And yet another segment will sacrifice any inconvenient truths of Scripture for popularity and the ever increasing appeal to entertain their members and the desires of society.

However, when your child is diagnosed with leukemia, when your spouse is killed by a drunk driver, when a global famine strikes or the stock market crashes or even when you finally recognize your own weaknesses and limitations, will the hard sayings (John 6:59-60) of Jesus Christ still seem inconvenient?

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”
“If anyone would come follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul.”
“If anyone says he has no sin, he deceives himself and the truth is not in him.”

These and more inconvenient truths are embodied and proclaimed by the Angels at the celebration of the Birth of Christ. “For unto you is born, this day, in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” It has become an inconvenient truth for many and for much of the Church that we are in need of a Savior. That we are sinners in need of forgiveness and restoration to our Creator.

This year at Saint James, as in every year, we will celebrate the inconvenient truth that we are in need of a Savior. That “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” I pray you will join us.

Arthur

Opening Closed Doors

Posted by ajenkins on April 21, 2011 under Devotionals, Good News, Jesus, Just A Thought, Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

From the Bishop of South Carolina, The Rt. Rev’d Mark  Lawrence

Dear Friends in Christ,

When Marjorie Goff closed the door of her apartment in 1949 she was 39 years old.  For her the door stayed shut for the next 30 years.  To be accurate there were a few exceptions.  She went out in 1960 to visit her family, two years later for an operation, and once in 1976 because a friend came to her apartment to take her out for some ice cream.

Marjorie suffered from that metaphor of the human condition known as a phobia.  The list of recognized human phobias is legion.  There’s agoraphobia, aerophobia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, pyrophobia, thanatophobia—just to name a few.  Robert L. DuPont a past director of the Washington Center of Behavioral Medicine called phobias, “The malignant diseases of the ‘what ifs.’”

“What ifs” add up to fears, and fears are right smack dab in the middle of the Easter story.  Matthew’s gospel tells of the chief priests’ and the Pharisees’ fear of a hoax by the disciples.  So they pressured Pilate to send a guard of soldiers to secure the world against a scheme (Matthew 27:62-66).  I’m reminded of Houdini, that renowned magician of another era, who told his wife as he was dying that he would find a way back.  His widow waited, but he never came.  You can secure the world against a scheme or even a magician, but you can’t secure it against a miracle.  Mary Magdalene however didn’t know this, so she was fearful for quite other reasons than  the priests and Pharisees.  When she returned a second time on Easter morning to the empty tomb and to face a fearful future without even the dead body of Jesus to console her, the “what ifs” got the better of her.  The Gospel of John recounts how she mistook the risen Jesus for the gardener.  “Sir,” she queried, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him…”  Our fears and “what ifs” as did hers may well hide from us the presence of the risen Christ.  No wonder in the Easter narratives the attending angels and the risen Jesus tell the disciples “Do not be afraid.”  It is Christ’s victory on the cross and in the tomb over every mortal enemy of humankind that makes these words have substance and therein makes them liberating.

“Christ is risen—Jesus lives” that is the telling message of Easter:  even in the face of Death, Sin, Hell, Judgment, the Devil, and all the “what ifs” of fear— Jesus lives!  After all these enemies of mankind have done their worst, He still Lives—and He still delivers.  This is what gives truth to those wonderful words of Julian of Norwich, “All is well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  She too lived like Marjorie Goff in a room with a closed door.  She was an anchoress.  Her room was attached to a cathedral.  She had only two windows in this room.  One looked in towards the altar of the Norwich Cathedral.  The other looked out to the world.  Unlike Marjorie, however, it was not fear that kept Julian behind a closed door.  It was love—love for Christ and love for a needy world.  It was for this world that Jesus died, and for which He now lives to make intercession, and within His love and intercession she presented her intercessions and so can we.

C. S. Lewis once wrote of Christ’s resurrection:  “He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man.”  It is this opened door that made Julian of Norwich free, free enough to be joyous in a single room, two windows and a closed door so she could live devotedly with an open door of abiding prayer (Revelation 3:20).  It is the Gospel, the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection that when rightly heard and understood will open the doors and lives of those like Marjorie Goff who have lived in the fear of “what ifs.”  I encourage you to invite a friend or acquaintance to join you at church for the Easter Day Eucharist so they might hear this Good News and of the door that Christ has opened for you and keeps open for them as well.

Blessings in Christ our Savior and Lord,
+Mark Lawrence
South Carolina

The BackLash of Judgment

Posted by ajenkins on April 15, 2011 under Devotionals, Good News, Jesus, Judgment, Just A Thought | Be the First to Comment

Matthew 7:1-6

It is ironic that no command becomes a greater focal point of division than Jesus’ great command to end it. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” is a lightning rod of controversy and a bludgeon used both by legalists and libertarians who justify their hate of others. The wicked boomerang, “Stop judging me!” is often just as sin filled as the straight-forward, “garden variety” “You’re damned to hell you wicked sinner!” Whether couched in false humility feigning victimization or launched from the stereotypical angry brow with outstretched finger, both judgments are equally evil.

This is why it is eternally important that we get Jesus’ words right. Here is a classic example of where a right or wrong understanding of Jesus’ teaching determines whether the “eye of body”  (Matthew 6:22) sees well or remains faulty. And our understanding of this truth will determine whether we will deny the faith and cling to unbelief under the Law, or whether we will embrace the righteousness in Jesus Christ that comes by faith.

So what exactly is Jesus saying?

Words are sometimes imperfect vehicles to convey the true meaning of things. Only in this case, it is our modern use of the word judge that causes confusion. When Jesus says, “Do not judge…” he is not saying “Do not compare truths and make distinctions” he is saying “Do not condemn.” This is a key distinction for us because humans make judgments about everything everyday. So what Jesus is saying is that we ought not to make a final decision about anyone and we should never give up on anyone when it comes to preaching the Gospel. For who are we to presume that God’s kindness will not lead the legalist, the homosexual, the false prophet, the glutton, the gossip or the atheist to repentance? Who are we to act as if we control the grace of God? We should not and we cannot presume these things if we would believe ourselves to be firmly kept in the faith. Now this does not mean we should not warn unbelievers about hell, but it does mean that there is a difference between saying “The Gospel says that your unrepentant sins will lead you to hell” and saying “You’re already hopelessly damned to hell on account of your unrepentant sins.”

If Paul’s former life, and what God rescued him out of, doesn’t humble us to hope that a better end awaits the hardest sinners we know, then we should suspect that we are these hardened sinners ourselves. We should suspect that we are the kind of people who somehow sees sawdust through two-by-fours.

By nature, we are a people who are in need of corrective vision. We need to have the eyes of our heart surgically repaired (or circumcised a better theologian would say!) in order to see clearly.  We need the kindness of the Spirit in our hearts in order to gently correct the error of others.

When we condemn other people, when we place them in our horrible stereotypes and use them to justify our stinginess and with holding of our love, we condemn ourselves by the same measure we use. Remember that every soul under the Law of God will perish by that Law. When we condemn by the Law, we live by the Law. And those who live under the Law are already spiritually dead and will be judged according to its perfect demands.

No Regeneration Without Reformation

Posted by ajenkins on March 24, 2011 under Good News, Jesus, Just A Thought, Reformation, Regeneration, Repentance | Be the First to Comment

In the Bible the offer of pardon on the part of God is conditioned upon intention to reform on the part of man. There can be no spiritual regeneration till there has been moral reformation. That this statement requires defense only proves how far from the truth we have strayed.
In our current popular theology pardon depends upon faith alone. The very word reform has been banished from among the sons of the Reformation!
We often hear the declaration, “I do not preach reformation; I preach regeneration.” Now we recognize this as being the expression of a commendable revolt against the insipid and unscriptural doctrine of salvation by human effort. But the declaration as it stands contains real error, for it opposes reformation to regeneration. Actually the two are never opposed to each other in sound Bible theology. The not-reformation-but-regeneration doctrine incorrectly presents us with an either-or; either you take reformation or you take regeneration. This is inaccurate. The fact is that on this subject we are presented not with an either-or, but with both-and. The converted man is both reformed and regenerated. And unless the sinner is willing to reform his way of living he will never know the inward experience of regeneration. This is vital truth which has gotten lost under the leaves in popular evangelical theology.
The idea that God will pardon a rebel who has not given up his rebellion is contrary both to the Scriptures and to common sense. How horrible to contemplate a church full of persons who have been pardoned but who still love sin and hate the ways of righteousness. And how much more horrible to think of heaven as filled with sinners who had not repented nor changed their ways of living.
A familiar story will illustrate this. The governor of one of our states was visiting the state prison incognito. He fell into conversation with a personable young convict and felt a secret wish to pardon him. “What would you do,” he asked casually, “if you were lucky enough to obtain a pardon?” The convict, not knowing to whom he was speaking, snarled his reply: “If I ever get out of this place, the first thing I’ll do is cut the throat of the judge who sent me here.” The governor broke off the conversation and withdrew from the cell. The convict stayed on in prison. To pardon a man who had not reformed would be to let loose another killer upon society. That kind of pardon would not only be foolish, it would be downright immoral.
The promise of pardon and cleansing is always associated in the Scriptures with the command to repent. The widely used text in Isaiah, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18), is organically united to the verses that precede it: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (1:16–17). What does this teach but radical reformation of life before there can be any expectation of pardon? To divorce the words from each other is to do violence to the Scriptures and to convict ourselves of deceitfully handling the truth.
I think there is little doubt that the teaching of salvation without repentance has lowered the moral standards of the Church and produced a multitude of deceived religious professors who erroneously believe themselves to be saved when in fact they are still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. And to see such persons actually seeking the deeper life is a grim and disillusioning sight. Yet our altars are sometimes filled with seekers who are crying with Simon, “Give me this power,” when the moral groundwork has simply not been laid for it. The whole thing must be acknowledged as a clear victory for the devil, a victory he could never have enjoyed if unwise teachers had not made it possible by preaching the evil doctrine of regeneration apart from reformation.

A.W. Tozer, The Root of Righteousness

What Is The Gospel

Posted by ajenkins on February 24, 2011 under Devotionals, Good News, Jesus, Sermons and More, The Parish | Be the First to Comment

During Lent we will continue our study and sermons on the fundamentals of life and the Christian Faith. We will be using a small book entitled, What Is The Gospel, by Greg Gilbert.

Why will we ask and investigate such a fundamental question as this? Surely, everyone knows what the Gospel is? Why even non-Christians know what the gospel is. We use the expression, “That’s the gospel truth” all the time. Everyone knows what the gospel is.

Sadly, this is not true.

The gospel is being challenged today at almost every major point.  When it comes to God, people no longer think of Him as holy and righteous, and it has become almost axiomatic to reject the idea that He judges.  What we have instead is a sort of affable, but kind of clueless grandfather who wishes we’d do better but understands that of course nobody’s perfect.  Not only so, but people also shy away instinctively from the understanding that we are sinners who are liable to God’s judgment and condemnation.  We tend to think of ourselves as more or less good people, with a relatively minor infraction here or there.  Even many evangelicals have, deliberately or not, started to shy away from talking about sin as rebellion against God, instead saying that the human problem is really one of disintegration, meaninglessness, and broken relationships. The biggest challenge to the gospel, though, I think, is a strong tendency to make its center something other than the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross cannot be shoved over to the side or replaced with something else (like cultural transformation, or the promise of a new heavens and new earth, or social justice).  As Paul said, the gospel that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” is not just important.  It’s not even just very important.  It is of first importance.

Have We Lost The Cross?

As I look around at books being published by evangelicals, even books that claim to be explaining the gospel, the more I see authors getting exciting about things other than the death of Jesus on the cross in the place of his people, taking the punishment for their sin.  There are two things that are particular dangers for evangelicals in this area.  First, there’s a tendency simply to shove the cross out of the center of the gospel, to say something like, “Yes, yes, of course the cross is important.  But we need to understand that what the gospel is really about is…” It could be “God’s purpose to remake the world” or “God’s invitation to us to join him in bringing about his kingdom” or “a declaration that Jesus is Lord over all” or any number of other things.  So the center of the gospel becomes something other than the cross. That is a misunderstanding of the gospel.  Second, there’s a tendency to re-think or re-understand the cross as something other than Jesus dying in the place of his people, taking the punishment they deserved for their sin.  So, often you’ll read or hear someone saying something like “At the cross, human culture and human systems reached their lowest, most evil point.  All the oppression and violence that humans could muster was flung at Jesus, and he absorbed it all and defeated it!”  What’s missing there, of course, is any understanding that what Jesus really absorbed on the cross was God’s wrath for our sin.  It’s why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” and not, “O culture, O culture, why have you turned against me?”

We will use the Gospel, the Cross, Jesus’ Substitutionary sacrifice and God’s Word to answer some of our questions of God and life. “Why did God allow this to happen?” “Now, what do I do?” If God is good, why ______?” “If God is all-knowing, why should I bother to pray?”

Why not take another look at the Cross? Why not take another look at Jesus? Why not take another look at the Gospel? It might just change your life – eternally.