Plagues and the People of God

These are unprecedented times.  The world has come to a standstill, towering economies brought to their knees, social constructs completely disrupted – all because of the Coronavirus. The ethos of fear and anxiety has surpassed that of 9/11, and like those bleak and troubling days, we have no sense of when this will come to an end.

And yet, this is nothing new.  Last week I shared a video about how John Calvin and the Company of Reformed Pastors in Geneva responded to the plague in their day. The Church has, throughout its existence weathered the political, social, and physical storms of each generation with a witness to the Gospel and a shelter for the soul.

Knowing this, I turned to the Scriptures and did a quick search on plagues in the Bible, trusting that God’s Word would give us insight into the crisis we face even today, so that we might have a heart of wisdom and know how we should respond. Here’s a brief summary of what I found.

  • The Scriptures are very clear that plagues, famines, and sicknesses do in fact come from the hand of God. The first plague we read of in Genesis 12 was brought upon the people of Egypt by God to prevent them from abusing Sarai. After that, we read (Exodus 8-12) of the 10 plagues upon Egypt, through which God brought out His people from slavery. From that point, the majority of the plagues we read about in Scripture are upon the people of Israel, as in the case of the people’s rebellion with Korah (Numb 16), their grumbling about meat (Ex 32), or for their infidelity and immorality as they were led astray by Balaam (Numb 25 & 31).
    The Westminster Confession reminds us that “God the great creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of  his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”
    To that end, we must come to understand that all things, even times of sickness and sorrow, come from the Sovereign will of God, who orders all things for the praise of his glory.  We must learn to see even pandemics such as this as God’s instruments through which He brings about His good and perfect will.
  • We know that the plagues against Egypt served to demonstrate that God is able to save His people, and to show that God alone is worthy to be worshiped and praise.  In Exodus 9:14 we read, “For this time I will send all my plagues on you (Egypt) yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.” The plagues that come from God are the demonstration of His power and justice.
  • In Habakkuk 3:5, we read that when God makes Himself known, pestilence and plague come before and after, making His divine judgment upon the nations known. Likewise, in Zechariah 14, we are told that God will humble the nations that do not serve Him through plagues and punishment, so that every knee will bow in worship before the Lord.  This theme is picked back up in the book of Revelation, where in chapters 9 and 15-16, we read of the plagues of the judgment and wrath of God against the sinfulness of the world.

It is evident, through these passages, that God sends plagues upon the world as a demonstrated of His wrath and judgment of sin. But these aren’t the only times we read of plagues.

  • The majority of the plagues in the Old Testament are not directed toward the nations, but actually to the very people of Israel, the congregation of God’s people.  Here is a list of examples:
    • Ex 32 – A plague of the people of Israel because of the golden calf that Aaron made.
    • Num. 11:31-25 – When Israel complained of manna and insisted on meat, God sent quail to them, but brought a plague upon them while they were eating.
    • Num. 16 – Following Korah’s rebellion, the people complained that Moses had actually killed the rebels, and a plague broke out because of their grumbling.
    • Num. 25 – Called the sin of Peor, a plague came upon the people because of their immorality and infidelity.
    • Num. 31 – There was a plague on the congregation of Israel because many had been led astray by Balaam’s teaching.
    • 2 Sam 24/1 Chron 21 – A plague comes upon Israel because of David’s census.
  • These plagues are sent upon the people of God as discipline. The people were rebellious, unfaithful, and immoral, and God would correct them of their sin. The wrath of the Holy God of Israel  was visited upon His people when they sinned against Him.
  • Each time a plague comes upon the people, there is an intercession, by Moses or David, a prayer to relive the suffering of God’s people.

We see, then, through the Scriptures, that God sends plagues upon the land as a demonstration of His wrath against those that do not honor Him; but also to discipline His own people for their faithlessness, idolatry, and immorality.

But does this apply to this world-wide epidemic today? The circumstances may be different, but the principles remain the same.

This virus is not outside the bounds of God’s sovereign plan and design. This too will serve to bring Him glory, honor and praise. Even that which we consider evil, God will use for His good purpose.  Remember the story of Joseph, whose brothers sold Him into slavery. At the end, when he is reunited with his brothers, having saved them from the famine, he tells them, “What you intended for evil against me, God meant for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen 50:20).

We cannot know, in the midst of this trial, just what purpose God is working in these trials and challenges. We can, however, use this as an opportunity to repent and seek after Christ more and more.  The plagues came upon Israel because of their unfaithfulness to God, so that they may learn not to trust in false idols, but to worship God alone.  Our hearts are still prone to idolatry, and we must cast down the false gods that catch our eye, and look only to Christ, fixing our eyes upon Him.

We are different, however, from the people of Israel in one important point – we are redeemed, saved, and delivered from the wrath of God through Jesus Christ our Savior.  All the wrath of God for our sins was poured out upon Him, so that He has borne God’s judgment and punishment in our place.  We need not be terrified of the plague of God’s wrath, for Christ has become the plagued for us.

That does not mean that we will not still come under the discipline of God, for as a loving father disciplines his son, so our Heavenly Father disciplines those whom He loves that they may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:6-11).  God may use this time to wean us from the things of this world that were competing for His glory and attention.  God will refine and recreate His people in the image of His Son, and this time of upheaval may be just one of the means through which He chooses to bring that about.

In all, let us look to our Sovereign God, who cares for His people, and will never let them out of His hand. Let us trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation and peace. And, as the Holy Spirit moves upon us, let us grow in holiness and devotion to the Lord.

SDG

Burning the Word

“As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words were afraid, nor did they tear their garments.”
Jeremiah 36:23-24

In Jeremiah 36 there is an amazing account of Jehoiakim, the wicked king of Judah, actually burning the Word of the Lord. Without getting into too much of the back story, Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 23:36), he “filled Jerusalem with innocent blood (2 Kings 24:5), and he even rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, leading to his capture and imprisonment.  Throughout the writings of Jeremiah, we also see that Jehoiakim had a strong dislike for the prophet of God.

Jeremiah had been threatened with death, banned from the house of the Lord, he had been ordered not to prophecy, all under Jehoiakim’s authority.  It is surprising then, that in chapter 36, the Lord tells Jeremiah to write down all the words that the Lord had spoken against Israel and Judah, so that the house of Judah would hear, “so that everyone may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and sin” (Jer. 36:3).  After all the rebellion, after all the idolatry, after all the wickedness, God is still merciful and sends His word that they may turn from their sins and be healed.

We are told then that Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, writes down all of the Lord’s words that Jeremiah had spoken, and takes the scroll to the house of the Lord.  When the scroll is read before the people, I believe the kings officials are grieved for their sins.  They are overcome with fear (Jer. 36:15), and they make plans to read the word to the king, after ensuring that Baruch and Jeremiah are safely hidden away.

However, as the scroll was read to Jehoiakim, “the king would cut (the columns) off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire… Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words were afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (Jer 36:23-24). In an ultimate act of defiance and rebellion, Jehoiakim destroyed the very word that was meant to give him life. Though the word of the Lord convicted him of his sin, it was only so that he and all the nation could turn from sin and be forgiven.

As the chapter concludes, Jeremiah has Baruch write another scroll with all of the words of the Lord. This time, however, there is no promise of forgiveness given to Jehoiakim, only one of judgment and doom.

I highly doubt that anyone reading this would ever be so defiant as to cut passages out of the Bible and burn them. But there are more subtle acts of defiance that are still as damning.

  • We bury our Bibles – not in the ground – but under layers of dust, under piles of other books.  Which is worse, to hear the word and throw it into the fire, or to simply stop listening to the word at all?  An old adage that I heard long ago says, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”  We know that when we read it, the Bible will convict us of our sin, and call us to the righteousness of Christ, and so we don’t even pick it up to read it.
  • We edit the word – In order to justify ourselves, we often find ways to change the meaning of words or to relegate whole arguments to “cultural context.”  We’ve come to point where whole denominations can read “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh…” (Gen 2:24), and, with a straight face, say that marriage can be between two people of any gender. Is this not a greater sin? Jehoiakim didn’t try to twist the words of God, he just threw them in the fire.  Selectively reading or editing God’s word is the practice of the Devil, who first asked, “Did God really say…?”

The word of God comes to us to show us our sin, not that we would be overcome with guilt, but that we would be saved through our redeemer Jesus Christ.  Do not neglect His word, but daily read it, hear it, and let Him put to death in you the sin that separates you from God.  Do not try to justify yourself in the light of Scripture by twisting or overlooking God’s word, but allow His word to cut to the very core of your being (Heb 4:12), revealing your sin, but also cleansing you by His grace in Jesus Christ.  Come to the living Word, Jesus Christ, and know the forgiveness He freely gives to all who receive Him by faith.

SDG

More Thoughts From the Hospital Bed

I’m home from the hospital now,  off of bed-rest, and gradually getting back to work.  Praise the Lord!

Following up from my last blog entry, I was in the hospital for 8 days, having experienced what the Doctors are calling a Spontaneous Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak.  Essentially, for some unknown reason, I developed a lead in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord, resulting in excruciating headaches whenever I was in an upright position.  The fix for the leak was a Blood Patch, which is a lot like putting goop in your tires to fix a leak.  It has been over a week now since I’ve had a headache, and I’m slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy.

In the moments of clarity while resting in the hospital (when the narcotics had worn off), I had some insights from the hospital bed I thought worth sharing regarding hospital visits.

1. I cannot overstate the Importance of a Hospital Visit.

If you’ve ever been in the hospital for any amount of time, you know how wonderful it is to have someone stop in for a visit.  Seeing a familiar face at the door, a friend stopping by to brighten the day, a brother visiting with a word of encouragement – that visit is crucial.  I’ve made it a habit to visit my church members when I know they’re in the hospital, now I understand just how important that visit really is.  You don’t have to stay long, there’s no need to linger.  Just a quick visit can make the world of difference.

Elders and Deacons have a special duty to visit those in need, to pray  for healing and encouragement, but this does not absolve all Christians from their responsibility for demonstrate compassion and care to those in need. You don’t have to be ordained or commissioned by the church to be an ambassador of the hope we share in Jesus Christ.  If you know of someone in the hospital, or someone who is home and alone, and you are able, call upon them and bring the joy and peace of the fellowship of the body of Christ.

2. Don’t worry about what you will say…

Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they will say when they are under trial by the authorities, for the Spirit will give them the words to speak.  I think this also applies to our visits in the hospital.  Don’t worry about what you will say or do, God will give you the words.  You don’t have to have a speech prepared.  You especially don’t have to have any answers about what’s happening or why.  Come with words of care, and with a word of promise.

One of the best visits I had was with a friend who came to sit beside my hospital bed and just read scripture.  Because of the nature of my headaches, reading was rather painful, so I was unable to even take up Scripture to read for myself.  So my friend sat by the bed and read the Bible, a verse here or there, a whole chapter from the Psalm and Romans.  There was no sermon, no instruction, but there was tremendous blessing in hearing the Word of God.

Before you visit, bookmark a few psalms, or some of your favorite passages, and pick a few to read and share.  You may never know how God may work through His Word, but you know that His word is full of promise and hope.

3. Pray

James tells us that the “prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).  This doesn’t mean that you need to come with a rehearsed or well-polished prayer, or that your prayer will always be followed by a great working of power.  But when you offer a prayer from the heart, a prayer that comes from a praying heart, great things are already at work. You are entreating before God on behalf of someone else.  You are sharing your faith in God’s strong and sovereign care. You are trusting God for provision, for health, for hope, for peace.  These are mighty things, and can do more than you will ever know.

Visit, share the word of God, and pray.  One of the greatest acts of compassion is just that simple.  I cannot begin to express what it meant to have friends come by to visit and to pray with and for me while I was in the hospital, and I cannot thank you enough.  Let us endeavor to show one another our care and concern through these simple acts, that we might encourage one another in times of need.

SDG

Fasting From Communion with God

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me shall not hunger,
and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
(John 6:35)

I’ve been reading through the biography of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish Presbyterian Minister in the 1830’s.  The biographical sketch of his life is filled with excerpts from his daily journals and insights into his heart and mind for ministry.  It is fascinating (and somewhat comforting) to read of another pastor from an entirely different time and place, who also struggled with a sense of never making the most of his time, who felt terribly unqualified for the high calling of ministry were it not for the Sovereign Grace of God, and whose greatest joy was to bring glory to God in sharing the Gospel.

Something struck me, though, as I was reading, that made me stop and think about my life in comparison with M’Cheyne’s.  Early on there was this summary of the young pastor’s ministry:

From the first he fed others by what he himself was feeding upon. His preaching was in a manner the development of his soul’s experience. It was a giving out of the inward life. He loved to come up from the pastures wherein the Chief Shepherd had met him—to lead the flock entrusted to his care to the spots where he found nourishment.

(Bonar, Andrew A. Memoirs and Remains of R.M.M’Cheyne. (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1978)pg. 36.)

I have shared before my daily Scripture reading practice.  I encourage everyone to read daily from the Word of God, and to read in a way that lets the Word really sink in, soaking the mind and soul with God’s revelation.  There are a variety of reading programs out there, but the one I prefer, actually, was developed by M’Cheyne.  In this program, you read the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice per year, reading about four chapters a day, taken from different parts of the Bible.

I share this, not necessarily as an advertisement for the reading plan (though you can go here to find out more).  No, I share this to warn you of a hazard of such a plan.  Reading God’s Word ought to draw you deeper into the presence of God, knowing His will, revealing His love, and strengthening your faith.  There is deep, nourishing, life-giving power in His Word.  Still, sometimes having a reading plan before you makes you want to read to “get it done” so you can move on to the next thing.

How often do we read our Bibles, check the reading off the “To-Do List” for the day, close the book and move on?  Are we just grazing in the grass, never really getting down to the roots?  I have to admit, there are a lot of days when that’s all my Bible reading really is – just something to do.  I skim the surface of the page, my eyes see the words, but the words never really touch my heart.

How can I expect to feed the flock unless I am first fed by the Word?  If I am not sharing from the deep experience of my soul, if I am not “giving out of the inward life,” then the best I can give is but an anemic, watered-down, half-life of the Gospel.  If I am not fed in the pasture where my Chief Shepherd as met me, how can I ever hope to lead others.

I read that M’Cheyne would rise well before the break of day to worship and fellowship in the communion with God, singing Psalms and hymns and reading God’s word.  That time in devotion would so prepare him for the day that all of his studies, all of his conversations, all of his leisure, was permeated with the fragrance of the Gospel.  He had been to the feast, and he was sharing the portion of the table of the Lord.

Why do we, why do I, fast from such a blessed fellowship today?  Why do we starve ourselves spiritually, content to live of the scraps and droppings that fall before us, when we have been invited to the feast?  God sets before us in His Word a smorgasbord of all the most soul-satisfying, life-giving truth that our hearts hunger for, and we ask for the “weight-watchers” menu.   When we deprive ourselves of all that God offers us, we are essentially telling God we don’t need Him nor what He gives, and we’d rather do this life on our own and in our own way.  (“How’s that working for you?” – Dr. Phil)

The simple truth of the matter is, God is God, and we are not.  He provides our daily bread.  He spins the planets and keeps them going.  Without Him, we can do nothing.  We cannot survive without every good gift that comes from His hand.  And yet, at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11), and God would not have us famished spiritually.  Rather, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (Eph 1:3).

Pull up to the table, to the feast of the Lord, and drink deep the blessing of His Word.  Let His Word teach you, correct you, fill you, strengthen you; until His Word gives light to all of yours.  Let your reading time, may my reading time, be a time of sweet communion in the Lord’s presence that give grace and substance to every endeavor through the day.

SDG

On Presbyterians and Potato Chips

“And the word of the Lord will be to them:
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.”
Isaiah 28:13 (ESV)

 The old joke goes:

Roman Catholics open a bag of potato chips and find the Virgin Mary (what a blessing).
Evangelicals open the same bag of chips and find Satan (he’s always lurking around the corner).

After spending time at a gathering of Presbyterians, I have observed the following:

Progressive Presbyterian Scholars open the bag, and seeing that all the chips are of different size and shape, determine that they could not have come from the same potato and therefore the chips cannot be trusted.  Then, realizing that many of the chips are broken, they repent of ever having bought a bag of chips and supporting such cruelty and oppression.  Finally, they would hold a symposium declaring that all chips (ruffled, flat, baked, or fried) are essentially the same, leading us all, ultimately, to the one, true Spud.

Yes, I just spent nearly a week in the presence of other Presbyterian pastors, and while that is not an altogether unpleasant experience, there are some things that can be very disturbing.  Sometimes, the ribaldry around the dinner table drips with arrogance and condescension.  “Can you believe those rubes who still hold to a literal belief in the Bible?  It’s full of errors; you can’t really trust what you read there.  It must be nuanced; you must see it from an enlightened perspective.”  One pastor railed over the idea that some people still think that the animals entered the Ark two by two, or that there was even an Ark.  How unsophisticated.  “Don’t they see the contradiction.  Genesis elsewhere says, ‘there were seven pairs of all the animals.’  Can’t they see that it’s all just a myth?  And why do they get offended when I say myth?”  (That last bit is a fairly close quote.)

(Just to clarify, there were seven pairs of the clean animals, for the sacrifice.  The rest of the animals, clean and unclean, came on two by two.)

The conversation then turned to one Pastor’s experience when a couple from a “fundamentalist” church came by her house to do an interview.  One might think, judging by her attitude, that these pollsters were buck-toothed viper handlers, for they had the audacity to ask, “Do you believe in heaven?” and “Where did you learn your faith as a child?”  What un-nuanced simpletons!

I have a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to vain-glory and arrogance, especially in the pastorate.  I know the sin all too well; it is one that I have to give over to the Lord every day.  But to see it celebrated as enlightened superiority – it made my stomach turn.  There was no love for those whose view of the Bible differed from theirs, no possibility of learning from someone who was passionate about their beliefs.  We were gathered to evaluate ordination exams to determine the readiness of candidates for ordained ministry, and this was the attitude of the readers.

For me, this was an opportunity to exercise the gift of silence.  I knew I was sorely outnumbered, my mind was already fatigued from reading exams all day, and any debate would be an exercise in futility.  I sat quietly, politely sipping my tea, watching the trees sway outside the window, wondering if they were driven by the hot air coming from our table.

The conversation also reminded me of the pernicious peril of Pride.  Pride is dangerous for the Pastor, deadly for the church.  When a Pastor is full of himself, arrogant and boisterous, there’s no room for Jesus, no time for the gospel.  Of course the prideful Pastor won’t tell you that, but you’ll see it.  The Jesus he preaches will begin to look a lot like himself.  And that’s just fine for him.

We need, each of us, pastor and layman, to submit our stubborn will to Christ.  We have wild, rebellious hearts of stone that would rather dive head first into the blazing fires of hell (and yes, I do believe there is a Hell) by our own choice than to give up one iota of independence through submission to someone else.  Oh how we need for God to give us new hearts; hearts that beat for Him alone, hearts that can break for our sin, hearts that are tender and strong to love, hearts that will bow to the Savior and Lord.

May God bless His Church.  May God speak to His Church through the faithful preaching and hearing of His Word.  May God reform His pastors by that same Word.

Now, will someone please pass the chips?

SDG

Reading the Script only Gets in the Way of Knowing the Lines

Another shout out to our brothers and sisters at Bel Air Presbyterian Church for another great clip.

I was originally going to post this for all my friends in the Cherokee Community Theatre, thinking it really only had to apply to that setting.  But after watching, I see what it really means.

I know so many “Christians” who say the same thing.  Reading the Bible only gets in the way of knowing God…  God would never do what the Bible says He’s going to do…

 “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Matthew 25:30

SDG

The Medicine for Sin

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance,
 that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
(1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV))

I heard the comedian Brian Regan joke recently about getting to pay for his Doctor to insult him.  You know what it’s like; who else do you visit who requires you to wait for 30 minutes just for the privilege of having him tell you that you need to lose some weight and probably ought to do something about that mole on your face.  And we pay him for the insult.

But in all seriousness, I’d rather have the Doctor tell me the truth about my health than lie to me just to protect my feelings. The truth is, I am overweight and need to exercise more and shed a few pounds.  If there is a cancerous growth, I want him to tell me, then recommend, though difficult and painful it may be, the best remedy so that I might live a good long life with my family.  I want my Doctor to care enough for me to tell me the truth and to make me take the hard medicine that comes with it.

If you think about it, that is the job of the church as well.  The priority of the church is to proclaim the gospel, which is the message of the good news of God’s love and forgiveness from sin in our Savior Jesus Christ.  As Paul’s letter to Timothy reminds us, Jesus came to save sinners – that was his mission, that is our message.  Jesus said to the crowd that stood by in disbelief when Jesus entered the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  All sinners, regardless of the sin, are welcome, invited, to hear the Savior’s bidding, and to find salvation and hope.  The blood of Christ washes away sin, defeats sins power over us, and in His Spirit we are given new life to live for the glory of God in holiness and peace.  It has been said before, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the church is the hospital for the sin-sick soul, and the gospel is the medicine that has been entrusted to the church. 

Yet it seems that for a while now the Church’s medicine cabinet has been closed and locked.  The church has begun to tell the world, “You don’t need medicine.  You are sick.  The sickness is the judgment that made you think you were sick in the first place.  What you need is simply reassurance, God loves you just the way you are.”  That’s like my Doctor saying, “Your ballooning waste line is nothing to worry about, keeping eating the pizza and drinking the root beer and you’ll be fine.  See you next year.”

To get to this point in the church (or at least in my particular denomination, the PC(USA)), there have been three subtle shifts that have taken place.  First, there has been a Redefinition of Sin.  The old moralistic and puritanical definition of sin as those thoughts and actions that either disobey or neglect God’s word no longer qualify.  Instead, in a more enlightened age, sin is now that which brings harm, either interpersonal, environmental, social, or personal.  Sin is the oppressive force that subjugates the weak.  To that end, the progressive church has also Relocated Righteousness and Salvation.  Righteousness and salvation are now less of a personal issue, and are more focused on social righteousness and justice.  Salvation is from the oppression of cruel and unjust practices of those in power, and true redemption exists when we learn to live in peace and acceptance of one another.  At the heart of these two changes is the most important: a Reimagining of Scripture.  Setting aside the teaching of the Authority and Inspiration of Scripture, the church no longer says that it is the Truth, but that it “contains the truth.”  No longer do you hear preachers say before reading the Bible, “Hear now the word of the Lord,” but rather something more ambiguous like, “Listen now for a word from the Lord.” 

In a desire to be found acceptable by a dying and broken world we have taken away the one thing that the world needed most; the truth of the gospel for salvation from sin.  The hospital for the soul is still open, but we’ve stopped treating the patients.

I say this with all confidence: God’s Church, the body of believers in Jesus Christ, will not be diminished by the faults and failings of this assembly we call the church today.  Denominations will rise and fall, congregations will come and go, but Christ’s Church is victorious.  We must “be vigilant lest while the pious snore the wicked gain ground and do harm to the church” (2nd Helvetic Confession).  We must, with renewed compassion and diligence, boldly proclaim the gospel message, that whatever the sin (addiction, sexual sin, pride and self-righteousness) – Christ is the cure.  Yes, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream (Amos 5:24), and at the same time let us confess our sins to one another and pray that we be healed (James 5:16).  Let us never forget that wherever the gospel is faithfully proclaimed and humbly heard, God’s true church will flourish and grow in righteousness and grace.

Grace and peace – and truth – be with you!

SDG