Sunday, May 29, 2011

Christ's Resurrection and You: The Dead Who Are Free

Texts: Isaiah 53:7-12; Romans 6:1-14

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE KID, BACK IN ancient times when we still called it Decoration Day, early in the morning on the 30th of May my mother would cut big white and pink blossoms from the peony bushes in the back yard, snuggle them into coffee cans filled with water, then she and we kids would climb into the car to make the ninety-six mile drive to the cemetery in Rossville, Kansas, to decorate the graves of our Zickefoose forebears.  I vaguely knew the holiday had something to do with soldiers who'd died in battle, and I didn't know if any of my ancestors had done that; I was only aware that remembering this side of the family is what we always did.

    If that's how it was then, now, almost fifty years later, most of us probably associate Memorial Day more with remembering our dead in general, than with honoring our military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice so we might live in freedom and peace.  It would be a good thing if we could recapture some of the original meaning of the holiday. 

    But if it's right and proper and right for us to recall those who died to preserve our way of life here in the United States of America, it's even more fitting and essential that we remember, honor, and worship Him who fought and won the ultimate battle against sin, death, and the Devil: our Lord Jesus Christ, the Victim and Victor of the battle waged on the mount called Calvary.  Our soldiers, sailors, and airmen gave their lives that our lives on this earth might be better; but Jesus shed His blood so we might be freed from sin and know the joy of life eternal in the kingdom of heaven.

    From the world's point of view, Jesus of Nazareth was a very strange warrior.  A great champion should go to war with all His armor and weapons upon Him.  He should crush the enemy with superior force, fighting fire with fire and strength with strength.  But Isaiah the prophet foresaw how the Messiah would win the victory for us.  He writes,

    He was oppressed and afflicted,
          yet he did not open his mouth;
    he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
           and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
     so he did not open his mouth.
        By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

Jesus our Lord never struggled to save Himself, He submitted to the death He died!  He was nailed to a cross between two thieves and by three P.M. on a dark Friday afternoon, it was over.  His nail-scarred, whip-slashed, and spear-pierced body was taken down from the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb and everyone, included His friends, thought He was defeated and finished.  As Isaiah says,

          And who can speak of his descendants?
    For he was cut off from the land of the living . . .        

     He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
           and with the rich in his death,
    though he had done no violence,
          nor was any deceit in his mouth.

    But it was for the transgression of God's people that He was stricken!  It was for us!  If anyone sacrificed all that others might live, it was Jesus Christ our Lord.  If anyone's death in battle seemed to be a disaster an injustice, and a tragic waste, it was the death of the sinless Son of Man.  But don't think to honor and remember Him by going to Jerusalem and decorating His grave.  We know better than that.  We know His was truly a "borrowed" tomb.  Every first day of the week we remember that Christ is not there in the grave, He is risen, He is risen indeed!

    And thus have the Prophet's words come true, that

    [H]e will see his offspring and prolong his days,
               and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
    After the suffering of his soul,
           he will see the light of life and be satisfied.

For we know that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead: really, truly, physically; in a body that can never die again, glorified, without natural constraint or limit, able to taste the good things of this earth and to participate in all the joys of heaven.  We know that by His death Jesus fulfilled the will of the Lord our God, for He made Himself a guilt offering to make complete atonement for the sins of God's chosen people.  Jesus the Righteous One was willing to suffer the most shameful of deaths for us, He stood in our place, though we were transgressors who had fatally offended against God, and by His self-sacrifice He made intercession for us.

    Jesus our champion went to war against sin, death, and the Devil armed only with His holiness and His unfathomable grace towards for sinful humanity.  To the world, that looks like weakness.  But it was that holiness and grace that won Him the complete victory and earned Him the deathless title of Lord of Life.  What's more, through His selfless death and glorious resurrection our Lord Jesus grants the gift of life to us who believe and trust in Him.  Now grace reigns through righteousness, bringing us eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

    There definitely is a similarity between the sacrifice made by our brave military personnel and the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on the cross.  But our own roles in these conflicts are totally different.  In our nation's wars, we on the homefront pray for and support those doing the actual fighting.  In some wars, we've rationed our supplies and gone without to keep the war effort going.  But in the battle waged by Jesus Christ we're in a totally different position.  In no way could we claim that we helped or supported or sacrificed for Him in His struggle against the powers of darkness.  We couldn't, because we were dead.  We were dead, we were lost, we were totally helpless, without God and without hope in this world.

    But now Jesus has won the victory and in Him we have passed from death to life.  By grace we have been saved, not through our own proficiency at keeping the law, whether God's law or the law of our culture.  Well, then, to echo Paul the Apostle in Romans 6, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?"  Absolutely not!  That would be an utter contradiction of Christ's victory over death.

    We live-- because in Him our sin nature has been put to death.  How can we know this?  Were you baptised into the name of the triune God? Yes?  Well, as Paul asks, "Don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death?"  Our baptism shows that we personally participate in the death Jesus died.  Our old nature died with Jesus on His cross and was buried with Him in His tomb.  And so, as Paul says,

    We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Not an easy task, is it?  We trust that for Jesus' sake God accepts us as holy and without fault.  He sees as we are in Christ and what we shall be when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead.  But as long as we live on this earth in this mortal flesh, our old dead sin natures kept wanting to get up and wage war against the new life Jesus has put within us.  We were the dead who now live, and we are the living who daily must put to death all that is deadly within us.

    Is that all up to us?  Did Jesus make us alive by His death and resurrection, then go away and leave us to fight the battle on our own?

    Not at all!  For Paul reminds us, "If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection."  Do you think the Lord who won the victory over sin and rose from the dead will not also keep you safe for eternal life?  He is at your side every minute of the night and day!  His resurrection guarantees that you will triumph in your struggle against sin, and there's no longer anything in heaven or on earth that can allow the powers of darkness to win out over us in the end. Jesus has died and is risen again!  Our old selves were crucified with Him so our old body of sin might be done away with, so we'd no longer have to serve sin as its slaves. 

    I'm aware that even today there's a certain amount of ambivalence in various parts of the country about the Civil War.  But I hope every American everywhere now agrees that slavery is an appalling evil.  No human being should ever claim to own another man or woman or demand their time and work without pay.  But if human slavery was a shame and a horror, how much more terrible is slavery to sin!  And that's the state you and I were in before Jesus died to set us free.  A slave has to do whatever his master commands, whether he wants to or not.  But if-- no, I should say, since we're in Christ, we're no longer under the whip of sin and death; now we belong to our Lord Jesus who loves us and raises us up to new life in Him.  When Jesus hung dead on the cross, it looked as if He Himself were a slave, as if Death were His master.  But Christ has been raised from the dead and Death no longer has any authority over Him.  In His death He totally triumphed over sin, that old slave driver of humanity, and now He lives to God, the Source and Giver of Life, alone.

    What Jesus won, He won for us.  By His warfare we are free!  Our freedom from sin is not some inspirational thought we conjure up when we get into difficult situations.  It's the present reality for those who are joined to Christ Jesus by grace through faith.  You used to be dead; now you are alive in Christ.  You have died to sin, and you're been made alive to God in Jesus.  When sin was our master, we couldn't choose to do what is pleasing to God.  Even the thoughts and deeds this world calls "good" were corrupt and defective in His sight.  We could do nothing to save ourselves, nor did we want to.

    But now Jesus has won His victory in us and for us.  He has become our Lord and our King.  In Him we can say No to sin.  In His grace we can refuse to let sin rule in our mortal bodies so we obey its desires.  In Him we have been set free from the wickedness that we naturally wanted to do when we were slaves to sin, and we can live instead as redeemed and free servants of the living God.

    But some people don't seem to understand this. You know what has happened in our denomination, that the ordination standard has been officially revised.  Nothing in the new wording says anyone can or must ordain individuals who indulge in behaviors that the Bible calls sin.  It only talks about the Church "submit[ing] joyfully to the lordship of Christ" and about the examining body determining "the candidate's ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements" set forth in the ordination questions.  But we've learned to our shame that many in the PCUSA define the lordship of Christ in whatever way pleases them.  They say our natural bodily inclinations must be God-given, regardless of what Scripture says on the subject, and our most intimate relations have no bearing on the new life in Christ, and even can be a celebration of His creative love.

    Brothers and sisters, never think this can be so.  We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?  Jesus our champion crucified our old sin nature on Calvary, how can we offer the parts of our bodies to wickedness?  Think of this word "instruments" as including the weapons a soldier would carry.  We're in Christ's army now!  Shall we use the faculties God has given us to go back and fight for the enemy?  No, all we have and all we are now belong to God.  So let us thankfully accept that reality and joyfully submit ourselves to Him according to His definition and His will.  He is our captain now, He gives the orders in this fight, and we know that as we offer our bodies to Him as instruments of righteousness we're fighting on the side that has already won.

    You were dead, and look, now you live!  The sin nature in you once lived its perverse life in your body, mind, and soul, but now it has been crucified with Christ!  Sin is no longer your master, and it's not up to you to win your freedom by keeping the law.  Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, has won the victory, and His grace rules over you in mercy, life, and love.

    Isaiah said of our Lord Jesus,

        Therefore I [that is, God] will give him a portion among the great,
           and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
    because he poured out his life unto death,
       and was numbered with the transgressors.

    Jesus won you away from sin forever when He died on the cross, and He brought you into new life in His resurrection from the dead.  On this Memorial Day weekend, remember those who have fought and died to preserve our life and liberty here in this nation God has given us.  But more, so much more! every day remember, honor, and worship Him who died and rose again that our old body of sin might be utterly defeated, and we who were dead might live in His life, liberty, and grace now and forever more.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Christ's Resurrection and You: A Building Not Made with Hands

Texts:  2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:10; Luke 24:36-49

    ON THE WHOLE, I'M GLAD the rapture of the saints didn't happen last night at 6:00 PM.  There's  so much more on this earth I want to see and do and accomplish.  But if Harold Camping had been right, and even now we were standing in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, I would possess something I so grievously lack right now.  And that's a full sense and knowledge of the splendour, the goodness, the graciousness, the beauty, the holiness, the indescribable greatness of what my great God and Saviour did for me when He died on the cross and rose again for my sake.

    To know Jesus Christ and the life-giving power of His resurrection is the most marvellous, desirable thing you and I can ever experience.  There is no end to the benefits we derive from Him!  We've seen these past weeks how Jesus' resurrection enabled us to be adopted as children of God.  How by it we are brought into His new covenant and brought into the nurture of our mother, the Church.  How Jesus rose again to strip off our old filthy sinful natures and clothe us instead in our new selves, which is the shining glorious garment of His righteousness and love.   How amazing is Jesus Christ our Lord, who was crucified for our sins and rose that we might live His life forever!  How glorious and splendid are all His gifts to us!  Just thinking about them, we should be in a continual state of rapture all day long!

    But you know how it is, and so do I.  The good things of this world, and its troubles as well, hang like a curtain between us and the jaw-dropping vision of Christ and His resurrection benefits.  It's not that we don't believe that Jesus rose again, it's just that other stuff is so present and so pressing, His resurrection and what it means to us isn't something that we consciously dwell on day after day.  It's for Easter Sunday, and maybe a week or two thereafter.  Good to know about, but not exactly relevant to what we're dealing with now.

    At least, that's how it seems.  It seems that way too with our own resurrection, the one St. Paul so eloquently writes about in 1 Corinthians 15.  That's for the future, sure, for the day when Jesus really comes back.  But that doesn't seem to be happening real soon. And in the meantime, I'll wager that none of us goes around with a secret smile and a little skip in our step because we, too, someday will have a glorious immortal body like the one Jesus Himself rose in.  I don't say this is the way we should be; it's just a fact of our human nature that it's woefully easy for us to get distracted from heavenly things and forget what we have and Whose we are.  It's especially easy when the distractions have to do with poor health, or poverty, or advancing old age, or the approach of death, for ourselves or those we love.  Who can think of their bodily resurrection when we have so much on our minds?

    But in the fourth and fifth chapters of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul-- speaking by the Holy Spirit-- reveals that those very everyday difficulties and distractions should be signposts and reminders that point us ever and again back to our blessed hope of personal resurrection through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Not only that,  but our very weakness serves to show the great power of God in Christ.  As Paul says earlier in chapter 4, we carry the magnificent good news of Christ died and risen around in clay jars, "to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."  And so, as our Epistle reading today begins, "‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.'" This is a quotation from Psalm 116:10, where the psalmist has been lamenting his neediness, his trouble, his nearness to death, and what he speaks of in this quoted verse is of his great affliction.   He brings his distress to God in faith that God is One who hears and heals and restores.  And so Paul evokes that same spirit of faith in us, but we have an even greater reason to hope in God than the psalmist did.  For we know that He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and He'll present all of us together to Himself, in His very presence.

    This is our resurrection hope!  This is the gospel grace that even today is reaching more and more people, that thanksgiving may overflow to the glory of God!

    We hold this hope in light of-- perhaps I should say, in contrast to-- the very unhopeful situations we find ourselves in day after day.  Because we trust in the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, because we trust that He will also raise us with Him, we do not lose heart.

    And it can be so easy in this world to lose heart.  We don't have to be suffering persecution for our faith; ordinary ageing and illness will do it.  We look in the mirror and see the wrinkles and we think, "Wait a minute, when did that happen?  I don't feel that old!"  Or worse, we gaze upon the pale form of a sick loved one languishing full of tubes in a hospital bed, and we know how true it is that our outer nature, our present physical bodies, are indeed wasting away.  But the resurrection life of Christ is even now working its revival in you and me, if indeed we are trusting in the One who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and who will also raise us.  Even now, He is renewing our inner nature, the new self in Christ, day by day.

    We might want to say to Paul, "Hey, you call what I'm going through a ‘light momentary affliction.'  What do you know about the cancer I'm suffering?  Paul, how can you minimize my parent's congestive heart failure?  Paul, people are calling me a hatemongering bigot for standing up for traditional gospel truth.  How can you call that kind of affliction ‘slight'?"

    Oops, scratch that one.  Paul knew a lot about being afflicted for the sake of Christ.  In fact, go back to verses 8-12 of chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians, or skip over to chapters 11 and 12, and you'll see that if any one had sufferings and afflictions, if anyone in Church history knew what it was like to have his outer nature wasted away, it was the Apostle Paul.  But he kept his eyes on the resurrection we're all promised in Christ Jesus.  And therefore he could say that if our present bodily troubles were put in a scale with the glory that will come to us in the resurrection, the glory that's coming to us will far outweigh them all.

    In fact, our present troubles go to contribute to the glory that is to be.  How can this happen?  Disease and trial and suffering aren't virtuous in themselves.  But as we set them in contrast to the resurrection that is to come; especially, as others see our resurrection hope in contrast to what we're going through here on this earth, we glorify our risen Lord, who has promised to share His glory with us.  So, as Paul says, our focus is no longer on how we see things to be in this troubled world; rather, we fix our eyes on what is unseen and eternal. 

    That is, what is unseen for now.  The unbelieving world may say, "Yes, you're looking at what's unseen, all right, because there's nothing there."  We reply, "No, there is something there, beyond the curtain of this failing earthly life.  There is Someone there, who walked this earth and lived and died and rose again for me, and one day I will see Him face to face and know that He is realer and solider and more weighty than anything that can be looked upon in this temporary world."

    Now, I need you to bear with me for a moment, because I'm going to inject something personal, and I don't want it to take away from the glory that belongs to the Scripture or to Jesus Christ, the Lord of Scripture.  It's just that I find it ironic-- or maybe appropriate-- that this passage speaks of looking and seeing.  You know about my eyesight, how I often have to wear two pairs of cheaters to read.  That's annoying, but I manage.  But in the past couple of days I've noticed some symptoms that may have serious implications for my eyesight, that may even require surgery.  I tell you this by way of confession, to admit that when I found this out I didn't feel too full of thanksgiving.  It can be really hard to keep your focus on things eternal when your imagination is telling you you might not be able to see things earthly for much longer.

    It's been said that the preacher can't preach to him or herself.  Maybe not, but the Apostle can preach to the preacher, and Paul has preached to me that whatever happens when I go in to see the eye doctor, the renewal of Jesus Christ is still taking place in me day by day, whether I feel like it or not.  And age-related things like this only go to remind us that this body we live in is like a tent.  Paul was thinking of the dwelling tents of the wandering Bedouins of the desert; we might think of a tent on a camping trip.  Either way, there comes a time when those things get wet and waterlogged and worn and full of holes.  There is no way they can be compared with our own solid house at home.  In the same way, our present bodies are wearing out.  But by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, God Himself has prepared for us an eternal house in heaven, a building not made by human hands.  Of course it's not made by human hands!  For our eternal home, our resurrection bodies, are established on the foundation of Christ's resurrection itself, and no mortal had anything to do with that.

    The Scripture says that now we groan, longing to be clothed with our permanent heavenly dwelling.  We have to understand that that is truly our longing.  Some people, even Christians, think the goal is to get rid of this earthly tent, our physical bodies, and just fly away as a spirit, naked and free.  That may be great Greek philosophy, but it is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  No, we do not want to be found naked before God.  We must not stand before Him as bare unclothed spirits.  In fact, we can not.  We must be clothed with the heavenly dwelling that God has prepared for us for us, in order for us to know the eternal life that swallows up our mortality.

    Because, brothers and sisters, that is why God made you-- so you might be clothed, surrounded, protected, and made at home in the resurrection body He has prepared for you.  No matter what happens to you in this life, that new and heavenly body will be yours; you can believe that because God has given you the Holy Spirit as a guarantee on the purchase.  He witnesses to our hearts through the Word that Jesus Christ truly did die for us, that His resurrection was for us, and that we can take Him at His word when He promises that where He is, we will be also.

    And so, Paul says, things are actually switched around for us.  Our earthly natures say, "Give me as much time here on earth in this body as possible.  I'm in no hurry to go!"  But the Spirit keeps us looking towards what we don't yet see, and He makes us eager to see it.  He makes us long to move out of the temporary home of this tent and move permanently into our forever home with the Lord.  The Spirit of God makes us confident that we shall indeed some day be forever at home with the Lord, clothed in the glorious bodies He has prepared for us.

    Does this confidence give us the right to be so heavenly-minded we're no earthly good?  Not at all.  Here on this present earth or later on in eternity, our aim and pleasure should be to please Him who did not please Himself, but gave Himself up to save us all.

    Does our future hope lead us to conclude that this present life is meaningless, just a waiting room for heaven, as it were?  No, because we do have our future hope, we strive so that when we appear before the judgement seat of Christ, the things we have done in this present body will please Him and earn us His favor and reward.

    Jesus Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.  Not as a ghost, not as a disembodied spirit, but as a gloried Man of touchable flesh and bone.  And we will be like Him, on that day when He truly returns and gathers His saints to rejoice with Him around His throne. 

    That day is coming.  Someday we will be there, and we will at last feel the glorious weight of the splendor and majesty of our Lord Jesus and His finished work for us.  Whether the time is long or short, do not lose heart.  Make it your goal to please Him. And whatever you may be going through now, whatever now causes you to groan with longing or grief, keep your eyes focussed on Jesus Christ, the one who was dead, and see, He lives again.   He is your resurrection, He is your life, and in Him you will live and find shelter forever more.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Christ's Resurrection and You: Sunday Best, Every Day

Texts:  Colossians 3:1-17; Matthew 28:16-20

REMEMBER COMING TO CHURCH in your Sunday best?  Women and girls put on that suit or dress that rarely got worn any other day of the week.  Men and boys wore good slacks and jackets, white shirts, and ties.  Ladies, you'd never forget your hat, and everyone was clean and pressed with shoes shined and hair brushed, ready to come into the presence of the Lord.

    Maybe you still dress up to come to church.  But for the most part, the world has changed.  People wear whatever they feel like to church.  Some churches even advertise that with them, it's "casual dress" and people can "come as you are." And it's not just the lay people: in some denominations (and nondenominations), the pastors make a point of wearing T-shirts and jeans to preach in.  The idea is that casual dress sends the message that the love of God is open to all, whoever they are or whatever they've done.

    But it's one thing to reject "Sunday best" clothing from our bodies; it's quite another to exclude "Sunday best" from our hearts.  God probably doesn't care if we're casual in our clothing or if we dress up.  But He cares very much if we're casual about our obedience to Jesus Christ and our love for our neighbor in our daily lives.  When we are, it tells God and the world that we really haven't understood the power of Christ in His resurrection-- or that we don't really care.

    Up on that mountain in Galilee after He rose from the dead, Jesus commissioned His disciples to make disciples of all nations by baptising them and teaching them to obey everything that He had commanded them.  Because we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ's shed blood, we don't believe that we earn God's favor by our obedience.  But because we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ's shed blood, we strive to show our thanks and praise by doing what Jesus says.  We come as we are, but God doesn't leave us as we are.  Rather, we are to clothe ourselves with the Sunday best He Himself gives.

    One of my childhood pastors liked to say that the only command Jesus gave was for us to love God and one another.  I'd dispute him on that, now that I'm ordained myself and if he were still around.  But let's say he was right, that the only command of Christ is to love.  It's Scripture's job, not ours, to tell us what loving God and our neighbor means.  It includes holiness, righteousness, mutual consideration, self-denial, self-control, and a lot of other things that the unsaved world doesn't include in this word "love."  Jesus stated flatly that "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given" to Him.  That means He's Lord.  He and He alone has the right to set the dress code, so to speak, and define how we should look walking around clothed in His divine love.

    And if and since we have been raised with Christ, He wants to see our hearts and minds dressed in our Sunday best, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all year round.  In Paul's Letter to the Colossians, the third chapter, he draws the design, you might say, of what our church clothes should look like and how they should be worn.

    Remember, you have been raised with Christ, so set your minds on things above.  Don't go on doing things the way the popular culture or the way your sinful nature wants to do them.  In Jesus' crucifixion, you died; in His resurrection, you were born anew; and now He keeps your real, eternal life safely hidden in the heart of God, in heaven where He reigns at the right hand of the Father in glory.

    So the first thing we have to do is take off the old, filthy, ugly clothing that belonged to our earthly natures.  Or as Paul puts it in verses 5 and following, "Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly."  First of all he mentions fornication, and the Greek word being translated means any kind of sexual immorality, inside or outside of marriage.  Take off, kill, reject any kind of impurity-- it's possible to have a dirty mind in a virgin body.  Reject passion or lust, which isn't just for things sexual; it also includes excessive desire for anything this world has to offer, such that we hurt our neighbor, corrupt ourselves, and dishonor God in the pursuit of it.  Cast off evil desires-- you know the ones you're tempted to, and I have mine-- and utterly stifle greed.  Because Paul is right: when we want some material object with that kind of passion, we're saying it's more important to us than God and it's the same thing as idolatry.  Now that we've been raised with Christ, the clothing of our minds should no longer be the casual, who-cares attire of this present world.  For God cares, and cares deeply, how we clothe ourselves in His presence, and those who insist on wrapping themselves in the rags of their sin will find themselves subject to the wrath of God, when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead.

    You used to be like that, before the Holy Spirit took hold of your life and caused you to be born again through the resurrection of Christ.  You used to do things like that.  And when now you still find yourself doing things like that, when you realize you're still thinking in these God-rejecting, deathly ways, call on the Spirit for help and get rid of that filthy attire right away.  It's the truth: you can be perfectly moral concerning what you do with your body, but if your mind is wearing attitudes like anger and malice, if you can't open your mouth without slandering someone or saying something abusive about them, you deny the resurrection of Christ and its power in you.

    Really, how can we church people, even pastors, elders, and deacons, be so cruel to one another as we often are?  What's our excuse?  Do we gossip about one another and distort the truth about one another because we think it's going to solve some problem?  Do we undermine one another's efforts with the excuse that we just want everything to be done right in the church?  Heaven forbid!  How can we be so foolish?

    These sins existed in the Colossian church, just as they do in our congregations today.  Let's stop going around with our hearts and minds and tongues dressed in such loathsome garments!  After all, we have taken off our old sinful self with its conniving and scheming and backstabbing and distortions.   Jesus' blood has taken that nasty outfit off of us and thrown it away; it's not even fit for the ragbag!  Jesus is risen, we are risen with Him and now we've put on our new selves.  It's our every day Sunday best, and it's a garment that Jesus renews in us day after day.  Our spiritual clothing is now cut in the image of God the creator Himself.  No longer do we dress to express ourselves: the clothing of our minds should now express the glory of Jesus Christ, who is all in all.

    But we have a problem in the church today.  Let's be frank about it: we have a big problem in our denomination. As you may have heard, a majority of our presbyteries has now approved a change to the ordination standards in our Book of Order.  The clause used to read

    Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life of obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the history confessional standards of the church.  Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.  Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

From now it will say,

    Standards for ordained service reflect the church's desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000).  The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate's calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office.  The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate's ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003).  Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

This wouldn't be so bad-- if the Presbyterian Church (USA) didn't have a long record of being extremely casual about Scripture and what it means by "the Lordship of Christ."  Colossians is clear: submitting to Jesus' authority means getting rid of sexual immorality of every kind.  But the majority of our presbyteries seem to think we could put on the new life in Christ right over the rags of the old life of this world.  Or worse than that, that the new life in Christ is all about celebrating and expressing what belongs to our old sinful style.

    The primary impact of this new Book of Order wording will be to allow the ordination of people who are indulging in extra-marital and non-marital sexual relations, whether homo- or heterosexual.  But our sexual lives aren't the only area where sinners deceive themselves about what Jesus' lordship requires.  How often have we known vengefulness redefined as justice, or cruel speech called honesty?  We all struggle with evil habits and ways that fit us like a second skin, and in every case   Jesus demands that we stop submitting ourselves to them.  Whatever your besetting sin was or is, you'll get nowhere in the eyes of God by arguing that you were "born this way."  He knows you were born that way.  You were born in sin and death, and so was I.  But now in Christ we have taken off the old self with its practices, and clothed ourselves with Christ and His perfect purity and righteousness.

    So how do we look in our ever-new Sunday best?  We look like Jesus Himself.  We look like the holy people God has chosen us to be.  We're compassionate to one another.  We're kind.  We're humble, gentle, and patient.  We bear with one another and we forgive the grievances we have against one another.  We forgive as the Lord forgave us-- for that is another way of expressing Jesus' great commandment, to love one another, as He has loved us.   It's true: every virtue that we're clothed in as Christians is an expression of Jesus' love, and His love perfectly harmonizes them all.

    There are difficult days ahead for our denomination.  We might be tempted to say that our Colossians passage just gives us a beautiful ideal of the Christian life, that can have no effect on the gritty realities we're facing.

    But this passage finds its true meaning as we live in it, walk in it, and wear it every day of the week.  Don't confuse casual dress for the body with carelessness for the heart and mind.  The resurrection life in Christ is not all about what's comfortable for me and you, and let the rest of the church look to itself.  No, we are members of one body.  God gives us our beautiful new selves to put on so we can live Jesus' resurrection life together, for the good of all.

    So as you put on your every day Sunday best, let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, the deep peace with God Jesus won for us on the cross.  Let that peace rule and regulate your spirit, so you can trust Him to bring good out of every situation and not lash out in anger and disappointment at what our denomination has done, even as you're called narrowminded or self-righteous for standing up for the truth of Scripture.  Be thankful, especially as you think how Jesus has saved you, even though you did not deserve it.  And minister to each other. Know the word of Christ and be ready to speak it to build one another up in comfort and hope.  Be filled with the wisdom of Christ so you know how to minister His love in the time of need. Be ready to admonish those who are falling into error, even as you maintain a spirit of patience and humility.  Fill your mind and your mouth with hymns and songs and spiritual songs that faithfully express what God has done for us-- you'll be amazed at how much sound teaching you can memorize that way.  And be grateful, for God Himself has laid out your suit, pressed your shirt, and shined your shoes.  All you have to do is put it all on and reflect the image of your creator.

    What should you look like in your spiritual Sunday best?  You should look like your risen Saviour, Jesus Christ.  So take off your old self and be clothed with His virtue, His wisdom, His peace.  "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  Amen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Christ's Resurrection and You: Who Is Your Mother?

Texts:  Galatians 4:21-31; John 21:15-19

THERE'S A STORY ABOUT A little boy, maybe four or five years old, who goes Christmas shopping with his mother.  The store is crammed with customers, and he loses her in the crowd. The child looks around desperately.  He sees a woman with her back to him, wearing a blue coat.  Oh! His mother was wearing a blue coat!  That must be his mom!

    The little boy runs up to her and grabs her by the belt of her coat.  Whew, he's safe!  But she's busy and distracted and he can't get her attention, so he just holds onto that belt for dear life.  Eventually, the woman pays for her selections and makes her way out of the crowded store, the little boy in tow.  Out on the sidewalk, the woman notices the pull on her coat belt.  "Mommy!" she hears a little voice say.  She turns around-- and the child bursts into tears and wails, "You're not my mommy!!"

    Oh, dear.  We have to hope that if and when this happens in real life, the nice lady would take the boy back into the store and help him find his real mother.  But nice and helpful as she might be, as nice and helpful as babysitters and teachers and aunts might be, they are not your mother, they can never take the place of your mother.  A normal child knows who his mother is, and he looks to her for guidance, for teaching, for counsel, for nurture, for protection, and yes, for discipline.

    It's important for us children of God the Father to know who our mother is, too, for nobody and nothing can take her place, and only she can guide, teach, counsel, nurture, protect, and discipline us up to everlasting life.

    Trouble is, too often we children of God fail to recognize our mother.  We latch onto mother substitutes and follow them to spiritual disaster, even to perdition, if that could be possible for the elect.  As a Christian, it's important that you know: Who is your mother?

    This is the problem St. Paul confronts in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Galatians.  The members of the Galatian Church had forgotten who their true mother was.  You could say that the whole epistle is Paul is trying to wake this church up to the danger that's gotten them into.  At the very start he says

    Paul, an apostle-- sent not by men or from man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead--

Paul writes in the authority of the resurrected Son of God.  He speaks in the power of the gospel of Christ dead and risen again.  This is the gospel that gave us birth into new life with God in Christ.  In it we gain the freedom of God's household (as we read in the first part of Chapter 4).  This good news is "not from men nor by men."  For what human being could ever conceive of an actual living, breathing, walking-around personage dying, and then, all by Himself, under His own power, rising from the dead?    The resurrection put the final seal on the new covenant God had always intended to make with mankind.  It made good on all the promises the Lord made so long ago to Father Abraham, that through his seed all nations would be blessed.  The Holy Spirit Himself had enabled the Galatians to believe and accept that Christ's blood had been shed for them, and that now they were justified through faith in Him alone.

    All this was on their spiritual birth certificate, you might say, and yet now they were doubting their identity in Christ.  Maybe they needed something else to guide, counsel, and nurture them.  Maybe they should follow what those men who came from Jerusalem said, and be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses like good Jews!

    And Paul can only shake his head in frustration and say, "You foolish Galatians!  Who is your mother, anyway?"

    Which brings us to our passage in Chapter 4.  Here Paul compares two mothers, Hagar and Sarah.  You know the story from Genesis.  God promised Abraham a son from his own loins.  For years nothing happened, and Abraham and his wife Sarah grew older and older, till the time of childbearing had passed her by.  So Sarah and Abraham decided to help things along a little.  After all, doesn't God help those who help themselves?  They utilized a device prevalent among their Hittite neighbors, for a wife who was barren to give one of her maidservants to her husband to be a surrogate mother.  The child would count as the wife's own offspring and everything would be acceptable and legitimate according to the rules of  the time.

    You know what happened next.  Hagar, the Egyptian slave woman, got pregnant and proceeded to make herself insufferable.  She pushed it so far that Sarah punished her and Hagar ran away into the desert.  But she returned and bore Ishmael, Abraham's natural son.  Then in God's good time, He miraculously enabled Sarah and Abraham to make a baby together.  As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, "And from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore."  The birth of Isaac was literally life from the dead!  But Hagar and Ishmael didn't appreciate the wonder God had brought about.  Ishmael mocked and persecuted his little half-brother, and so it was the Lord's will that he and his mother be sent away. 

    As it happened, Ishmael fathered a great nation of his own, the Arab people, but in Galatians Paul wants us to see how these two mothers and their sons are metaphors for the choice we have to make.  Who is our mother?  Is it Hagar, whose son was born in the ordinary way?  Or is it Sarah, who bore her child from the deadness of her womb by the resurrection power of God?

    I'm still working away at the family tree for my mom that I mentioned last week, and for a time I had a certain 4th great-grandmother down as the daughter of her own sister-in-law.  That's what comes of having sons named after their fathers.  So how did I make that mistake?  I took the word of several different websites that said that Mary was Catherine's mother.  Never mind that the dates didn't make a bit of sense, that's what they all said.  And for awhile, I believed it.

    The voices of this world unite to tell you that Hagar is your mother.  Hagar is human effort making us acceptable to God.  Hagar stands for us making things happen in our own time and by our own effort, instead of being patient and waiting for God to keep His promises.  If you're nice enough, if you give enough to charity, if you follow the rules-- especially God's rules!-- He'll accept you as His child and take you to heaven when you die.

    To claim Hagar as your mother is to reject the power of Christ in His resurrection.  It's to reject Him as the fulfillment of all the promises made to Abraham.  The men who were travelling throughout the Roman world trying to convince Gentiles they had to be circumcised were known as "Judaizers."  Their goal was to make sure that good Christians also became good Jews.  They didn't realize or didn't care that the covenant that God made with Moses at Mount Sinai was only provisional.  That all the ceremonies and sacrifices looked forward to the slaying of the perfect Lamb of God on Calvary's cross.  And that now that He, Jesus, is risen, there is no more need for Gentiles to convert to Judaism to be pleasing to God. In fact, all Jews need to welcome Jesus their risen Messiah in order to be the chosen people God always intended them to be!

    Hagar represents the old covenant of Law, but Sarah represents God's new covenant of grace, shown to us in the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  We, too, have been born by the power of the Spirit.  We, too, are children of promise.  We are sons and daughters of the free woman, Sarah, and we share in the inheritance of God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    That is, if Sarah is your mother.  That is to say, if you accept that you are a child of God solely by His own life-giving power.

    In the same way, we must also choose whether our mother is the Jerusalem here on earth, or the Jerusalem that is above.  Remember that in the first century, Jerusalem was still the site of the Temple.  It was where the animal sacrifices were made.  It was where the men of Israel had to go to observe the appointed Feasts, like Passover and the Day of Atonement.  It was the heart of Jewish religious observance, the place where forgiveness of sins was to be found-- until the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Jesus said to the woman of Samaria,

    "A time is coming when you will worship God neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . . A time is coming and now is when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth." 

    Now that Christ has died, risen, and ascended into heaven, the place of our worship is in heaven with Him who is Spirit and Truth.  It is our mother the heavenly Jerusalem, which is above, and is free.

    But does that mean God has left us motherless here on earth?  By no means!  For the Scripture makes it clear that the Jerusalem above represents the Church of God in all her perfection.  In Revelation 21 it says, "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband."  In Ephesians 6 we read that husbands should love their wives "as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, . . . to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."  The Jerusalem above is the perfection of God's covenant people, His Church, and if you are in Christ through faith, she is your mother.

    To many, that's strictly a Roman Catholic concept.  And really, we have to avoid the idea that "the Church" is just the pastors and the presbytery and the General Assembly and not all of us gathered here as the body of Christ Sunday after Sunday.  But even we Protestants need to recognise the Church as our mother, for it is to her that God has entrusted His Word and Sacraments, that through them we might be guided, taught, counselled, nurtured, protected, and disciplined.  John Calvin says in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, that "the Church is she into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children, not only that by her aid and ministry they may be nourished so long as they are babes and children, but may also be guided by her maternal care until they grow up to manhood, and, finally, attain to the perfection of faith. What God has thus joined, let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9)": to those to whom he is a Father, the Church must also be a mother. This was true not merely under the Law, but even now after the advent of Christ; since Paul declares that we are the children of a new, even a heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26).

And so our Lord Himself commanded the Apostle Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to demonstrate his love for Christ by feeding His lambs, taking care of His sheep, and feeding His sheep.  Whatever else the leadership of the Church does, they must make sure that saints old and new are constantly being fed with the pure milk and the solid meat of the word of God.  Following their example, we must all teach and encourage one another, loving and caring for one another for the sake of our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ.  That's the only way we can grow up to be like Him.  There are many who think they can be Christians on their own, without being connected to any visible church.  But the Scripture utterly denies that this is possible.  You are either incorporated into God's covenant assembly, or you are still out in the desert, clinging like Ishmael to the robe of Hagar your slave woman mother.  You are either miraculously born of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, and incorporated into His body by baptism, or you are dead in your trespasses and sins.  You can seek your own spiritual food and starve, or be richly nurtured by the hand of the mother God has given you.

    Who is your mother?  Your mother is the new covenant people, sealed in Christ's blood.  Your mother is the assembly of the children of God, given new birth by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Your mother is the Church, the heavenly Jerusalem, the spotless bride that God has foreordained you to become.  Nothing can take her place.  Today and every day let us thank our earthly mothers for all they have done for us. But even more, let us thank and praise our Father in heaven for caring for us and loving us through His Church, our mother who is free. 

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Christ's Resurrection and You: Noblesse Oblige

Texts:    Romans 8:9-25; John 20:19-23

        ALL OVER THE WORLD THIS PAST FRIDAY, PEOPLE were glued to coverage of the royal wedding.  Even we Americans find the British monarchy fascinating.  And I'm wondering, how would you feel, how could you act, if it could be proven that you were the direct, legitimate descendant of royalty?

    The other night, I was doing some genealogical work online.  I think it'd be fun to give my mom an updated version of her chart for Mother's Day, and I was trying to see how far back I could get.  Well, I hit paydirt with a website that had page after page of information on a branch of the family I hadn't researched much before.  I identified my three-times-great grandmother, and on her "Person Page" the notes said that, according to a book called Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants, she was the direct descendant of Edward I of England and Robert II of France.

    Wow, I thought.  Wow.  I'm descended from kings and queens!  Immediately I began to sit a little taller.  Instantly I felt more responsible, more capable.  I was filled with a sense of noblesse oblige, the conviction that I had a duty to do great and good things in my life, and not only that, that I had the ability to do them.

    There was one problem.  The fourth or fifth cousin who published this website had inserted a question mark in the middle of this note.  Oh-oh.  So I dug further.  And it turns out that this claim to royal blood came about because great-great-great grandmother Sophia's great-grandpa Matthew ran around colonial Maryland claiming to be a younger son of a certain duke or earl back in England.  There's no mystery about that; it's well-documented that that's what he alleged.  Trouble is, the records in England say the nobleman's son named Matthew died as a young boy, and the family coat of arms our Matthew sported in the colonies wouldn't have been the proper style for a younger son, even if the duke or earl had been his father.

    Oh.  So much for my royal ancestry.  It was inspiring for the half-hour it lasted!

    But then it hit me-- I am related to royalty!  And so are you!  And our relationship to the King is a lot closer than thirty or forty generations back.  And we've got a lot better proof of it than what we read on some website or in somebody's book or what some ancestor bragged about four hundred years ago.  You and I are children of the great Monarch of the universe, God Almighty Himself, and the guarantee of that relationship is the resurrection of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

    See what it says in Paul's letter to the Romans.  If we'd had time to read the whole eighth chapter, we'd see that it begins and ends with God's solution to our sense of condemnation over our sins.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ, and because Christ is for us, no one can bring any charge against us; we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  The second part and the next to the last part tell us what life is like for those who are still under condemnation and those who through Christ are conquerors over sin.  And the center of it all shows us how we are more than conquerors.  Verses 14 through 17 assure us that we're not just victorious warriors in God's army, we are sons and heirs in God's household!

    How do we know?  We know it by the power of the Holy Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Verse 14 says that those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  Verse 16 assures us that  "The Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that we are God's children"!  Up in verse 10, we are assured that by His Spirit the risen Christ is living in us, making our spirits alive because of His righteousness, even while our bodies are effectively dead because of sin.  This Spirit living in us is the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, and He will also bring about the resurrection of our mortal bodies.  Christ's resurrection makes ours possible; more than that, it guarantees that we, too, will rise.

    Can we believe that?  Yes, because we are children of God, sealed with His Spirit.  And as it says in verse 17, "if we are children, we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ."  Titus 1, verses 5b-7 say that "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."  Our inheritance is first and foremost eternal life!  When Christ arose, He proved that He has eternal life to give.  He showed that because we are in Him, we now share the deathless life that He displayed outside the tomb that first Easter morning.

    It's important for us to keep the "sons of God" language in this passage.  In ancient Greco-Roman society, daughters did not inherit the estate from their fathers.  Of course, neither did servants or slaves.  Nor, ordinarily, did boys born out of wedlock.  It was legitimate sons who inherited their fathers' possessions and power.  And adopted sons could inherit as well.  And so Paul writes that we all have received the same spirit of sonship through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ alone is God's Son by substance and nature.  But through His blood we have been legally adopted by God. All the good things that are coming to Jesus are also coming to us.  We all will share in His glory that will be revealed at the last day, when He comes to judge the living and the dead.

    We will share in His glory, that is, if indeed we share in His sufferings.  The earthly life of an adopted royal son is not one of indulgence and ease.  In verses 5 through 8 of this chapter Paul talks about the low, deadly, hostile, and rebellious life and attitude we find in someone who isn't controlled by God's Spirit.  It makes sense that someone like that who's outside of God's favor is going to suffer for it.  But in verses 18 on, we see that we who belong to God's household by adoption can expect to suffer in this life, too. 

    Of course we can say that people who reject God suffer from His wrath, while God's children suffer from the wrath of the world.  But that's not where Paul takes us in the next part of chapter 8.  No, he seems to be telling us that just as we are bound up in Christ and share His sufferings and His coming glory, so too is the creation bound up in suffering with us and waits to be brought to glorious freedom when we are fully revealed as God's beloved sons.  We represent creation, and only with us will it be freed from its bondage to death and decay.

    So in this life we still struggle against the effects of sin, our sins and the sins of others.  We still experience the disruption of creation brought about by the Fall, we're still subject to calamities like earthquakes, floods, and deadly storms.  As children of God these disasters make us long for the day when God's purpose will be fulfilled and the promise of Christ's resurrection will be made perfect in us.  Paul writes that when His glory is revealed in us, every bad thing that has ever happened to us will be seen to be nothing, in comparison to the glory we will inherit.  But right now we're still in the middle of the war.  Our adoption as sons is not yet complete; it won't be final until our bodies are redeemed, resurrected, and renewed to be like the body of the risen Christ.  At that time all creation will be redeemed and renewed with us.

    Still, even now the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.  Therefore, what should be our attitude?  Since the royal shed blood and triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ have given us life, how should we behave?

    The term was "noblesse oblige."  It literally means "nobility obliges."  Verse 12 tells us, "Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation-- but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it."  Being a child of Almighty God does not give us the right to sin up a storm on the basis that Jesus paid for it all.  It does not give us license to look down on unbelievers as if it was some virtue or attractiveness in ourselves that made Jesus save us.  Being related to God the Father by the royal blood of Christ does not entitle us to condemn others as if we ourselves did not deserve to be condemned.  That is living according to the sinful nature, and if you do that, you will die.

    No, rather, because God has made us His children through the resurrection of His Son, we struggle to put to death the misdeeds of our sinful flesh.  By the Spirit of God we do this; not on our own: He causes us to cry out to our heavenly Father and depend on Him alone.  By His Spirit He makes us more and more like His Son Jesus Christ.

    As the Spirit leads us, we grow to do the deeds that befit our status as royal children.  I think my response of responsibility and capability when I thought I might have royal ancestry was the right one, even though, I admit, it was rather silly even if it had been true. As beloved sons in the household of our heavenly Father, we do have the responsibility confidently and ably to represent our Lord wherever we are and to whomever we may meet.  A tall order for weak, sinful mortals like ourselves-- but God through His Spirit gives us the capability to do all He asks.

    When the risen Christ appeared to His disciples in the Upper Room the night of His resurrection, John says that "he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'" This was a foretaste of the great outpouring that would come forty days later at Pentecost.  But it's important what our Lord says to them next.  He says, "‘If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'"

    I hope you understand what a weighty obligation that puts on you.  It applies especially to us pastors and teachers, who have the responsibility of opening the word of God and declaring Christ's forgiveness out of it.  But you, the Church; you, the individual Christian, also have a noble obligation in the power of the Spirit to declare the forgiving gospel of Christ to those around you.  You have an obligation to be the face and form of the Body of Christ to those whom you meet every day.

    It's a formidable responsibility.  In our weakness we fail at it all the time.  But you are not alone.  You have God's Holy Spirit living in you, proving to you that you are His child, demonstrating that your lineage through the blood of Jesus Christ is true.  You have the power of Christ's resurrection in you, giving you life and sustaining you with His promise through all the struggles and sufferings of this life.  You have this holy Supper, where you may see, touch, and taste, and have the promise of His everlasting life confirmed to you.

    The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the risen Lord, and  we will share their jubilation when He returns with all His saints when He comes again in glory.  Until then, stand tall, walk by the Spirit, and remember who you are.  By the resurrection of your Lord Jesus Christ, you are a child of God. You are His heir, and a co-heir with Christ.  May God work in you and in all His children what is pleasing to Him, to the glory of His name.  Amen.