- 2017Feb 27
The best thing about the Christian faith is that it is based on an everlasting, unchangeable covenant. It is not about us being 'good enough', checking the right boxes, or trying to 'be better'. It is about a covenant between ourselves and God.
This idea of covenant is seen throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and some of the most powerful passages about who Jesus are found in the Old Testament. While reading in Ezekiel 16 during my morning quiet time, I was moved by this passage that so clearly lays out what this "New Covenant" would look like.
But first, what is a covenant?
In non-Biblical terms, a covenant is essentially a legal, binding agreement. When you get married, take out a loan, lease a house, or sign a document, you are entering into a type of covenant; an agreement in which both parties make certain promises to one another.
In Biblical terms, a covenant between God and people holds a great significance, and forms the foundation of how God interacts with people. The covenant most often referred to by Jesus as "The Law" is the Mosaic Covenant. Given to Moses at Mount Sinai, this covenant laid out the rules for how God's chosen people would agree to live. This is where we get The Ten Commandments.
The problem with this covenant is that try as we might, no one could possibly ever live up to it! The law gives a guide of how God would have us to live and what a sinless life would look like, but our end of the deal is simply impossible to uphold. Because of this, in Ezekiel 16, God promises a new, better covenant:
59 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant (side note, they weren't even trying to fulfill it anymore).
60 Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you (side note: God doesn't forget His promises, even if we do).
61 Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both those who are older than you and those who are younger. I will give them to you as daughters, but not on the basis of my covenant with you (side note: non-Jews are now going to be allowed in on this new covenant)
62 So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord.
63 Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the SovereignLord.’”
What we read here is the fullness of the Gospel: Even though we can't keep our end of the deal, God is faithful to remember His and will give us another, better opportunity. God does not choose to just be done with humanity forever, but remembers the old covenant, and promises to establish a new, better and everlasting one. This new everlasting covenant is established through what Jesus did on the cross, which is also the atonement mentioned in verse 63. God promises throughout the Old Testament that He will not break His covenant. He keeps this promise by not only keeping up His end of things, but amending the terms in our favor.
The people of Israel will receive their sisters and brothers (non-Jews who were not a part of the first covenant with Moses) on the basis of this new covenant. This is the picture of the good news of Jesus being preached to every nation, by which everyone on earth may be saved and brought into the promises of the new covenant.
This new, everlasting covenant is much different from the previous one. Where the first covenant turned out to be impossible to keep, the new covenant brought about by Jesus requires only our faith and trust. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant completely so that through faith in Him, we may be brought into this promise of God's people and have certainty that we are in good standing.
This is the beautiful mercy of the new covenant and the aspect of Christianity that distinguishes it from every other religion: we are saved not by works, but by faith.
- 2017Feb 22
I have noticed something peculiar about traveling as a Houstonian. When a person not from Houston finds out you are from Houston, the phrase “Houston, we have a problem” quickly enters the conversation. The famous phrase from the Apollo 13 mission has become associated with the city, and has been used to reference anyone that has a problem. But the truth is that right now, America, we have a problem. We are a nation battling demons of division. We wrestle with everything from politics to racism. On a day when we focus on the horrors of modern-day slavery, the particular problem I am thinking about right now is the legacy of slavery in America and the enduring slavery that exists today.
My most recent encounter with anything to do with American slavery was during a visit to Gettysburg a few years ago. What struck me most about the experience was the horrible loss of life on both sides, and that at the end of the war, each man who was fortunate enough to survive went home as an American. Immediately after the war, slavery had been abolished, and Abraham Lincoln strove to accept former Confederates back into the fold as equals, making it his priority to focus on that which unites us, setting aside the recent pain of war in order to achieve a greater unity, as “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.
The harrowing truth that we must not fail to recognize is that no matter how hard we try to do it, we simply cannot unite as a people until we together choose to confront not only the legacy of the past, but also the real issues of our day.
I am glad that my church, along with many others, have led the way in this fight by taking a strong stand against human trafficking, and churches are engaging in real ways to support organizations that daily engage in the fight against trafficking. As we address the lingering legacy of the slave trade in our nation, the startling, glaring fact is that the slave trade not only still exists, but thrives in greater numbers today than at any time in world history. And although awareness is growing, and action is happening, we cannot deny that we as a nation are blatantly ignoring it. As we consider the horrors of American slavery, we are obliged to take a moment and absorb the fact that there are more slaves in the world today than were seized from Africa during four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
At a moment in which men, women, and children are being enslaved, raped, murdered and sold as property both here at home and around the world, there is a certain arrogance in turning our backs to those who still live through the nightmare we claim to despise.
There are an estimated 28-35 million human souls on this planet who daily endure the highest forms of unspeakable abuse and torture.
We as Americans generally consider ourselves to be civilized and advanced. Perhaps we should rather be embarrassed and humiliated that we’ve lost the plot of our great American novel in order to chase the fading allure of tabloid headlines.
As we now consider and address the evils of humanity, both past and present, and as we proclaim that the institution of slavery was and is and will always be evil, let us not be so myopic as to neglect the present suffering that still rages across the face of the earth. While we entangle ourselves in debate about what black people should be and white people should be, who is privileged and who isn’t, which lives matter and which don’t, and who should use what bathroom at sporting events, the world daily endures terror and patiently cries out for our action.
Slavery and trafficking of people is not a liberal or conservative issue, nor is it a religious or secular issue; it is a human issue that should shake us to the core and be of utmost urgency. What argument could be made from either end of the spectrum or any position in-between that suggests freedom from slavery is not a priority for all humankind?
Can there be such an argument?
In any action we take to set right that which is wrong, let us first address the pressing matter of our generation: let us raise a new banner of Justice, and unite with determination against the evil which continues to demean all who are created in the image of God. That banner is one we may proudly raise and defend.
A great way to start is by supporting these effective and reputable organizations that are already leading the way:
- 2017Feb 09
The lines are drawn. Headlines are swirling. People are doing all they can to get their thoughts out there as fact fades into opinion then into bias then into fact and back out again.
Leaders speak fiercely against that which they supported just months ago, people on all sides huddling up and circling the wagons.
Respected, thoughtful pastors have staked out their positions on either side of the debate, leaving many unsure of where to stand, or worse, leaving them to feel betrayed, confused, and opposed to good leaders they once supported.
Kind people who have been friends for decades are quickly destroying those friendships through impassioned debates on social media. Every day we read a new post from someone who is 'leaving facebook' to get away from it all.
To read the average news feed it would appear the world is melting and we are all going with it. The social environment around us is more politically charged than it has been in years, but the truth is, this is nothing new. Far from it...
Now would be a really good time to take a step back from all the noise and just breathe for a moment.
As we step back, lets step all the way back into 1st century Israel, a far off land we have heard so much about where Jesus began His ministry. . In the time and place where Jesus lived, political tensions were also incredibly high, and the Roman Empire was ruthless in their rule of the land. Having taken control, these Roman authorities were brutal to all those they encountered, and imposed large amounts of taxes on the people. Their rule was harsh, those who lived under their authority lived in oppression, and elements of revolt were springing up all around. The Romans kept a watchful eye for these pockets of revolution, and delivered a quick response to those who would dare challenge them. It was from this environment that God's chosen people cried out for a Savior, and they were generally looking for one who would save not only their souls, but their nation as well. Many hoped for a Messiah who would not only bring peace and freedom from sin, but one who would also forcefully overthrow the Romans and allow them to live in freedom and strength as a free people.
It was in the midst of this turbulent environment that Jesus appeared on the hillside, proclaiming, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). It was into this world of chaos that He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27).
When Jesus had the audience and opportunity to speak out against the Romans and rail against government, He took a different direction.
He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
He said, "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Mark 12:17).
He said, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
Years later, the Apostle Peter said, "Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor" (I Peter 2:17).
The Apostle Paul said, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1).
Keep in mind that these are men who ultimately met their fate at the hands of this same government. These are men who knew beyond a doubt that they were being treated unfairly by the state.
So why didn't they use their voice to cry out against this evil? Why didn't they fight back?
A short time reading the New Testament reveals that the writers intended to minimize political talk and focus on faith talk. Their focus is on belief, on behavior, and on doctrine. They speak not to matters of policy and law, but to matters of righteousness, sanctification, and unity.
This does not mean that the Christian leader has no place and no voice in the public discussion. In a free republic such as ours, the opposite is true, and we are obliged to speak to the issues of our day. But we do well to consider this: the Apostles used their voice not to change the current political situation, but to change the world forever by changing hearts.
They focused their efforts on building up, on encouraging the believers and pointing them back to that which is everlasting.
Their gaze was fixed squarely on the eternal, not the temporary.
As I visited Israel this past year, I was struck with just how many empires had come through this part of the world. Empires once mighty that are now long forgotten.
Names of triumphant rulers that are now nothing more than part of a name inscribed somewhere in the dust. But the eternal promises of God are strong in this same place, and make their presence felt in every rock, every tree, even in the air itself.
The Egyptian Empire came and went, the Persian empire came and went, and the Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and British Empires followed suit. Eventually, President Obama and President Trump will be names in the footnotes of history along with Rutherford B. Hayes, Millard Fillmore and many other Presidents that most of us know little about these days.
We do ourselves a great good by looking to the past, studying what mattered then, what matters now, what will matter in a century, and what matters in eternity. The political pendulum swings, and will swing again, but "the Word of the Lord endures forever" (I Peter 1:25).
My prayer is that we as Christian leaders will be wise in our dealings, focused and speaking to that which is eternal, following the example of Paul, in asking others to "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19).