On Trial

Southerners are lousy at being quarantined.  Untrained in this discipline by a lack of inclement winter weather, we tear through our stock of quarantine supplies by noon on day one.  We love to prep for disaster, but have little patience to live within the parameters of our preparations.   We cancel everything in order to stay home, then stand all day with our noses pressed to the glass, itching to get out to see “what’s going on.”    Like school children after the first two weeks of summer vacation, we become quickly bored.

As long as our internet does not go out and take with it our Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, we may actually make it.   Surrounded by our hoarded TP, we outwait the lengthy COVID 19 incubation period by binge-watching.   For my wife and I, our nightly habit is British crime drama.  We especially like the adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ crime novels.   Her stories are complex.   The obvious culprits are never the perpetrators.   Only slowly does the truth come into focus as the “DCI” sifts through seemingly endless strands of contradictory evidence.   Cleeves’ stories give an appreciation for the complexity of criminal investigation, warning of the dangers of precipitous judgment.   To get to the truth, we cannot take a cursory look.

Perhaps we love fictional crime drama because it satisfies our need to see justice done, without complicating it with the complexities of our own sin.   In sixty minutes, confusion gives way to clarity and good triumphs over evil no matter what means it uses to get there.   But our lives are not so tidy.  In our real story, we are the fugitives who face a justice none of us can bear.   Yet the scales of God’s justice do not weigh the arguments for and against our guilt, but rather God’s justice and His mercy.

It is remarkable how much legal imagery the Bible uses to picture our condition.  The Old Testament anticipates a redeemer who will set prisoners free.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are pictured as advocates, God the Father is often likened to a judge, redemption depends upon a declaration of judicial righteousness and our condemnation is set aside in Christ.  

History’s greatest courtroom drama is recorded in the Bible in Luke 22 and 23.  Following an irregular grand jury indictment, Jesus is brought before the criminal court on charges trumped up religious rivals.  In Pontius Pilate’s courtroom we see the greatest miscarriage of justice in human history.  Everyone is guilty – the judge, the prosecutors, the jury – everyone that is except the one on trial.  He alone is innocent.  Evidence is ignored and the judge is captive public opinion and his own corrupt history.  Despite his declarations of Jesus’ innocence, Pontius Pilate condemns him to death and compounds injustice by releasing a man who is truly guilty of all the charges leveled against Jesus.

As spectators, we recoil at this apparent travesty of justice.  But we must look more deeply.   No cursory examination of Jesus’ trial reveals the extent of the guilty.   It is easy to spot the guilt of the Sanhedrin, of the crowds, of Judas, of Pilate, and of Barabbas.  But the investigation must go deeper.  For we are not just spectators of this drama.  Jesus is not a hapless victim of human injustice, but a willing sacrifice to divine justice – justice that is rightly ours to bear.   It is not just Barabbas’ cross that Jesus bore, but ours.   God is just – His justice cannot ignore our crimes or allow them to go unpunished – but in His mercy He is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.  Because of this we can have peace with God and with one another.  This my friend is good news.

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, March 22, as we examine Luke 22 and 23 and consider the greatest courtroom drama in history as it unfolds Christ’s innocence and condemnation for our guilt and pardon.  For more information about how we are gathering for corporate worship amidst calls for “social distancing” go to our post, How to Survive the Pandemic.

Debt Free

Mathematics has placed this Thanksgiving as late in November as possible.  While this is good for those who dread the onslaught of the holiday season, it is disastrous for retailers who depend upon every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make or break sales for the year.   Black Friday may put retailers in the black, but it will plunge many holiday gift-givers into the red.  Like it’s namesake, 90 years ago last month, Black Friday spells financial ruin for many American consumers.

Our desire to take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime deals, exhibit remarkable generosity, or just give into the pressure to out gift one another drives us to budget busting binges.   We spend more than we have, because Visa, MasterCard, and Amex have promised to give us 5% cash back on short term loans with an interest rate of 26%.  In a matter of days, we accumulate debt we will spend years struggling to erase.

The modern-day credit card — which entered the scene in the late 1950s — means far greater buying power but also financial disaster for many individuals and families.  Consider the following statistics.

  • More than 189 million Americans have credit cards.
  • The average credit card holder has at least four cards.
  • On average, each household with a credit card carries $8,398 in credit card debt.
  • Total U.S. consumer debt is at $13.86 trillion. That includes mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans

Each statement comes with a helpful “minimum payment.”  While the current balance seems insurmountable, the minimum payment seems manageable.  But here is the bad news.  If you only pay the minimum, you are daily increasing a debt through interest and fees and you will never pay off.   If you are drowning in debt there is help available.  Your lenders may work with you.  Dave Ramsey will educate you.  And by implementing your own austerity measures, with great discipline, you can slowly swim against the tide of consumer debt.

But there is a debt more dreadful than consumer debt.  The Bible tells us that we have all sinned against a God who is our creator and our judge.  His holiness does not allow him to simply write off the debt without someone making sufficient payment.   And even the minimum payment is beyond our reach.  God’s justice demands perfect obedience and death as the penalty for past failure.   Our imperfect and self-centered attempts to pay this debt through religious observance, good works, and expressions of remorse only increase the current balance.  The debt grows every day.   And it must and will be paid — every last penny.  Dave Ramsey has some good advice, but a degree from Financial Peace University will not equip you to pay this debt.

The Heidelberg Catechism, a time-tested set of questions and answers designed to teach the basics of the Christian faith, expresses our conundrum well.

Question 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, what is required that we may escape this punishment and be again received into favor? 
Answer: God wills that His justice be satisfied, therefore we must make full satisfaction to the same, either by ourselves or by another. 

Question 13. Can we ourselves make this satisfaction? 
Answer: By no means: on the contrary, we daily increase our guilt.

Our situation is dire, but there is good news.  God himself has offered a remarkable payment plan — a plan that goes far beyond clearing our debt.   Join us this Sunday, November 10 as we consider how to become debt-free forever in the economy of God’s justice.     We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Breaking the Silence

Every actor, every game-show host, every news anchor, and every preacher knows the importance of the dramatic pause. It heightens anticipation, it calls hearers to attention, it makes the heart race. It dials up the emotional intensity to the gravity of the word it so intently awaits. It is that silence which, for a moment, haunts the psyche of hearers as they struggle to predict or prepare for the coming word, suspended dreamlike between terror and hope. Such is the power of silence. It is hope, fear, uncertainty, disappointment, expectation all compressed by a sonic vacuum.

But what happens when that pause is more than a few fleeting seconds? What if that dramatic pause goes on for hours or days or weeks. Many couples have experienced the emotional estrangement that comes from a famine of words. Without the nourishing words of assurance, love and comfort, silence imputes motives that arise out of our worst fears and harshest assessments of those we love. But the silence of our beloved is nothing when compared to the silence of God. We can observe this keenly in the words of Psalm 22, a prayer which resonated on the lips of Christ upon the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1

The songwriter, Andrew Peterson, expresses the tension this silence from God creates in our lives.

It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy, but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.   

The Silence of God, Andrew Peterson

Those final words are powerful. The man of all sorrows, he never forgot, What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought. Jesus — the Word made flesh — was born to speak God’s love, mercy and comfort into a dramatic silence that had lasted 400 years. God was not dead, not absent, not unconcerned, not idle. From before the foundation of the world, He had been bringing history to this point. “[When] the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” Galatians 4:4-5  The God of the Bible is a God that breaks the silence of fear, of sorrow, of uncertainty with comfort, joy and confident hope. He does this by sending His Son.

Zechariah knew something about the silence of God. As an aged priest, his whole life had been devoted to pleading for God to speak and to act on behalf of his people. How many years had he served God? How many he years had he prayed for the salvation of the Lord? How many thousands of times had he plead with God to redeem his people from the yoke of tyranny and sin? But where was an answer, any answer?

But Zechariah also had a personal plea. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had served God faithfully, but yet, God had closed Elizabeth’s womb. There was no child, no heir, no “sound of little feet that was the music they danced to week to week.” There was only stigma and silence from the God, whose service was their every thought and breath. Yet, silence is never the last word from God.

In the midst of this silence, Zechariah gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He is called upon to offer prayers and burn the sacred incense before the most Holy Place in the temple. It would be easy to imagine how he might be tempted to doubt, yet it is in this very moment that God breaks His long silence. The dramatic pause is finished and the even more dramatic truth is spoken. All that God has promised is about to come about. The gospel, the good news, is revealed to Zechariah. And Zechariah, whose life had been a silent witness to the silent God, becomes the silent instrument God chooses to make known his broken silence in the gospel.

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 25, as we begin a short series of lessons from Luke’s Gospel in Luke 1:5-25 and consider the power of the gospel to break the silence of God in our lives. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. And here for our order of service.  Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.