Sufficient Grace

my_cup_runneth_over_by_c_pi
My Cup Runneth Over**

[The following is an excerpt from a commencement address I was asked to give last week for Trinity Preparatory Academy in at Christ Community Church in Lindenwold, NJ. While there was only one graduating senior,  they have a big vision and I was proud to be part of the ceremony. The young graduate, Miss Ana Hernandez, is a regular attender at Mercy Hill]

As you begin your life after high school, you need to recognize that while some things will change, many things will remain the same. You’re still going to have homework—in college, of course, there will be homework assignments. But more generally speaking “tests” and “tasks” and “trials” are not things that are limited to school.

In fact, in some ways, the homework assignments of high school are some of the easiest “tests” you’ll ever have. As of today, you’ll begin to discover the truth of this observation yourself. How can you prepare for the changing-yet-similar circumstances of your next chapter of life? How can you start this new chapter well?

God’s Word will help us here, because it is filled with instruction on how to manage life’s tests. It may not have the answers to your school assignments, but it definitely does have the answer to life’s “homework” assignments.

But the answers may surprise you. Continue reading

Jesus’ New Commandment

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.34.33 PM
Springtime flowers (photo credit below).

The “Maundy” in “Maundy Thursday” is a word from the Latin Bible where Jesus’ new command is translated as a “new mandate“–and since he traditionally gave that mandate or command on Thursday night before he was betrayed, the Church’s celebration of the Last Supper and its related events has come to be called Maundy Thursday.

But is Jesus’ command really new? After all, the command to “love your neighbor” is mentioned in Leviticus 19–hardly new–and Jesus indirectly refers to that statement in Leviticus elsewhere when, in the Gospels, he asked to state what the greatest commandment is; he replies that we are to love God with our whole heart, and “the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.”

So it isn’t new in the sense that it has never been said before. Nor is it new in that Jesus hasn’t said it before. How is it then new? Continue reading

Thoughts on Welcoming the Weak

In wider cultural circles, Christians often come under attack for failing to express to one another those virtues which we say are so important. I’m talking about things like love, sympathy, acceptance, and showing undeserved kindness.

This is, in one sense, a decoy topic for someone who has refused to consider the claims of Jesus. All too often their reasons amount to nothing more than excuses which avoid, rather than seriously engage, the truth claims of the faith.

Think about it. Don’t deep divides within the fields of evolutionary biology about just how the world came to be separate the most scholarly in the field? Yet such divides are not singled out for forming a reasonable basis for rejecting evolutionary biology. The same goes for politics. Deep divides within the a political party in American society are not a sound basis for rejecting said political party, or politics, as a whole.

In fact, in every area of public life, quarrels over fairly minor points are disputed between friends: “You like the NFL, I like the NFL; you like the AFC, I like the AFC; you like the AFC East, I like the AFC East; you like the Cowboys, I…click.” You get the idea.

Yet, I suspect that Christians are singled out in a special way for hypocrisy here because of the claims of the Christian faith itself: Continue reading

7 Reasons Protestants are Pro Ecclesia

Pro Ecclesia means “for the church” and Protestants are people who “protest.” That’s a strange combination: how can Protestants (negative) be for the Church (positive)?

It all began innocently enough. A German Bible doctor  and priest penned something like a medieval letter to the editor when he posted a list of ninety-five arguments on the public bulletin board (the door of the chapel in the center of town). This priest-scholar believed these were worthy of debate by church leaders and published them out of a love for the Church and an established tradition of seeking its reformation.

However, that priest, named Dr. Martin Luther, was eventually excommunicated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy for refusing to recant his views which he first articulated when he posted those concerns, called theses, on October 31, 1517.

It is remarkable that such a small action (which was essentially nothing more than a blog post or an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer) set in motion what would eventually become the Protestant Reformation. Since then, that historic event (or events, as many historians acknowledge a number of reformations) has come to define a movement of Christian belief known as Protestantism.

Yet, as a Catholic reform movement defined in part by objecting to certain things–especially religious traditions and practices which have little or nothing to do with the Bible–we must not be understood merely as an opposition movement, or as people who only stand against.

I think there is a need to reemphasize that while the label or term “Protestant” has historically negative connotations, it does not summarize the whole scope of Protestant belief. We need to freshly articulate he positive grounds or foundations for protestant faith and practice.

Besides this, because of the many traditions within Protestantism, it is important to lay out the major convictions held by those who find themselves still “protesting” certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church as a way of understanding what binds us is greater than what divides. Here then are seven “pros” or positive beliefs that all Protestants share. Continue reading

Murdering Children

I’d like to explain why I hate the murder of children.

I hate it because it is wrong to take something from someone who can’t protect or defend himself.

  • Like the five year old girl I read about last week. She was allegedly photographed, and fondled, for years by her Aunt and that Aunt’s boyfriend, 41 year old Alex Capasso, a famous Jersey “chef”.
  • Like Autumn Pasquale, the girl in Clayton, NJ, who, three years ago was lured into a house by two older teenage boys and then killed for her bike parts.
  • Like the boys in the new documentary Wolfpack, who were kept (locked) inside their house by their dad their nearly their entire childhood. Not killed, but still robbed, don’t you think?

So I don’t think its right to take things from people, especially little people. In football, its okay: Big people hurt little people. But in our neighborhoods, and on our streets, and in our houses, big people don’t–shouldn’t–hurt, but should protect, the little people.

We need to rediscover this truth. Continue reading

Trying to Earn God’s Favor is Silly…

…because you don’t have to.

After all, if I needed to earn God’s favor why did Jesus have to die?

I was amazed to hear that the woman who waited on my table yesterday said “I pray for everyone I meet.” I asked her how she did that and she said, “I just bless everyone–God bless you, and God bless you, and God bless you…”

I asked her, “do you know how that works?” “How what works,” she asked.

I said, “What I mean is, do you know how God blesses people?” She said, “He blesses people when we do good.” Which seemed to me to undermine the whole idea of asking God to bless someone if it requires them to be doing good in the first place.

The point is this: God doesn’t bless anyone just because someone asks for it. Blessing comes from God in and through Jesus Christ alone. As I said, if I needed to earn God’s favor, Jesus didn’t have to die. All other ground (as the hymn says) is “sinking sand.” Or, to put it another way, all other ground is the basis for cursing, not blessing. Continue reading