Common Faith Network

Common Faith Network

Church of God Cincinnati

Letter from the Pastor of COG Cincinnati

Letter

From Jim O'Brien
March 25, 2017

Hi Friend,

One Law

The Bible is a big book so it's easy to read certain passages that have profound implications without grasping the depth of meaning. For some of us it takes several readings for the meaning to sink in. For all of us it takes experience.

So it was the first few times I read God's instruction to Israel in chapter twelve of Exodus. "One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you." (Exodus 12:48) This occurs just after His instruction for observing Passover only a short while after Israel had escaped from slavery to the Egyptians. It is reasonable that God knew Israel would have trouble with self-government so He gave them laws that were superior to those of any other culture.

In their infancy they were so naïve they had no idea that strangers would come in among them and change their laws. Furthermore, they knew nothing about making laws-they lacked experience. So God became their king and made good laws, which, if kept, would lead to a civilized nation of peaceful inhabitants.

But peace and prosperity depended on ALL citizens submitting to "one" set of laws. The value of ONE Law for all citizens is one of the great characteristics of civilized behavior.

When driving on an expressway it is common to see a speed sign for trucks that is lower than the posted speed for cars. But if the same expressway posted a different speed for men than for women there would be outrage.

We don't believe there should be one set of laws for people over six feet tall and another set of laws for those under six feet. It is fundamental to our system of values that no one is above the law-in other words, politicians are subject to the same laws as citizens. In fact, the United States was born from the idea that the King of England was bound by the same laws as his subjects. It's a concept American citizens learned from the Bible and the Magna Carta-and we fought a war to preserve the principle.

None of this is to suggest that we don't believe there is a difference between men and women. Nor does it imply we don't believe in cultural diversity.

It means we are equal UNDER the law but equality means we must be under the same law.

When God made the first humans He created them male and female. God made us with differences. He created the different races understanding their unique characteristics. He intended that men and women would think differently and He intended cultural differences. But it was God who directed Israel to have one law for the entire nation.

Diversity of thought was expected but oneness of values was demanded.

A crisis is now brewing in England and has also started in the U.S. In January 2014, the chief inspector of the police forces in England and Wales, Sir Tom Winsor, told the London Times that "some parts of Britain have their own form of justice." He added, "There are some communities born under other skies who will not involve the police at all...there are communities from other cultures who would prefer to police themselves. There are cities in the Midlands where the police never go because they are never called."

An undercover documentary, Secrets of Britain's Sharia Courts, was filmed by the BBC which showed there are 85 Sharia law courts operating in mosques and houses across Britain. These courts routinely issue rulings according to Sharia law that are at odds with British law.

A new phrase has cropped up in both England and France. It is "no-go zones" meaning no one can go there except Muslims. In January 2008, Michael Nazir-Ali, then one of the Church of England's most senior bishops, warned that Islamic extremists had created "no-go" areas across Britain where it is too dangerous for non-Muslims to enter. It has become a country within a country.

In 2011 the magazine Standpoint published the first-hand account of a British clergyman's wife who had just returned to London after living in Birmingham. She wrote, "For four years, we lived in inner-city Birmingham, in what has been a police no-go area for 20 years. Many of our inner cities have been abandoned by our key workers: our doctors and nurses drive in from afar, the police have shut down their stations and never venture in-they and ambulance crews have been known to be attacked."

The world seems to be on the verge of the loss of civilization. There is an anti-law sentiment that is sweeping the world, whether it is in Paris, London, Cologne or Ferguson. It's a force that hates law. It seeks to impose chaos on all of us.

America was founded as a nation "under God" meaning we were under His law. But leaders decided that the Law of God was not necessary. They reasoned that other laws and other cultures were just as good. Never mind that there is no empirical evidence to support such a claim.

The Prophet Isaiah dealt with a people very much like ours. His advice to the leaders was, "Come now, let us reason together." (Isaiah 1:18) In other words, where is the culture that is superior to that which has been given to us by our God? Where is there a nation with more justice? Where is the nation that has been blessed with greater blessings than the nations that recognize the God of the Holy Bible?

Our challenge to the leaders of nations that once embraced the Christian ethic: before you abandon the laws of God "come, let us reason together." We will not shrink from looking at the evidence objectively. Show us an example of a better world than we have been given. Where is the god that has blessed his nation more than our God has blessed us?

Come, let us reason together!

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien

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Peter Reached Back



Whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. (Jesus in Matthew 10:33)
Who committed the greater sin: Peter or Judas?  Judas betrayed Jesus while giving him a sign of friendship (Luke 22:48). Jesus called him a son of perdition (John 17:12) and said it would have been better for him had he not been born (Matthew 26:24). Jesus compares him to the Devil himself (John 6:70), and the name "Judas" has come down to us a synonym for a traitor, one whose treachery exceeds that of a Brutus or a Benedict Arnold.

Peter denied his Lord three times, each time with a denial more emphatic than the last (Luke 22:54-60). Worse, his third denial according to the accounts of Mark and Matthew was a blasphemous declaration of self-condemnation.  "He began to curse and swear, 'I do not know this man of whom you speak!'" (Matthew 26:74, Mark 14:71). The Greek implies that the "cursing" and "swearing" would sound something like this: "I swear to God! May he strike me dead and throw me into the Lake of Fire if I'm lying about this."

Remember that it was Jesus himself who warned that "whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:33). That's quite a condemnation, and Peter called that curse directly upon himself.

Is it fair to say that both Peter and Judas were equally culpable before God? I believe it is fair to say that, but with one big qualification. Let's take a look at Peter's denial through the lens of Luke's Gospel.

Luke's account tracks with the other Gospel writers in many particulars, but he adds a colorful detail the others do not. It appears that the abuse Jesus was suffering at the hands of the soldiers took place in a public venue in the full view of Peter and those around him, and it was at the same time as his third denial. Luke writes, "And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord ..." (Luke 22:61).

Imagine that. Just a few hours before Peter in a fit of bravado proclaims his undying loyalty to Jesus. "The others may abandon you, but not me, Lord," whereupon Jesus says, "Is that so, Peter? Before morning, you'll disown me three times." As we know, Peter did exactly what he said he wouldn't do and what Jesus told him he would do.

And in the middle of that brutal beating in the public square, Jesus locks and holds a gaze with Peter, and Peter's heart is convicted. Jesus' warning rang in his head: "Whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven." Peter not only denied his Messiah, he called down damnation on his own head.

Is it not rational to believe that Peter's sin and Judas' sin were equally egregious? Yet the subsequent events of the lives of Peter and of Judas could not have been more different.

The divergent paths that these two men chose are a testimony to the offer of Jesus' mercy and a lesson in how we must respond to it. I have written elsewhere (link: He Wouldn't Reach Back) about how Jesus reached out time and time again to Judas, warning him, offering object lessons and parables, even calling him "friend" to the last (Matthew 26:50), but Judas refused to reach back.

But when Jesus gave Peter that look in the public square, Peter fell to his knees in regret and repentance. Peter changed his life and his attitude, and as the Book of Acts shows (Acts 4, among other places), he was willing to suffer greatly for what he knew to be the truth.

Peter's sin was as great as Judas', but Peter accepted the rescue that Jesus offered. Jesus reached out, and Peter reached back.

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Letter from the Pastor of COG Cincinnati

Letter

From Jim O'Brien
March 17, 2017

Hi Friend,

George Orwell's New World

A few months ago before leaving for Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, I purchased a new GPS for the trip. It has some amazing features. One unexpected benefit is that it tracks where the car has been over the past few weeks and then anticipates the pattern to be repeated. Start the car and today's route appears even without being programed.

When I leave an appointment it anticipates that I'll be driving home and tells me the time and distance.

How does a machine know what I'm going to do without being told? To be honest it's a little frightening. It isn't paranoia to be suspicious about somebody, even a GPS knowing that much about its owner. Do we really want the Orwellian world? Is Big Brother in the GPS?

That thought was amplified 1,000 times when the Daily Beast reported that Samsung's new Smart TVs are now being programmed to listen to every word you say and send it over the internet to a third party cloud service.

In fact, Samsung has a privacy policy warning customers NOT to discuss private matters in front of their TV. WHAT?! How many people reading this have a TV in their bedroom-raise your hand-I can see you. Sorry, I apologize. Just couldn't resist.

But it isn't just your television-you may have a Smart Phone that allows you to talk to Siri or Alexa-they even have names.

Our family celebrated the birthday of a grandchild a few days ago. It was a happy occasion that was punctuated by demonstrating a new electronic device. It's called an Alexa Echo and Amazon lists several features among which is recognition of voice commands. She can even hear from across the room with far-field voice recognition. She will answer questions, read the news, give traffic and weather reports, tell you about local businesses and give sports scores.

You can even ask Alexa to tell you a joke and she will. Not a very funny one but she's still working on higher human humor.

Most of us are using computers that have a camera staring back at us. Warnings from sophisticated sources advise you to put tape over your computer's camera. But what about your smart phone or the new Smart Watch? And, of course, be careful about the new remote control airplane drones that are buzzing around your house. They have high definition cameras.

If that isn't enough to frighten you, Uber is toying with the idea of using driverless cars to deliver merchandise and passengers. I've never believed in conspiracies but now I wonder. Wikispooks says this technology can be used by the CIA to remotely control electronic steering systems in cars. You could be driving your new Tesla home from work and the government could take control of the steering, the brakes, the accelerator and even the power window controls.

That these capabilities exist is not the problem. It's obvious technology has brought the world into a new level of potential control. The government can't be held responsible for man's creative genius.

The serious problem is power in the wrong hands and technology grants an incredible amount of power. Hitler introduced blitzkrieg (lightning war) to the world and within six weeks he had conquered Europe. God granted America the ability to defend freedom with nuclear weapons.

The great threat to America may be the failure of citizens to realize the benefit of the Judeo-Christian ethic. All cultures are not equal nor are all religions.

The deeper question is where are morals learned? Does God exist? And if He does can a political party be trusted that booed God at their convention. Can they be trusted to listen to your private conversations, look inside your home and control the steering on your car? Can any man be trusted to exercise justice and reign if his rapacious desire for power does not recognize the superior power of God?

Power is not the problem-power must exist somewhere. It's the character of the one who holds the reins of power. It's ironic that the One who holds the power of the universe is the epitome of self-control. Every time you see a rainbow it's a reminder that there was a time when He restrained His power.

Further, the fruit of His spirit is self-control. The time will come when every human will use that spirit to control behavior. Until that day comes it may be wise to leave the cell phone in a box, keep the TV out of the bedroom and unplug the GPS.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien

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Squaring the Circle


He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who tells lies shall not continue in my presence.  (Psalm 101:7)

... all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:9)
Let's start with the stipulation that telling the truth is a good thing and that lying is contrary to God's way, what we call "sin" in Biblical parlance.  If that's the case, then what do we do with King David, a man after God's own heart? He and those surrounding him seem to be truth challenged at times, and all seemingly in God's service.

In I Samuel 19 his wife Michal lies in order to save David's life.

In I Samuel 20 David's best friend Jonathan lies to King Saul in order to give David some cover for his own safety.

In I Samuel 21David lies to the Ahimelech the priest in order to protect and feed his men.

Later in I Samuel 21 David deceives the king of Gath by feigning madness.

And what do we do with Exodus 1?  After Pharoah declares that all the Hebrew male newborns are to be killed, the midwives refuse to comply and lie to Pharoah about it. Verse 20 says, "God dealt well with the midwives." Or Rahab, who is called a woman of faith even though she lied about the whereabouts of the two Israelite spies?

Discussions around this topic can often turn heated. I once began a Facebook discussion on this conundrum, and it wasn't long before the temperature rose to an uncomfortable level. Wonderful arguments were tossed about, everything from quoting the scriptures at the head of this article, to quoting Luke 12:12 ("The Holy Spirit will teach up in that very hour what you ought to say"), to asserting the rabbinical understanding that lying is permissible if it is to save a human life.

Cogent arguments all, but not a one satisfied everybody.

How do we square this circle? If lying is a sin, why are there so many examples in scripture of lies being glossed over and sometimes even honored?

As with many things, the simplest answers can be the best answers, and I believe the simple answer is in Acts 17. In this chapter the Apostle Paul is addressing the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece. He has noticed the honorifics to all the false gods throughout the city, a place totally given over to idols. There is even an altar with an inscription to The the Unknown God just in case they have left some deity out.

Paul uses a concept relevant to our discussion when addressing the Athenians' pagan thoughts and ways. In verse 30 he says, "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands men everywhere to repent." (King James Version)

It seems to me this principle holds for the examples cited earlier. Of course they told lies. They no doubt rationalized doing so. They sinned when they did it. But Paul speaks to God's graciousness. He knows our weaknesses and is big enough to "wink at" (or "overlook") our weaknesses.  It is what we have known all along: God is a God of grace. He knows and understands our weaknesses (Romans 8:3 and many other places). Notice too that "grace" is not "permission", as so many seem to misinterpret it.  It is not permission to violate God's ways. Rather it is a covering, a forbearance.

As with so much in God's instructions to us, violating them might in rare instances be an expedient thing to do. Jesus points this out  in the famous example regarding David and his men being blameless even though they ate bread that was dedicated solely to the priests (Matthew 12:3-4).

Having said that, getting into the habit of justifying lies can become just that -- a habit where lies are told when the truth would serve just as well.  David seem to have fallen into that trap. It began with telling lies to save a life, but it led to telling a lie to the priest Ahimelech (I Samuel 21) when saying nothing would have served just as well. The mind does crazy gymnastics when it is trained to spin every fact.

Did we square the circle here? Tell me what you think.









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Letter from the Pastor of COG Cincinnati

Letter

From Jim O'Brien
March 10, 2017

Hi Friend,

Influence of Christianity

The contention that America is not a Christian nation will exist in some circles as long as we are a nation. But one wonders how much evidence must exist to convince even a blind skeptic.

Maybe our Christian foundation became so familiar to Americans we overlook it like we forget the color of eyes of our best friend. Or maybe some people just don't bother to look. I thought of that when I pulled a dollar out of my wallet recently and saw the statement, "In God We Trust". How many countries print that on their currency? A few have a similar expression but no nation has a statement on its currency with the same force and meaning as what is printed on U.S. money.

The phrase resulted from the belief that an "unseen hand" described by Adam Smith controlled the flow of the American economy. Ours is not a government-controlled economy-we trust God. No other nation on earth has an economy based on such a concept.

If you've ever served on a jury, or been required to testify at a trial, you know the court requires an oath. In other words, the foundation of our judicial system is not man; we look UP to God as the source of justice. Even the President and most elected officials must place their hand on a Bible to take the oath of office.

Did you know that God is mentioned in all 50 state constitutions? Even more, the Declaration of Independence, considered the founding document of this nation, mentions God four times?

The Supreme Court opens each session verbally declaring, "God save the United States of America." And there is a frieze of Moses holding the Ten Commandments above the East entrance to the building.

Why is that?

Well, six of the Ten Commandments specifically define civil law. The western concept of murder, manslaughter, theft, assault, marriage, birth, and other civil and criminal matters are defined and ascribed punishment by Mosaic Law.

In fact, the very structure of our government was taken from the Bible. The Founding Fathers were inspired by Isaiah's statement, "For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king." (Isaiah 33:22) Isaiah's words formed the basis for the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government.

All schools in America used to begin, and some still do, with the Pledge of Allegiance, which contains the phrase "under God". So every young person in the country began the day recognizing that God is above the nation. It is the foundation for the nation's commitment to freedom. The Founding Fathers read Paul's statement that "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1 NIV)

They understood that the very existence of freedom requires that citizens see their rights as coming from a source beyond man. Otherwise they could not have rejected the rule of the English King. God is the ultimate source of justice and therefore supersedes any rule of mankind.

Christianity has influenced the western world more than any other faith or religion. May it always be.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien

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