Lord’s Day 15 (Q/A 37-39): ALL AGAINST ONE, ONE FOR ALL

37   Q.   What do you understand
by the word “suffered”?

A.    That during his whole life on earth,
but especially at the end,
Christ sustained
in body and soul
the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race.^1

This he did in order that,
by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice,^2
he might deliver us, body and soul,
from eternal condemnation,
and gain for us
God’s grace,
and eternal life.

^1 1 Pet. 2:24;3:18;Isa. 53:12
^2 1 John 2:2; 4:10;Rom. 3:25

38   Q.   Why did he suffer
“under Pontius Pilate” as judge?

A.    So that he,
though innocent,
might be condemned by an earthly judge,^1
and so free us from the severe judgment of God
that was to fall on us.^2

^1 Luke 23:14; John 19:4
^2 Ps. 69:5;Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5:21;Gal. 3:13

39   Q.   Is it significant that he was “crucified”
instead of dying some other way?

A.    Yes.
By this I am convinced
that he shouldered the curse
which lay on me,^1
since death by crucifixion was cursed by God.^2

^1 Gal. 3[:10]
^2 Deut. 21:[23];Gal. 3:13


LORD’S DAY (Q/A 37-39)
“All Against One, One for All”

We were at a Little League baseball game the other day. One of our batters was up. He struck out and the kid announcer mistakenly asked over the loud speaker why the batter didn’t hit a perfectly good pitch, shaming the batter in the process and silencing his own parents who were equally surprised at that remark. The announcer’s father, who is a friend of ours and who was seated next to us, darted up to the announcer’s booth, where the opposing team’s coach beat him upstairs demanding that only one person was allowed in the announcer’s booth. The announcer’s twin brother wasn’t supposed to be there so he was dismissed from the booth, leaving the offending announcer up there to remain. The twin brother couldn’t understand why he was dismissed when it was his brother who made the offending remark.

Baseball, like so many sports, relies on taking a fall for the good of the team. Bunting a ball to be struck out at first base so that the man on second base can make it to third. Offensive linemen taking the deadly tackles and hits to prevent the football quarterback from being sacked.

God becoming human as Jesus Christ is not a sport, but what Christ does in becoming human is for the good of the “team,” i.e. the fallen creation which would prefer living free from God, rather than living freely in God.

Craig Barnes insightfully points to our crippling guilt that causes us to wander from place to place, school to school, career to career, seeking never to be anchored to any particular communities or commitments, but moving endlessly. Such movements are symptomatic of restless hearts – restless for home. And part of being restless is that we are alienated from others, alienated from ourselves, and alienated from God. To be free from God, or to seek to be free from God, we find that we are never really free. We are shackled to our own desires, to our own wants, giving in to our wandering lusts, given over to our own will and ways. We are cursed because we choose violence over peace, hate over love. We break the heart of God because we were not created to live in the way we do. Given the right conditions, the exhibitionist violence we read about in war-torn Syria or the terrorists that took hostages and killed several people in a Nairobi, Kenya shopping mall recently can erupt from the heart of a mild-mannered suburbanite. The Scriptures are right and true, “No one is righteous, no not one.”

God enters our human condition. We are cursed because we continually choose sin’s will and ways.  Let’s say the “W” word. Wrath. When we as human beings are hell-bent on breaking God’s heart, notwithstanding the occasional acts and thoughts of good, God is indignant. Angry. We see glimpses of this as parents who become heart-broken when their children make bad choices. It’s an anger that comes from love, because as parents we know that our children are capable with so much more.

Multiply the sin acts, sin choices, sin motives, sin thoughts of the heart – multiply it 1000 times, or even 8 billion times, 365 days a year. This is not merely the faraway murders of Latin American drug cartels, or the senseless kidnappings in the southern part of the Philippines, or the human trafficking that occurs in this country. This is every act, every thought, every will of every human being. James 2:10 reminds us that that breaking one part of the law means we break all the parts of the law, and are held accountable for all of it.

God enters that situation. God as our Creator knows what we were created to be.

What we see at the judgment seat of Pontius Pilate and at the scene of the crucifixion are the breaking of all Ten Commandments, again and again. In that snapshot moment, as the Son of God subjects himself to the earthly judge and jury of Pilate and all the human spectators who aid and abet the death of Jesus Christ, is what every human being does towards God, again and again. We subject God to ourselves, as we subject each other to each other, as we subject ourselves to ourselves. The crucifixion is a microcosm of what is repeated from the Garden of Eden to our time, on a small or large scale. We inflict our alienation to be further alienated from God’s own Son. Jesus received that judgment, to take up the whole of humanity’s alienation and curse.

This is no sports game, by any means. God doesn’t play around. Jesus Christ, God’s only natural son, is the beloved One of the Father. To take up humanity in Himself, and condemned to die on a tree and thereby cursed (Deuteronomy 21:23), Jesus Christ is “at one” (atone) with humanity and “at one” with God, being God’s natural Son.

Jesus Christ is truly and really in solidarity with us, and being God’s Son and God’s anointed Savior, is for us. With us. For us.

Jesus Christ is the intention of God.

The wrath of God, unlike human wrath and unlike human anger, is not reckless, is not meaningless.  The wrath of God is connected to the love of God. God’s love is directed to taking an alienated and broken world, to reconcile and heal it, to anchor it to the heart and life of God.

Even as all were and are against God, in Jesus Christ the chosen One, the One has become for us all.

Lord’s Day 14 (Q/A 35-36): NOT FAD, NOT COOL, BUT TRUE

35   Q.   What does it mean that he
“was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary”?

A.    That the eternal Son of God,
who is^1and remains
true and eternal God,^2
took to himself,
through the working of the Holy Spirit,^3
from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary,
a truly human nature^4
so that he might also become David’s true descendant,^5
like his brothers and sisters in every way^6
except for sin.^7

^1 John 1:1;17:5; Rom. 1:4
^2 Rom. 9:5; Gal. 4[:4]
^3 Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:27,35; Eph. 1
^4 John 1:14;Gal. 4:4
^5 Ps. 132:11;Rom. 1:3
^6 Phil. 2:7
^7Heb. 4:15; 7:26

36   Q.   How does the holy conception and birth of Christ
               benefit you?

A.    He is our mediator^1
and, in God’s sight,
he covers with his innocence and perfect holiness
my sinfulness in which I was conceived.^2

^1 Heb. 2:16-17
^2 Ps. 32:1;1 Cor. 1:30

 LORD’S DAY 14 (Q/A 35-36)
“Not Fad, Not Cool, But True”

I’m frequently asked in my travels how can the Church connect with young people. Broader still, how does the Church connect to people. Period.

I intentionally stay away from  the vocabulary of relevance. Instead, I draw from homiletician Jennifer Lord’s reference to insights from neurological science,w hich understands our “emotional brain” acting as a valve that latches onto certain things while letting go others. This is called “salience,” or that which “jumps out” at you.

Salience, not relevance.  Salience has the quality of surprise, of mystery.

Too often, discussions of relevance become about marketing, branding, and messaging without the more essential and difficult work of change to the essence, to the heart and soul, of the Church community.  Relevance often gets lumped with “contemporary,” morphing into conversations about strategies of how to make a worship service more “hip”; that somehow putting a drum set or a Powerpoint projector in the sanctuary and having a pastor remove the Geneva gown, preach without manuscript/notes in order to preach “from  heart” — that somehow these cosmetic changes will make a community “cool” and therefore “relevant.”

God’s revelation, God’s incarnation, God becoming flesh and blood as Jesus Christ – has nothing to do with the latest fad, or the cool factor. God taking on the human nature was not, and has never been about relevance. It’s about salience – the surprise, the mystery that almighty God through the Holy Spirit would take on the flesh and blood of Mary to be in solidarity with humanity. It was so shocking, so unexpected that the Scriptures attest that he was not accepted by his own home/people (John 1:11).

God as Jesus Christ by the power and work of the Holy Spirit becomes for us what we cannot be apart from Him – fully human who live as image-bearers of God.

We do one of two things, or both: we seek to be in solidarity with each other but fail to fully grasp what it means to be in solidarity; or we do the opposite and separate ourselves from one another through violence, hatred, unforgiving hearts.

To the former – our attempts to fully be in solidarity with one another eventually falls short because of our limitations as human beings. Every attempt I make to pray for and understand the plight of our Syrian and Lebanese sisters and brothers, even with a personal visit there last May, I cannot fully grasp their experience and situation. We see this play out in church and in the culture in our attempts to be more racially-diverse, to combat racism and to undo racism. Even on the best days when folks seek to understand the past-present wounds and scars of those who have been on the receiving end of racism, the attempt to be in full solidarity falls short.

To the latter – human alienation, separation, division, and brokenness – we do that too, and we seem to do it well as innate to our natures .

Q/A 35-36 shows us that God does not seek to be cool, or to take up the 1st century fad; God seeks to be true – true to Himself – the loving and gracious God who seeks to reconcile the world to Himself and sets Himself on the path to do just that.  God’s words, God’s will, God’s intention, and God’s actions are one and the same. God is true to Himself.

And God is true to us. God knows us more than we know ourselves. Even with our sin that prevents us from fully being in solidarity with God, with each other, and ourselves, God commits Himself to reconcile us, to make us whole.

The freedom that we have in God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit is that even as we are to truly love one another and be in solidarity with the human condition on the micro- and macro- levels, to pray, to listen, to empathize with the joys and struggles of our neighbors – we can live in the freedom that even with our best efforts, we cannot fully know. We are to be true to who we are.

Even as we are to be true to who God is to us.  To be true to who God is to us is to be true to God’s true self to us – as our Almighty Creator, as our Savior and Lord.  In other words, to be true to who God is to us is to worship….to give God the worth due God’s name because of what God has revealed and given to the world in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

A lifelong commitment to live as image-bearers of God can only come when the Holy Spirit births in us the life of Jesus Christ. No strategy can do that; that’s the Holy Spirit’s work and power. And with the Holy Spirit in charge, we cannot manage when or how birth, rebirth, and the daily re-birthing occurs. In not knowing the when or how, in not being able to control or manage the work of God, then our life, our new life (and even death) is about receiving gift, receiving that which God births, and receiving the One whom God births.

And that’s precisely the point…the salient point.

Lord’s Day 13 (Q/A 33-34): BEING A CHILD

33   Q.   Why is he called God’s “only begotten Son”
when we also are God’s children?

A.   Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.^1
We, however, are adopted children of God—
adopted by grace through Christ.^2

^1 John 1:29;Heb. 1:2
^2 Rom. 8:15;Eph. 1:[5-]6

34   Q.   Why do you call him “our Lord”?

A.   Because—
not with gold or silver,
but with his precious blood—
he has set us free
from sin and from the tyranny of the devil,
and has bought us,
body and soul,
to be his very own.^1

^1 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2:9; 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23


Lord’s Day 13 (Q/A 33-34)
“Being a Child”

This week, and the two preceding weeks leading to this one, have been heavy. So much is on the line. There is a decisive debate that is occurring in the United States and around the world as attention is placed on Syria and President Obama’s intent to use a military strike in response to the use of chemical weapons allegedly by the Syrian government, which resulted in the indiscriminate death of hundreds of Syrians, including many children.

I’ve been saddened by the deterioration of a bona fide protest by the Syrian people against their own government two years ago that has spiraled into utter tragedy and exhibitionistic violence that is senseless and meaningless. I grieve the death of so many, the reports I received when our moderatorial delegation was in Lebanon last May and met some pastors who risked their lives to travel from their churches in Syria to tell their stories of survival, and watching neighbors die, and countless churches and mosques turned into rubble.

As a father, I am responsible for interpreting the world to my young sons, even as I have to have them exposed to the world. It’s a delicate balance. It requires prayer. It’s overwhelming for me, and it’s overwhelming for them because it’s a lot to receive. What I’ve observed over the last year is that their prayer bandwidth has expanded as they see much more of the world outside of Middlesex, NJ, as we have family discussions at the dining table, and as we bring prayers about our fragile world.

What the fragility and instability of our world brings me to is back to the foundation of who I am, who we are. To be in solidarity with the children, and to be in solidarity with my own children, is to claim my own childhood, to be childlike in seeing the world where I must come before our God in prayerful trust, confidence, with the tears in my heart, with the anguish I feel in my soul at being powerless in not being able to stop the violence that continues as I type this reflection.

Q/A 33 drives home for us that our belonging-ness to God is so connected to Jesus Christ, as God’s only natural son, with great intention. Our heavenly Father loves His Son, of course. And therefore, anyone connected – adopted – with His Son, has intentionally been chosen, that great effort, great effort has been expended to bring you and I into the family, into the relationship that the Father and the Son share.

When I consider Syria and when I consider the children – the ones who have survived, the ones who have died – and consider my own children, and my own state of being a child – I must place all of them, all of us, myself included – into the hands and heart of our heavenly Father. As an adopted child of God, I am reminded again and again to go back to the One who adopted me, who saw from the beginning that I have nothing, that I am powerless, that on our own, we’d be in the wilderness – forsaken and forgotten. Our adoption in Christ is never a state of being removed from the trials of life or the hard realities of it; our adoption in Christ is to anchor our childhood to the parenthood of God.

Q/A 34 hits the nail on the head. We are so powerless and we are so precious, that God moves heaven and earth, God as Christ, leaves heaven to descend to earth, to redeem us, to free us. When the temptation of human nature is to respond to utter violence by inflicting more violence, or to retaliate with more words and wars – we are in desperate need to re-direct our heart’s and soul’s course. When we are set on a glidepath of being wayward children whether individually, as a family unit, a community, a group, a state, a whole nation, a civilization — we are in definite need of a One who can take it all – heaven and earth, who can move mountains and hearts.  The One who holds us all and this fragile world is “our Lord,” the Lord, Jesus the Christ.

Our Lord is not a theoretical, abstract, unreachable sovereign ruler who lords over us. Connecting Q/A 34 to Q/A 33, He is both our Lord and the Son of God, through whom we are intentionally adopted, whose love is unshakeable, who did not make a mistake in loving us, in setting a course to hold us and this fragile world in His care.

What we are called to do as adopted children, freed by our Lord to live in and with the love of God, is to pray and serve with childlike trust. And as with a child, to ask our heavenly parent – Why, Father? How, Father? How much longer, Father? We need your help.  Thank you.

Lord’s Day 12 (Q/A 31-32): ELECTIONS

31   Q.    Why is he called “Christ,”
               meaning “anointed”?

A.    Because he has been ordained by God the Father
and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit^1
to be
our chief prophet and teacher^2
who fully reveals to us
the secret counsel and will of God concerning our deliverance;^3
our only high priest^4
who has delivered us by the one sacrifice of his body,
and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;^5
and our eternal king
who governs us by his Word and Spirit,
and who guards us and keeps us
in the freedom he has won for us.^6

^1 Ps. 45:[7]; Heb. 1:9
^2 Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22
^3 John 1:18; 15:15
^4Ps. 110; Heb. 7:21; 10:12
^5 Rom. 8:34;5:9-10
^6 Ps. 2:6; Luke 1:33;Matt. 28:18;John 10:28

32   Q.    But why are you called a Christian?

A.    Because by faith I am a member of Christ^1
and so I share in his anointing.^2
I am anointed
to confess his name,^3
to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks,^4
to strive with a free conscience against sin and the devil
in this life,^5
and afterward to reign with Christ
over all creation
for eternity.^6

^1 Acts 11:26, 1 Cor. 6:15
^2 1John 2:27;Isa. 59:21;Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28;Mark 8:[34-]38
^3 Rom. 12:1;Rev. 5:8[-14];1 Pet. 2:9
^4 Rom. 6:12;Rev. 1:6
^5 1 Tim. 1:19
^6 2 Tim. 2:12


Lord’s Day 12 (Q/A 31-32)


Mike Ditka, the former head football coach of the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints, observed that, “Success is not permanent and failure is not fatal.”

The Reformed theological tradition’s important emphasis on God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. The relationship between the two, while not equal as God’s sovereignty initiates, governs, originates and fulfills, still human responsibility is serious business because we are created in the image of God and are responsible for our  choices and our actions.

While I don’t know if Ditka is Reformed in his theological orientation, his insight speaks wisdom to our human tendency to equate our success primarily or exclusively to ourselves, or delude ourselves in thinking that our strategies have some sort of enduring permanence; or on the opposite side, thinking that any failures, limitations, defeats somehow permanently delete any hope we have of recovering and starting all over again.  On one side, our souls are tempted to arrogance, pride, and grandiosity akin to the builders of Babel; on the other side, our hearts can be enticed to wallow in self-pity and despair.  In both instances, it is a functional atheism that forgets who God is, or takes for granted who God is and how God has elected to be with us, for us, and in us.

Elections are sacred acts because through it choices are weighed, and those choices are then expressed through votes.

God has conducted an election. His election is a decisive one – we are always on the “winning” side, there are no “losers” – and the guarantee of the election, the process of the election itself, and the outcome of the election are predicated on God through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Q/A 31-32 is a healthy dose of God’s sovereignty-human responsibility — a theological reality that sometimes gets consigned to a daily Post-It note, when in point and in fact, what we do Sunday through Saturday, in our lives as followers of Jesus Christ, in our work places, in our families, in our schools, at the grocery line, in our retirement homes, in hospitals, in hotel rooms, on airplanes, in the playground, on sporting fields, in our churches — all of these places we live, and move and have our being – are the arenas in which God’s sovereignty and human responsibility interact.

Q/A 31 tells us as that Christ is the anointed one, the elected one, chosen by God, to take on the three offices – the so-called “munum triplex” (three offices) – of prophet/teacher, high priest, and king.  The Reformed theological tradition speaks extensively about this triple office exercised by our Lord Jesus Christ.  His holistic ministry, both when he was on earth with the early disciples and upon his ascension to heaven, involves:

-Instructing us in the ways of God, the work of God in salvation, leading us to righteousness and holiness|
-Interceding for us – that even when we cannot pray or are unable to pray, even when you are asleep! –   our High Priest Jesus Christ prays for you, prays with you, and by His Spirit – gives us the words to pray
-Guarding and keeping us – King Jesus doesn’t leave the citizens of His kingdom  to fend for themselves. We are his precious ones, purchased not with silver or gold, but by His own precious blood. Why would He leave us, therefore? We are never outside of His protection.

In other words, Jesus Christ has your back and mine, through and through.

Q/A 32 doesn’t let us off the hook. As Q/A 31 asserts that Christ as prophet, priest and king is for us, is with us and in us…we are responsible to live lives worthy of the calling…worthy of the election.  As Jesus is God’s elected One, the exclusive One chosen to save, redeem, deliver, and reconcile, we are the elected ones in Him.  When God elects in Jesus, the elected One, no hanging chads are used, no appeals process is in order, no contesting of the election can ever occur.  You and I are elected in Christ, the elected One.  What this means is that every moment of everyday of our lives, we are to live out that election.

What do you elect to do, therefore, as a Christian?  What do you elect to do, Sunday through Saturday, 365 days a year, as one who has been given the name of follower of Jesus Christ, a “Christian”?

Notice the language of Q/A 32. As Christians, our lives derive from the life of Jesus Christ. That means that as Jesus Christ lives out His calling/election as prophet, high priest, and king – we, too, have a calling that is prophetic, that is priestly, and that is “kingly” in some way – all of which derive and find their basis in Christ’s own election/calling, and Christ’s own life.

Prophetic: As Christ has the exclusive calling /election to proclaim and teach the counsels, wisdom, and ways of our heavenly Father….you and I have a prophetic calling that is joined to that of our brother and our Lord…we, too, are to teach all that Christ has taught us, to teach one another what we have seen and heard, the ways of Jesus, to proclaim the salvation of God.  But again, it’s not by our strength or by our will, nor by our success, nor by our failure.  Christ speaks, and Christ calls us to proclaim in His name, to do that which He did in obedience to our heavenly Father.

Priestly: As Christ has the exclusive calling/election to intercede for us, to present us and our prayers to our heavenly Father..you and I have a priestly calling to daily present ourselves to God, to make a choice to follow God, to pray to God and for one another, to daily elect that we will live out our calling. But again, this priestly calling is impossible to do consistently and constantly. Thanks be to God that Christ who is our High Priest intercedes for us and with us, to live out our calling.

Kingly: As Christ has the exclusive calling/election to rule and reign over us, to call us to obedient life, to sustain us, to protect us, and to govern us so we are never away from Him,…you and I have a “kingly” calling to strive with our freedom, to take the reins of our wills, our choices, our decisions, our actions, our emotions – as we seek to live faithfully and fully into our calling/election as followers of Jesus Christ. But again, it’s not by our own wills alone, nor is it finally about striving or an onerous burden heaped upon us. Thanks be to God that Christ is and forever will be king, and that means, even as brokenness and hurt are deeply seen and experienced in the world around us, both near and far, we pray and serve and live not in vain, but as citizens of Christ’s kingdom who have been called and elected.


Lord’s Day 11 (Q/A 29-30): THE AXIS MUNDI

29   Q.    Why is the Son of God called “Jesus,”
                meaning “savior”?

A.    Because he saves us from our sins,^1
and because salvation should not be sought
and cannot be found in anyone else.^2

^1 Matt. 1:21; Heb. 7:25
^2 Acts 4:12


30   Q.    Do those who look for
                their salvation in saints,
                in themselves, or elsewhere
                really believe in the only savior Jesus?

A.    No.
Although they boast of being his,
by their actions they deny
the only savior, Jesus.^1

Either Jesus is not a perfect savior,
or those who in true faith accept this savior
have in him all they need for their salvation.^2

^1 1 Cor. 1:13, 31;Gal. 3[:1-4]Gal. 5:4
^2 Heb. 12:2; Isa. 9:6; Col. 1:19-20; 2:10; John 1:16


Lord’s Day 11 (Q/A 29-30)
The Axis Mundi

After traveling in unfamiliar places and as a way to become re-acquainted to home and to our time zone, our family (or even just me when I return home) goes for comfort food, which for us is soup, and then we get into our pajamas and veg in our living room.  These experiences and sources center us back.

In the 155,000 miles I have traveled thus far as General Assembly Moderator, I carry in my travel bag homemade art and photos from my sons as a continual means to center me back to home.

Then in the adjacent compartment pouch in my luggage is a pocket Bible and a Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer.  These are the sources that center me upon the One who is our Center.

The 20th century historian of religion, the late Mircea Eliade, said that every religious culture has a symbol, a narrative, a myth that is the “axis mundi” or the cosmic axis, believed to be from which the center of universe emanates, the fulcrum or hinge.  From that “axis mundi” meaning and significance flows, explanatory power of existence flow.

Q/A 29-30 asserts for us what we confess as followers of Jesus Christ.  Jesus, the Son of God, the only Savior, is the “axis mundi.” In fact, He’s not only the Center; He is the Circumference, the Perimeter, and everything in-between. In other words, in Him we live, and move, and have our being.  From Him, our life flows. In Him, our life is nourished. Through Him, our life is anchored to the heart and life of God. By Him, our life is directed towards the broken and hurting world which He gave His life to save, reconcile, and heal.

While Q/A 29 confesses the unique, exclusive, and distinct person and identity of Jesus as the Savior and the Son of God, and, therefore, the only “axis mundi” from which all of life, meaning – in heaven and on earth – originate and find their meaning; Q/A 30 alerts us against attempts, strategies, ways and means in which we as human beings create other “axes mundi,” whether in the form of wood or metal, or in our own image – all the many ways that we (un)intentionally seek to live our lives away from the One who is the “axis mundi.”  To do so would be like placing our automobiles on another axes, spinning in other directions, rather than a life directed by Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

No amount of technological savviness, political connections, material or physical resources, personal charisma, education, family…not even our best and sincere intentions can save and redeem our hearts, souls, and lives. In the final, no one and nothing can save and redeem.  Otherwise, in the words of A.30, “Either Jesus is not a perfect savior, or those who in true faith accept this savior have in him all they need for their salvation.”

As I pen this reflection, I’m coming off of a long week of a funeral, a wedding, and a baptism. With each of these momentous events, I have carried with me in prayer for

-the death of an uncle in the Philippines
-my buddy’s niece who is a preemie needing surgery
-a deacon in my congregation desperately needing a liver transplant
-the gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai, India
-a chemical weapon attack in Syria and over 1 million children who are now refugees from Syria
-the senseless murder of a World War II veteran in Spokane, WA in the hands of two teenagers
-the violence and kidnappings that have terrorized the Presbyterian Church of Colombia
-burning of churches, shops, and terrorizing of Egyptian Christians by radical Islamists
-the seepage of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan

And so much more. . .much, much more.

To which I can only bow my head, and clasp my hands:

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Jesus, Son of God, Savior – is the “axis mundi” of all of us, and of this world.

Lord’s Day 10 (Q/A 27-28): GOD AT THE ALTAR, ALTERING US

27   Q.   What do you understand
               by the providence of God?

A.    The almighty and ever present power of God^1
by which God upholds, as with his hand,
and earth
and all creatures,
and so rules them^2 that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,^3
health and sickness,^4
prosperity and poverty—^5
all things, in fact,
come to us
not by chance
but by his fatherly hand.

^1 Acts 17:25[-28]
^2 Heb. 1:3
^3 Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:17
^4 John 9:3
^5 Prov. 22:2


28   Q.   How does the knowledge
               of God’s creation and providence help us?

A.    We can be patient when things go against us,^1
thankful when things go well,^2
and for the future we can have
good confidence in our faithful God and Father^3
that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.^4
For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand
that without his will
they can neither move nor be moved.^5

^1 Rom. 5:3; James 1:3;Job 1:21
^2 Deut. 8:10; 1 Thess. 5:18
^3 Rom. 5:5-6
^4 Rom. 8:38-39
^5 Job 1:12; 2:6; Acts 17:28;Prov. 21:1




Lord’s Day 10 (Q/A 27-28)

“God at the Altar, Altering Us”


As I write this reflection, I am preparing to officiate my eighth wedding since being ordained as a pastor.  From the premarital counseling to the actual wedding day, each wedding recalls for me the glorious day that Grace and I came to the wedding altar 11 years ago, before 150 of our family and friends, and exchanged our vows. Each day since then is about becoming married, living out our promises in the daily joys and grind of working, parenting, traveling, making doctor’s appointments.  Our wedding ceremony included a celebration of the Eucharist and a call to the baptized community to remember their belongingness to the family of God, and the God who gave His Son Jesus Christ for us, whose active decision to be for us is embodied at the bread and the cup, as is with the Scriptural image of the wedding feast and Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as His bride.  In each and every ritual act that we observed, we wanted to share with the gathered assembly at our wedding and to anchor our married life to the triune God whose very presence and power at the wedding altar is what made the wedding a wedding, and whose very presence and power makes our marriage a marriage.

Q/A 27-28 describes God’s providence, which Eberhard Busch links to God’s predestination.  Recall that there is an important difference between  predestination and predeterminism. Reformed Christians believe in predestination, not predeterminism. Predestination means that God knows the end, our destiny; the triune God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit—is our beginning and our end – the Alpha and the Omega. The triune God is the source of our life – in Him we live, and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), and  our fate rests in Him, as is our life when our physical life here is finished. That’s predestination.  Predeterminism says that God determines every detail and minutiae, from the breakfast you will eat to the vacation you will take next year. Predeterminism negates the freedom given to human beings, rendering us as enfleshed robots whose actions and words are controlled.

Q/A 27-28 reminds me of language similar to altar language – at weddings, at baptisms, at the Lord’s Table; whether in “leaf and blade, rain and drought. . .health and sickness” God upholds and sustains. Whatever condition or circumstance we may encounter or experience, God’s “fatherly hand” abides and abounds. This is a daily, moment-by-moment, promise of God, whereby our lives, the world, is an altar – spaces and places where each and all are offered to God and where God encounters us.

Liturgical and homiletical scholar Heather Murray Elkins speaks about “altaring” (note the “a”) in order to “alter” (note the “e”).  God altars our minds, hearts, and souls in order to alter it. God altars the world in order to alter it.  In other words, the power, presence, and promise of the triune God abides and abounds a broken and hurting world, in order to transform  it. That’s what Q/A 28 goes at length to describe.  God’s providence (Latin “providential” meaning “care”) – God’s  persevering intentionality to see us all the way through—altars us so that our view of all circumstances and conditions are altered; our approach, our regard to those things are altered. The alteration expresses itself in patience, thankfulness, confidence.

That’s difficult, especially when we are confronted with the harshness and gravity of our human condition, the plight of illness, the stubbornness of irreconcilable differences, terminal illness.

That is precisely why we need to lean on the providential care of our loving heavenly Father. Because patience, thankfulness, confidence are not habits of the heart that we can muster up, create on our own, or take some pill to develop that disposition.  Matters of the heart are entirely from God.  Thankfully, that comes from  the God who is providential, through and through, whose vows to us altars us to alter us.

Lord’s Day 9 (Q/A 26): THE PRODIGAL FATHER

26   Q.   What do you believe when you say,
“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth”?

A.   That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who out of nothing created heaven and earth
and everything in them,^1
who still upholds and rules them
by his eternal counsel and providence,^2
is my God and Father
because of Christ the Son.^3
I trust God so much that I do not doubt
he will provide
whatever I need
for body and soul,^4
and will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends upon me
in this sad world.^5
God is able to do this because he is almighty God^6
and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.^7

^1 Gen. 1;Ps. 33:6
^2 Ps. 104; Ps. 115:3; Matt. 10:29; Heb. 1:3,
^3 John 1:12; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5-7;Eph. 1:5
^4 Ps. 55:22; Matt. 6:25-26;Luke 12:22
^5 Rom. 8:28
^6 Rom. 10:12
^7 Matt. 6:32; 7:9


  LORD’S DAY 9 (Q/A 26)
“The Prodigal Father”

Your dad is not perfect. Neither was mine. Nor am I. Whether you had a deadbeat dad, or the most loving, supportive dad, he, like me, ain’t perfect. Not by any long shot. It took time, emotional and spiritual maturity, my being married with children, and the sheer act of the Holy Spirit to understand my own dad, to accept him for who he is, fully love and appreciate him in my life, and to ask his forgiveness a few years ago for the ways that I disrespected  him growing-up. When I stood as a candidate for General Assembly moderator, I shared with you and the whole Church my genuine desire and sense of call to pray and work for unity in the body, due in large part to the Continue reading “Lord’s Day 9 (Q/A 26): THE PRODIGAL FATHER”

Lord’s Day 8 (Q/A 24-25): 1 ACT, 3 SCENES

24   Q.   How are these articles divided?

A.   Into three parts:
God the Father and our creation;
God the Son and our deliverance;
and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.

25   Q.   Since there is only one divine being,^1
why do you speak of three:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

A.   Because that is how
God has revealed himself in his Word:^2
these three distinct persons
are one, true, eternal God.

^1 Deut. 6:4
^2 Isa. 61:1; Ps. 110:1; Matt. 3:16-17; Matt. 28:19; 1 John 5:7[-8]



Lord’s Day 8 (Q/A 24-25)

“1 Act, 3 Scenes”

Two lessons in marriage, parenting, and the dynamic of presence-absence.

Andrew (my youngest son): Mom, can you buy me the new Pokemon cards?

Grace (my wife): No, you already have a whole stack that you got on your birthday.

(Andrew leaves saddened. Goes to next room where I am working)

Andrew: My handsome, cool dad, how are you? Can you buy me the new Pokemon cards? Continue reading “Lord’s Day 8 (Q/A 24-25): 1 ACT, 3 SCENES”


20   Q.   Are all people then saved through Christ
just as they were lost through Adam?

A.    No.
Only those are saved
who through true faith
are grafted into Christ
and accept all his benefits.^1

^1 John 1:12; 3:36; Isa. 53:11, Ps. 2:11[-12]; Rom. 11:17, 19; Heb. 4:2; 10:39


21   Q.   What is true faith?

A.    True faith is
not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true
all that God has revealed to us in Scripture;^1
it is also a wholehearted trust,^2
which the Holy Spirit^3 creates in me by the gospel,^4
that God has freely granted
not only to others but to me also,
forgiveness of sins,
eternal righteousness,
and salvation.^5
These are gifts of sheer grace,
granted solely by Christ’s merit.^6

^1 Heb. 11:1, 3;James 2:19
^2 Rom. 4:16[-25]; James 1:6; Rom. 5:1;Rom. 10[:9-10]
^3 2 Cor. 4[:6, 13];Eph. 2[:8, 18];Matt. 16:17;John 3:[5-]13;Gal. 5:22; Phil. 1:29
^4 Rom. 1:16;10:17
^5 Heb. 2[:9-11]; Rom. 1[:16];Heb. 10:38;Hab. 2:4;Matt. 9:2;Eph. 2:7-9;Rom. 5:1
^6 Eph. 2[:8]; Rom. 3:24-25;Gal. 2:16


22   Q.   What then must a Christian believe?

A.    All that is promised us in the gospel,^1
a summary of which is taught us
in the articles of our universal
and undisputed Christian faith.

^1 John 20:31; Matt. 28:20
23    Q.    What are these articles?
         A.    I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen

 Lord’s Day 7 (Q/A 20-23)

“Diagramming Sentences: The Gospel and Its Witness”

Continue reading “Lord’s Day 7 (Q/A 20-23): DIAGRAMMING SENTENCES: THE GOSPEL AND ITS WITNESS”


16   Q.   Why must the mediator be a true and righteous human?

A.    God’s justice demands
that human nature, which has sinned,
must pay for sin;^1
but a sinful human could never pay for others.^2

^1 Rom. 5:12, 15
^2 1 Pet. 3:18; Isa. 53:3-5,10-11


17   Q.   Why must the mediator also be true God?

A.    So that the mediator,
by the power of his divinity,
might bear the weight of God’s wrath in his humanity^1
and earn for us
and restore to us
righteousness and life.^2

^1 Isa. 53:8; Acts 2:24;1 Pet. 3:18
^2 John 3:16;1 John 1:2, 4:12; Acts 20:18 [28]; John 1[:4,12]


18   Q.   Then who is this mediator—
true God and at the same time
a true and righteous human?

A.    Our Lord Jesus Christ,^1
who was given to us
to completely deliver us
and make us right with God.^2

^1 Matt. 1:23; 1 Tim. 3:16;Luke 2:11
^2 1 Cor. 1:30


19   Q.   How do you come to know this?

A.    The holy gospel tells me.
God began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise;^
later God proclaimed it
by the holy patriarchsand prophets^2
and foreshadowed it
by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law;^3
and finally God fulfilled it
through his own beloved Son.^4

^1 Gen. 3:15
^2 Gen. 22:18; 49:10-11; Rom. 1:2;Heb. 1:1; Acts 3:22-24; 10:43
^3 John 5:46; Heb. 10:7 [1-10]
^4 Rom. 10:4;Gal. 4:4



Lord’s Day 6 (Q/A 16-19)
“God’s News: Always Good, Forever Personal, Eternally Effective”

A Saturday Night Live! Segment parodied headline news shows where an anchor sits at a desk as various news items flash on every part of the screen: a scrolling marquee at the bottom of TV screens with brief blurb items of world and national disasters, the Dow Jones and NASDAQ totals in the upper-right hand corner, the local time for each time zone imaginable on the lower-right hand corner, the current weather and the weather forecast for the next week in whatever available space there was, with the eyeball of the news anchor somewhere peeking through this inundation of news feeds and information.