Flutes and Funerals

a002b97f9c06b49145b2f77cd05086beLuke 7:31–35 (NKJV) — 31 And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying:

‘We played the flute for you,

And you did not dance;

We mourned to you,

And you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 But wisdom is justified by all her children.”

A group of children are sitting in the public marketplaces and calling to other children who are obstinate and unwilling to play games with them.  One game involves a happy event like a wedding.  Another involves a time of lament like a funeral.  But the onlooking companions refuse to participate in either game.

The wedding speaks to the ministry of our Lord Jesus.  The funeral speaks to that of John the Baptist.  One group of children represents both of the contrasting roles of Jesus and John, our Lord’s forerunner.  The second, non-participating of group of children represents the unresponsive, hardened Pharisees and the Jews who follow them.  The non-participants reject both games.  Even so, the Pharisees rejected both ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist.

The Pharisees seek to temper John’s stern preaching.  They don’t like their hypocrisy being put on public display.  As Herod proves when he takes the life of John the Baptist to satiate the bloodlust of his wife.  At the same time, they seek to impose strict legalism upon what they see as Jesus’ permissive ministry.  There is a great tension in this parable between legalism and licentiousness.

  1. Jesus’ message of forgiveness shouldn’t be dampened by legalistic restrictions.  Instead, it should be freely celebrated.
  2. John’s message of repentance shouldn’t be ignored.  Instead, it should be soberly measured.
  3. The truth of this tension between legalism and licentiousness is justified by those who hold to it.

The Pharisees are stubborn children.  They cannot be brought from the sidelines to play nice with the other children.  Flutes and dancing represent the joy of a wedding and the joy of mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Mourning and weeping represent the sober reality of sin’s just penalty:  death and the funeral.  But the Pharisees will not play that game either.

Jesus and the Good News Ministry

John the Baptist is the last of a long line of OT prophets who spoke of a time when the Messiah would come.  Prophets speak of what is to come.  But now the Bridegroom has come.  The best man takes a backseat.  John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord Jesus.  He is the forerunner of the Messiah who would preach the Good News of the glorious gospel.  Jesus confirmed His own preaching ministry with the miracles prophesied of in the OT by prophets like the Baptist.  He also gave the apostles the ability to work miracles to confirm their teaching ministry.  All was in place.  Nothing should have hindered the reception of the Bridegroom or His joyful message of forgiveness.

The Rejection of the Good News

However, that message was not heeded.  The Pharisees and those who followed them loved the letter of the Law but hated the spirit of it.  They were fine with the shadow but rejected the substance.  The road is indeed narrow which leads to righteousness.  Broad is the path to destruction.  The majority fill the broad way; the minority tread the narrow.

It shouldn’t be surprising that few receive the Good News today.  It’s the way it has always been.  A population tends to waver between legalism and licentiousness.  But that whole population is still on the broad way.  A lot of people think that they are Christians, but they don’t rejoice in forgiveness or repent in the face of serious sin.  Wedding or funeral – it makes little difference to them.  They won’t come out and play.  Believers say with the prophet Isaiah, ”Lord, who has believed our report?”

But recall that John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus were very convincing and powerful preachers.  A lot of people wouldn’t hear them.  Someone weird like John doesn’t really deserve a hearing from the Pharisees’ perspective.  The guy eats locusts and wild honey.  He lives an isolated life wearing camel’s hair.  He doesn’t have fun at all.  He doesn’t eat bread or drink wine.  He must have a demon.  He’s just so austere.  We can’t relate to him.  And Jesus is way too friendly.  Eating and drinking with anybody and everybody.  He’s a glutton and a drunkard.  There’s got to be something wrong with anyone who spends time as a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Some people hate the glorious message of grace and forgiveness because of their legalistic sin nature.  Others hate it because of the way it cramps their style, calling them to Spirit transformation rather than world conformation.  They wouldn’t mind a Christ to save them, but they don’t want a Lord to master them.

Others don’t like a faith-only message.  “After all, what incentive would there be for righteous living,” they ask.  They are so works-oriented that they drive themselves and other to despair.  Their proselytes are two-fold the children of Hell.  They need a written set of laws and codes to live life by.  Anyone who preaches “by grace through faith” is offensive to these religious, constraining types.  To them, it’s a religion not a relationship.  It is indeed a way to control the masses.

These are hardened, stubborn children.  We look at the Pharisees and the Jews who followed them as being so foolish and churlish.  But we don’t see the legalism working within us that worked within them.  We don’t like it when our legalism is showing.  We like to justify it, but wisdom only is justified by all her children.

The Gospel is free …grace is free.  It’s too humiliating for some people to admit that.  They are too proud to receive it or believe it.  Self-righteousness and self-denial seems to make more sense.  But we have no righteousness of our own, and self-denial turns to self-indulgence in no time without Christ.  Even if we get to the point that we know the Gospel is true, we cannot get to the point that we are to blame for rejecting it.  We blame the messenger …we condemn the Gospel’s preachers in order to justify ourselves.

But the real problem is that we love darkness rather than light.  If Jesus’ message came to us from Him directly, we’d do the same thing the Pharisees did.  We would balk and act wounded and offended.  We’d use that as the reason to reject Him and His message.  But wisdom is justified by all her children.

Civil Rights Commission

img_0205The United States Commission on Civil Rights has released a report which is at odds with our religious liberties.  The findings and recommendations came out earlier this month. An executive summary of the report is titled Peaceful Coexistence. The USCCR has found that civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination as embodied in the Constitution, laws, and policies are of preeminent importance. While we as Christians would agree with this, the USCCR elaborated by saying that “religious exemptions to protections of civil rights based upon classifications such …sexual orientation and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon… civil rights (PC, 25).

The USCCR was founded in to fight Jim Crow laws which enforced racial segregation in the 1960s. But sexual orientation and gender identity are not civil rights issues. Homosexuality and transgenderism are sin issues. Nevertheless, the report made five alarming recommendations:

  1. Overly-broad religious exemptions unduly burden nondiscrimination laws and policies.
  2. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects only religious practitioners’ First Amendment free exercise rights, and it does not limit others’ freedom from government-imposed religious limitations under the Establishment Clause.
  3. Recognition of religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws and policies should be made in such a way that religious beliefs and not conduct are protected.
  4. Federal legislation should be considered in order to clarify that RFRA creates rights only for individuals and religious institutions and only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination.
  5. States with RFRA-style laws should amend those statutes to clarify that RFRA creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights only for individual and religious institutions. States with laws modeled after RFRA must guarantee that those statutes do not unduly burden civil liberties with status-based discrimination.

This report equates our support for religious liberty with hate. It is a huge threat to religious liberty. We have the right to believe, but not the right to act on those beliefs, especially when it comes to homosexuality and transgenderism. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday of last week. He said the report had a “disturbingly low view of our First Freedoms.” Note the following observations from Senator Sasse:

  • Our national identity is based upon our religious freedoms.
  • Our Founders believed God created people with dignity and we have rights via nature.
    No king, no Congress, no Commission gives us our rights. Government is not the author or source of our freedom.
  • We have rights because we’re people, created with dignity and government is our shared project to secure those rights. And so, “We the People” give the government authorities; the government doesn’t give us us rights.
  • The Commission’s report is titled “Peaceful Coexistence.” But this profession of “Peaceful Coexistence” is meant to quietly euthanize “religious liberty” because Washington lawyers find it convenient to do so.
  • It must never be used to chip away at our most fundamental freedom.
  • It must never undermine the essence of what it means to be human.

The USCCR report undermines the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty. It claims to protect American ideals while subtly attacking them. Our ministry is against all forms of hate. However, right is right and wrong is wrong. We must not tolerate sin in our society. We must be allowed to say what God says about it. I must have the freedom to hire teachers and accept students who are not homosexuals or confused about their God-given identity. I am certain I can do this without hating people in spite of the report’s findings.

The Peril of Prosperity

There is a danger that we all face as Christians.  This danger is intensified when God tangibly displays His mercy in our lives.  The danger is that we might magnify the gift and forget the Giver.  As believers, there is great blessing in the gifts God gives us, but we must evaluate the real worth of such gifts.  The gift must draw us closer to the Giver.  We must magnify Ghannahod …make Him big.  The gift is a vehicle to do just that.

Hannah is an Old Testament example of just this (1 Samuel 1-2).  Hannah looked upon the gift of a son as an opportunity to magnify her God.  What can we learn from Hannah’s words recorded in 1 Samuel 2.1-10?

When we receive great gifts from God, it is because He is a great God.  There is none like Him (1 Samuel 2.2a-b).  There is no one as powerful as He is (2.2c).  There is no one who knows what He knows (3c).  There is no one who is just as He is (3d).  God is able to bring to bear a great reversal in our lives.  He gives great strength in our great weakness (4b).  The full are hungry (5a) and the hungry are fed (5b).  The barren woman has many children and the mother who has many children becomes feeble (5c-d).  The poor are made rich and the low are exalted (7-8).

God alone takes a life in judgment.  He kills but does not murder.  This is His sovereign prerogative (6).  He guards the feet of the saints or those set apart as His children (9).  But those who reject His King and Anointed One, the Lord Jesus Christ, are silent in eternal darkness.  By self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, or self-dependence, no man prevails.  Strength is found in Christ and in Him alone.  Don’t look at the gift but at the Giver.  Look to…

  1. God’s power and holiness brought to bear in the lives of those who trust in Him
  2. God’s wisdom and justice as comforts when inequity abounds
  3. God’s grace found in the benefits of prayer and His full revelation in the Scriptures

All benefits and blessings in this life point up the character of the God we claim to serve.  If these gifts from God become a means to an end, then we have practiced a very subtle form of idolatry.  We have vaunted up creation above the Creator.  If we do this as children of God, we may expect God to bring chastening instead of prosperity.

If you are like me, you’d rather have all of your needs met right away.  But it seems that we are inclined to stop trusting in God when this happens.  Prosperity is a place of peril for many in our country.  We fall into the delusion that our own hand has provided us with these things.

Our families must understand that suffering, difficult people and circumstances, and the crucible of a trial have the potential to be wonderful messengers declaring the glory of God.  Hannah’s great trial was a barren womb.  She pleaded for a child.  God gave her a baby boy.  She called him Samuel.  Samuel’s name means “asked of YHWH”.  When God grants her request, Hannah has the spiritual depth to magnify God and not the fact that she was no longer barren.

Who or what is magnified when God blesses you?  The answer to this question reveals how spiritual we truly are.

Delight

Psalm 37.4The noun delight has its origin in the 13th century.  It is defined as “a high degree of gratification”.  The French origin of the word points up the fact that it is a fairly intimate word.  Psalm 37.4 reads, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

I would guess that many of us have a very difficult time relating to this verse.  We live in a world that knows neither love nor hatred by the physical evidence in front of them (see Ecclesiastes 9.1-2).  Asaph pined away about witnessing the prosperity of the wicked during his life (Psalm 73).

But as the song writer penned, “If I could see beyond tomorrow as God does see…”  Our problem truly rests in the fact that we find a high degree of gratification in all the wrong things.  Our desires are tethered to all the wrong things.  If desire is tethered to time and the sensate experiences of life, we simply have the wrong desires.  It’s hard to convince myself and others that this is positively true.

Psalm 37.4 tells us to delight ourselves in the LORD.  This is a responsibility that we must meet, or we will become unsatisfied with life.  Psalm 81.10 has the clear directive of our LORD:  “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”  Nobody else is able to fill us but our Creator.  Feed on His faithfulness (Psalm 37.3b).

Think of Heaven.  The souls who have gone before us are indeed happy and care-free.  If eternal life is something we enjoy now (and it is), then we ought to bring a little delight from Heaven into our world today.  Don’t live below the position and privilege that you have in Christ as God’s dear child.  Heaven is to you an everlasting possession.  Find a high degree of gratification in the LORD.  Once you do, you will have the desires of your heart …all of them.

Gaining Christ

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Nothing wins in life like gaining Christ.  Self-righteousness is repugnant to God, but the righteousness which is from God by faith is an unsurpassed excellence.  We count all things loss for this excellence.  We count all things as rubbish in comparison with gaining Christ.  Nothing wins in life like gaining Christ.

What is mean by knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection in Philippians 3.10?  This power is certainly found in the fact that the death of Christ is an incomplete story.  Jesus offered up His life’s blood for us.  He then appeared in the presence of God for us as the resurrected Christ (Hebrews 9.24).  If He is not risen, His work is not finished.  But He is and it is (John 19.30).  He was delivered up to death with a view toward our offense;  He was raised from the dead with a view toward making us right before the Father (Romans 4.25).  “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8.34).

The power of His resurrection gave entrance for the Spirit to indwell and empower the believer.  Jesus said that it was to our advantage that He went away. If He had not, the Helper would not have come to us.  But He departed, and He sent the Helper to us (John 16.7).  We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Promised One (Acts 2.38-39).  “Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14.9).

The power of His resurrection will exalt us to glory.  “By man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15.21).  Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14.2-3).  “The forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever” (Hebrews 6.20).

Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection is experiential and relational knowledge.  The resurrection of Christ establishes the foundation of faith.  It is one thing to read about faith, it’s another to experience it.  Do you have a faith that overcomes the lusts of the flesh?  Do you have a faith that draws you close to God?  Do you have a faith that moves you to delight in those things in which God delights?  If you do, you are experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection quickens hope.  Hope comes to those who continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.  You ride out the storms of doubt, trial, and adversity.  You keep dependent in times of prosperity.  You trust in the LORD.  You know your sinfulness, but you also know the power of His blood.  You know your weakness, but you also know the sufficiency of His grace.  You are confident of this very thing:  that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phiippians 1.6).

Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection transforms temporal life into eternal life.  “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15.13).  This hope-filled, eternal quality of life paves the way for temporal suffering within the sphere of joy and peace.  Only the hopeful are able to enter into the sufferings of Christ.  The power of His resurrection carries us through the fellowship of His sufferings.

 

Cancer: Six Years and Counting

imageI wrote this from my hospital bed the day after I was diagnosed with cancer.  Each Memorial Day I remember many battles that I never fought.  I didn’t really fight this one either.  The Lord fought it for me.  Thankful to be here.

 
“Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it?” (Isa 10.15a)

 
It is difficult to find balance in life without an understanding that God is always good to His children. I garner comfort from the fact that not everything is left to chance or the sheer willpower of human ingenuity and exertion.

 
On one hand, I would find myself fairly miserable if everything found its end on the temporal plains; on the other hand, in times of great prosperity, I am tempted to forget God and grow overly confident in the very abilities He Himself has given me. So, whether in adversity or prosperity, the tendency is to presume upon God.

 
The Assyrian emperor Sennacherib is the epitome of one who thinks too highly of himself and his abilities. God greatly humbled this man’s army by sending a single angel to destroy 185,000 of his men. When Sennacherib returned home after the defeat, he was killed by his two sons.

 
As Christians we face a powerful enemy that thinks too highly of himself. He resembles Sennacherib because he himself infused the emperor with his own deceitful power. Yet God used this evil emperor’s actions to punish his own children. God has even allowed our own persecution, infused by satanic energy, to accomplish corrective and purifying measures in us. God allows illness like cancer to accomplish the same purpose.

 
During the time in which Sennacherib ruled, he was greatly feared because he was a well-used pawn of the devil. However, Sennacherib was a deluded man. He thought that he moved under the power and wisdom of none other than himself. This is why pride is so unbecoming when found in a believer. It is devastating to think of times when as an ax I boasted against the very One who chopped away with such a blunt and dull instrument! A realization of my need of Him sharpens my ability to serve Him. Apart from this knowledge, I face the great tragedy of presuming upon God.

 
Sennacherib was used of God to accomplish His will, but in a single night he was left devastated by an unseen enemy. When what we deem ‘good’ and ‘bad’ comes our way in life, it is always good to recognize the hand of God. I am relatively certain Sennacherib never did. That’s what makes his life such a tragedy.

 
God has allowed it all for our good. He gives and takes away; nonetheless, blessed be His name. If we are given the pleasant meadow of success, we must acknowledge the hand of God. If we are given the treacherous mountain paths, we still must acknowledge His hand behind it.

 
I would gladly take the trial of the siege Jerusalem faced over the temporal triumph of an evil emperor. There is great spiritual benefit in every adversity we face. We just need ears to hear and eyes to see. We stumble and struggle, but when we enter into an eternal relationship together as a church with our Lord Jesus Christ, we see the true end of man. I’d take that struggle over blissfully moving forward in life unaware of the pending judgment ahead of me.

 
I need not ask the question, “Is this cancer a good thing or a bad thing?” It’s all good! Why? Because God is using it to draw me to Himself. I’m hopeful that He will even use my illness to draw others closer to one another and closer to Him. If we fix our sights on the below things, will not God send what is needed to help us clearly see above things once again? Yes, if He loves us, He will.

 
Pray that the Lord would continue to prune away, that I might bring forth even more fruit whether by life or by death. Even though He slay me, still I will trust in Him.

 
Yesterday, was a very good day. I was thankful to spend a few precious hours with Sue and for all the visits and encouragements along the way. My headaches returned, but the attentive nurses watch out for me here. The Koehlers provided a wonderful home-cooked meal. I spent a good hour and a half talking to Tim Kinnicutt during the evening. The doctor prescribed a sleeping medication, and I slept through the whole night for the first time in a long time!

 
Today, I met with Dr. Kengla. She is my oncologist. Sue, Pastor Mincy, and Bryce Ellsworth were all present at the meeting. I learned that I have grade one/stage four follicular lymphoma. The grade number indicates that I have a cancer that has been slowly progressing through my body. The stage number indicates that the cancer is throughout my lymphatic system and in the bone marrow as well. The good news is that it is not present in the brain stem or spinal column.

 
According to my doctor, this cancer responds best to a combination of a human antibody/protein named Retuxin and traditional chemotherapy – a drug called Bendamustine. I will begin treatment early Thursday morning. Obviously, there will be side effects to this regimen (fever, chills, tightness in the chest, hair loss and vomiting).

 
I will need to go through four to six rounds of chemotherapy at a rate of once per month. This means four to six months of chemotherapy followed up by testing and observation. It is possible that it could extend to eight months. It is also possible that the cancer will reappear and treatment will need to begin anew. It is also possible that my cancer would transform into a more serious form of lymphatic cancer.

 
My return to ministry will be limited. Even my contact with others must be limited because of the risk of infection. I will need to be careful about what I eat and work hard at building exercise into my life. I will also need get second opinions from the Kaiser in Vallejo and possibly Stanford.

 
Please pray for the headaches to dissipate. They have continued into this evening. I had a test in the afternoon to provide a baseline reading going into chemotherapy. Pray as well that I would weather the treatment in good stead.

 
Love in Christ,
Pastor Oesterwind

You Cannot Do What God Has Done

Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”  But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to imagebring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach)… (Romans 10.5-8)

The end and goal of the law is a righteous standing before God by faith. Christ is that end and goal. Moses wrote about the righteousness which is of the Law in Leviticus 18.5. You just have to do the Law and live by the Law in order to have the righteousness of God. The problem is that no one does. But the Law had another component:

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” (Deuteronomy 30.11-14)

Moses emphasizes the heart in this passage. Loving obedience comes from a trusting heart. Pleasing God is not beyond Israel’s reach according to Moses. God required faith. Israel cannot think that they can ascend into heaven and bring Christ down to earth to save His people. Israel cannot think that they are good enough to raise up Christ the Messiah from the dead. God had already done these things. They just needed to accept them in their heart. The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.