It’s Not So Different

The past year has seen extraordinary and unusual events – at least to those among the boomer generation and younger. Many have noted how strange our lives seem now, as we harken back to a lifestyle of “normalcy” that seems a decade ago or more. And countless are the observers of our culture who nod in their self-wisdom that, “We’re living in a very different world now.” Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

The wise man noted in Ecclesiastes 1.9,

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.

Some might scoff, as nearly every generation of humans believes in the uniqueness of the time in which they live. But Solomon’s observation is not one relegated only to his generation – it fits all generations.

It’s not so different… people still choose to do selfish, indulgent things, without regard for God’s direction in their lives. And they suffer the consequences. Sin is not new, and it hasn’t changed. Neither have its consequences (Romans 6.23) – it still threatens eternal condemnation for the soul.

It’s not so different… people still believe they are wiser, smarter than their Creator, and know better not only what they want, but what God wants, too. Man-made religion has, if anything, prospered in the last year. Oh, make no mistake. There has been no rush to repent – not to truly repent, that is. Some have suggested that the pandemic has reminded mankind of his helplessness in the natural world. But what we have really witnessed is how much more tightly man foolishly clutches his mammon as a source of comfort. And that’s not anything new, either.

It’s not so different… power, prestige, notoriety are still the same intoxicating poison that so many chase after. As much as believers try to ignore these goings on, our entertainment and political class just cannot seem to outdo each other with their sometimes hilariously blatant self-service. If it weren’t so tragic, for so many, it would be funny. But there’s nothing funny about it before God.

It’s not so different… even at a time when so many have rightly pointed out that tragedies like COVID ought to be bringing us together as human beings, we are competing in many respects to see how much we can hate each other, blame each other, and seek retribution for our own faults from some other’s pocket. As Ezekiel noted,

The person who sins is the one who will die. – Ezekiel 18.20

We are all guilty, and outrageously blaming our lot on people who speak other languages, have different skin pigmentations, or (ridiculously) lived and died long before any of us were even a glimmer in our mothers’ eyes, won’t change that. And certainly will not gain us any favor with God.

It’s not so different… there has never been but a single answer to our desperate lot in life. Jesus said,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” – John 14.6

Peter and John reiterated this truth before the Jewish council,

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4.12

That sums up our situation – and it hasn’t changed because of COVID. We still choose to sin, and sin still threatens our souls eternally. Now, what are we willing to do about that? (Matthew 7.21)

May grace reign through righteousness in your life.

– Bo

Let’s Not Worship Our Health

As we all contemplate each day’s shifting, winding, unpredictable news alerts about our current distress, it is worth recalling some important and perhaps stabilizing truths that shift the perspective of disciples toward more lofty and comforting thoughts. It is always wise to look at the current state of affairs and reflect on discipleship to see if there are things we might be missing. Let’s remember: God is always active in our lives. He is not a disinterested party. And His involvement has one central purpose: to save us. So perhaps there are some things happening in our world today to pause over and consider.

One of the most discomforting things about this situation is its uncertainty. And that has always been a point of temptation that our adversary exploits at each opportunity. Anxiety is an enemy of faith. And when under its influence, we seek for tangible things to grasp. Who among us has not listened with rapt attention to the daily news conferences, expert advice, science-based projections – all in an attempt to calm our nerves about our uncertainty? The fact is, we don’t like not knowing. But there’s something worse. As Mark Twain noted, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

What We Know

One of the points of emphasis that our experts continue to grapple with is the “mortality rate.” We’re told this is a slippery figure, because it is a ratio of those who have died (the numerator in a fraction), to all those who have been exposed (the denominator in a fraction). The lower we can get this ratio, the better we feel. And many offer comfort by suggesting that we really don’t know the denominator – we don’t know how many people have been infected. (Note: The larger the denominator in a fraction, the lower the ratio, or mortality rate.) But the fact is, we don’t know either number very precisely, and many with ulterior motives might be tempted to fudge these numbers for an outcome that is favorable to their cause. The fact is, it’s hard to find two people to agree on how either number should be computed.

But here’s something we do know. While we are being stroked and relieved when someone suggests the mortality rate is less than 1%, perhaps even less than 0.1%… the truth is this: the human mortality rate is 100%. We are all going to die – save for the final coming of Jesus. That is inescapable. And with that being so, perhaps our focus should shift.

What Are We Worshiping?

Human discovery has brought unimaginable advance for mankind over the past several thousand years. Whatever your belief about the age of the earth, the knowledge mankind has gained just in the last 1000 years is almost unbelievable. Think not? Go back and watch a science fiction film from just 50 years ago that projects into the 21st century or beyond… and what you are likely to find is that what was imagined a half century ago was pretty tame, when compared to what has actually emerged. That’s certainly true with medicine as well.

Health is a good in our society. It is a God-given commodity for our enjoyment. Solomon observed in his treatise on the meaning of life this:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. – Ecclesiastes 11.9

God does not begrudge us enjoyment of the things life on earth has to offer. These are blessings from the hand of God, after all. He made the enjoyable things of this realm for man to enjoy and take pleasure in. The final words of the verse offer a notable caution: we will be judged by what role these things play in our lives. But it is our choice, and simply enjoying life on earth is not wrong.

Also, Paul wrote in the New Testament that our physical health is something we ought to pay some attention to:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6.19-20

But this raises an important question. In this time of uncertainty, of fear, of anxiousness… who are we primarily listening to? This disease we are all terrified of, is not anything new. So why are we afraid? Could it be because we have come to worship our health? And now that there is a tangible threat, we are turning to our health experts to deliver us? Does our post-modern world encourage us to believe that our fate lies in the hands of human doctors? Are we convinced that our only hope is to search for a medical cure?

Our obsession with all of the paraphernalia that goes along with this – flattening curves, social distancing, masks, quarantining, etc. – is telling. And it’s not a very flattering tale. We seem convinced that if any of us die from this virus, it would be an extraordinary circumstance and an indictment of our leaders for their failure to protect us. Just who is it we’re worshiping?

Our Lives Are Hidden In Christ

Our health is a good thing – without it we cannot effectively serve God. But our health is not the ultimate thing. Yes, we ought to be careful, take precautions, protect those most vulnerable. But we cannot put our trust in bio-technology or vaccines or medical science in general. We need to remember that, even if we are struck down by this, even if we die from this, it does not threaten our souls.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3.2-3

May grace reign through righteousness in your life.

– Bo Couchman

Are our services too long?

There is perhaps not a religious subject that is at once completely carnal, and at the same time prompts more conflicting and passionate points of view. How long should the worship service last?

Short sermons, concert-like productions, and overall brevity are the order of the day. We want our worship with ‘heat-and-serve’ instructions. As Frank Chesser notes, “the hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with philosophy has found a home in the church.” But why?

The old saying “if a man can’t find oil in 20 minutes, he is drilling with a dull bit” is funny, but does it really apply to spiritual matters? If we are intent on drinking sumptuously from the living water that Jesus promised, what place would time ever play? Seriously, can you get too much “living water,” consume too much “bread of life”? I understand the corporate assembly is not the only place where spiritual nourishment takes place – it ought not even be the primary place. But in truth, for a not-insignificant number of folks, the Sunday service is where they get the bulk of their spiritual feeding.

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Yes, Jesus is the Christ

Paul writes in Ephesians 3.3-6 how God revealed to him that which was kept secret and hidden from Old Testament prophets and teachers,

how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of the Messiah, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Jesus the Messiah through the gospel.

Names given to Jesus in the Old Testament foreshadowed things to come. One of the most significant of these names was “Messiah.” The word simply means “anointed one.” Messiah is the Hebrew term. The Greek term translated from Hebrew is “Christ,” which has the same meaning: “anointed one.”

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The Gospel is enough

Paul wrote in Romans 1:16,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.

It is a verse so common to us, and yet one we fail to appreciate until we see its amazing manifestation.

Over my lifetime I have had the privilege by God’s providence to be able to talk to a lot of people about the gospel. I have no special message or attention-grabbing approach – just the simple gospel truth of Jesus’ saving blood. Sometimes I forget just how powerful a message that is to people who want to hear. Continue reading “The Gospel is enough”

Sin’s deceitful charm

A story recently published in a North Carolina newspaper recounts the tragic circumstances of one Rae Carruth. Carruth was a star football player at Colorado University in the late 1990s. He was drafted into the NFL and enjoyed some early success before injuries seemed to sidetrack his career. But behind the scenes, Carruth’s life was a lagniappe of deceit, indulgence, arrogance, and disaster. His dalliances with drugs, his abusive behavior toward women, and his mismanagement of money were not shocking, but the depth of depravity these problems drove him to cost more than one life. Today, Carruth is incarcerated (though scheduled for possible release later this year), after being found guilty of hiring the murder of his pregnant girlfriend in an apparent attempt to abort the birth of his child. The child was born after its mother was shot, but also after having been deprived of oxygen for more than an hour. Rae Carruth’s son, today 18, has cerebral palsy, and is being raised by his maternal grandmother, who continues to fight off repeated legal attempts by Carruth to gain some element of custody or visitation rights, albeit, for now, only through prison visitation. So far, she has managed to keep Carruth’s son away from his father.

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Real hope

It is hard for us not to envy people who have good things happen to them. When something good happens to a friend or family member, we can sometimes become bitter with a “Why not me?” attitude. How do you react when something amazing happens in the life of one of your friends? How did God’s blessings for a friend benefit you?

Consider the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1. There is nothing extraordinary about this couple. He was a priest of God, but not the high priest. They were godly people, but not nobility. In fact, with no children to succeed him, Zechariah was looked down upon, until Elizabeth was found with child. Notice the reputation he had unfairly garnered because of their circumstances:

“Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” – Luke 1:25

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A cursed life

Many are the times in my life that I have heard a countryman express thanksgiving for the privilege of living “in the greatest country the world has ever known.” There is surely some truth to this assertion – no previous society has been as productive or made the advancements in human existence as America. Yet, as is the case of every great civilization before ours, the future will take care of that heady arrogance.

I am rather struck by a different observation of our providential lot. That is, the curses we suffer because of where we find ourselves living. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but living in America in the early years of the 21st century may be the best human experience one could hope for, but from a spiritual standpoint there is another side to the story.

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Are you conservative?

Recently while perusing some Internet humor, I stumbled upon a rather amusing exchange that supposedly took place across naval radio waves some years back. To wit:

  • Voice 1: Please divert your course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision.
  • Voice 2: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees south to avoid a collision.
  • Voice 1: This is the captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
  • Voice 2: No, I say again, you divert your course.
  • Voice 1: (Angrily) This is the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. We are a large U.S. Navy warship. Divert your course now!
  • Voice 2: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

It’s amazing how a slight change in perspective can alter behavior rather radically. In religion we have a tendency to be bullheaded – until such time that a change in perspective enlightens us to our willful ignorance. For as long as I can remember I have been part of the what would be described as traditionally “conservative” religious bodies. But what does that mean?

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An unexpected answer

John’s gospel is unique, revealing personal stories of mercy, repentance, and redemption that the synoptic gospels do not report. John 8.1-11 is such a story.

It was early in the morning, and already Jesus drew a crowd. He began that day’s lesson innocently enough, perhaps just a random Tuesday or Thursday, another day to feed the righteous hunger of many who followed Him. But thundering footsteps interrupted – the approach of scribes and Pharisees, bent not on learning from the Master, but on trapping Him some how, discrediting Him, ultimately destroying Him.

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