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Cross My Heart & Hope to Die...
F. Earle Fox
Christ Our Savior, Torrence, CA, Lent 2, 2013
I do not know whether children still use that phrase today or not. We pre-teens used to say it occasionally when I was growing up. It was said to reinforce a promise made if it was thought that someone doubted that the promiser would keep his promise, that it was too extravagant perhaps. It was a way of ensuring that all understood that you really, really, really meant business. The last line was almost always left off... "...if I should not keep my word."
It was as though a homing rocket would be launched by the powers that be aimed at myself if I should break my promise. If you believed this stuff, you probably would take care to do the right thing. Most of us said it just to sound big and brave, of course. We had no awareness that we were in effect putting a potential curse upon ourselves. Or, at least I was not.
So what has this got to do with the lessons this morning?
Let's look at Genesis 15:16-18. The story is a bit puzzling to modern readers. Abraham has just indicated his faith in God who had just told him that he, Abraham, would have descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven. "And he believed the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." That was the phrase picked up centuries later by St. Paul in Romans 4 to explain that salvation comes by grace, not by works.
God explains the greatness of His gift to Abraham, that he will possess the land from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea, from the Nile River to the Fertile Crescent, a huge plot of land. Possession of large plots of land always has political consequences. Suddenly Abraham, the man of faith, is doubting -- "O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it? Wow, Lord, that's a bit much. Sure You can do it?"
Instead of chastising Abraham for his doubt, God tells him to prepare a special kind of sacrifice, mentioned only one other time in the Bible (Jeremiah 34:18 ff.), in which the participants cut animals in half, made a pathway between the halves, and then passed down that pathway, to affirm: "If I break the covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me..."
That is an almost exact parallel to "Cross my heart and hope to die...." that is, if I do not keep my promise, I release the curse on myself. In the normal case, all parties to the covenant would pass down the pathway, so that all were held accountable for their promise. But with Abraham, God does not ask him to pass down the path. This was a unilateral decision by God, that He would do what He said He would do.
There is nothing, of course, which can kill God, so the analogy breaks down at that point. There is no homing rocket which God can launch against Himself. The writer of Hebrews (6:13-20) wrestles with that same problem, wondering how God can swear an oath, since an oath requires something above one to guarantee the oath. But God is the highest being there is, and therefore the highest guarantor. So, says the writer of Hebrews, God does the only thing left, He swears by Himself. God commits Himself to fulfilling His promise. He needs no threat of punishment.
So, although there is no deity or moral authority over God by which God can be held accountable, nevertheless, God is not divided within Himself, and the promise of God cannot be broken by any outside force. So, since He makes all of His decisions with the whole of His being, not with a divided being, His promises are sure and totally believable. His word can be totally trusted. No part of God says, "Well, I'm not so sure about this..."
That was the meaning of the ceremony which God performed with Abraham. Abraham would have understood that covenant ceremony, probably common at the time, and that God had totally committed Himself to bringing His covenant with Abraham to fulfillment. God uses things that we understand in our own culture to communicate things to us that are foreign to our culture, like the Kingdom of God.
What then is the significance of all this for us today -- when covenants with God are hardly understood or agreed upon even by those who call themselves Christians, and scorned, or at best ignored, by those in charge of public affairs? How are we Christians to understand our covenant relation with God in the face of an overwhelmingly secularized public arena, sliding more and more into an abrasive and hostile stance against anything that smacks of God and Biblical morality?
The truth is that Christians have almost totally surrendered the public arena to anti-Christ forces. The other side did not win the public arena so much as we Christians surrendered it. We had lost the ability to explain our faith reasonably and convincingly, the worst tragedy in all of Western Christian history. And it was, I think, mostly our own fault. We lost the battle for leadership in the public arena primarily because, not all, but most Christians began to see reason and revelation opposed to each other, thus giving the impression that Christianity was unreasonable. And worse, that God was unreasonable. There is nothing at all in Biblical revelation to suggest such a thing, in fact quite the opposite.
The truth is that God is the only wholly and perfectly reasonable being in the universe, and that the Biblical worldview is the only reasonable way to look at life. There is a God who is creator of, and sovereign over, all things, no exceptions, and who loves His creatures with a passion and dedication beyond belief. And that is a supremely reasonable thing to believe.
So, what are we to do about this situation, where secularism and now neo-paganism are determined to replace all that is left of Christian presence in the public arena with blatant and increasing hostility? And you can be sure that when they get their firm grip on the public arena, they will come after us in the private arenas, in our churches and homes, just as happened in Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, China, Cambodia, and every other place where totalitarian forces were allowed to flourish. There are already signs of that invasion of our private lives. A man's home is less and less his "castle" as government intrusion grows and grows. For our good, of course.
If it is correct that we Christians surrendered the public arena by our incompetence and ignorance, then the obvious answer must be that we are to reverse that incompetence and ignorance. But to reverse it, we must first acknowledge it. We cannot repent of something we do not know exists.
Here is short list of problem areas, battles that we should be winning, but we continue to lose:
1. Education: most Christians continue to believe that having secular and pagan teachers and teaching for our children is not harmful, and that government control of education does not present a clear and present danger to the spiritual lives of our children, and to the free market of ideas necessary to any free society, despite the fact that Christian families who do government-school their children are losing their children to secular or pagan lives at the rate of about 85% -- if salvation has any meaning at all, that is child-abuse;
2. Welfare has been taken from family and church, given to the state where it becomes a primary way to manipulate the population by theft (wrongful taxation) and bribery (we'll give you food stamps so you will vote for us);
3. Christians have almost no capacity to give their testimony for Jesus Christ in the public arena, most especially in politics, and have come passively to accept the clearly false "separation of church and state" currently promoted;
4. Christians are hardly distinguishable in their sexual behavior, divorce rate, and general family life from secular and pagan people;
5. Christians abort (kill) their children at about the same rate as the general population;
6. The homosexual agenda is strong almost everywhere in America and winning in many, perhaps most, places.
7. Key to all of these is the opposing of reason against revelation, with the consequent loss of intellectual credibility. Christians came to believe that reason and revelation were opposed to each other because they feared that the use of science to investigate, for example, the Bible, might prove the Bible wrong. The were not willing to risk the open, honest test, which destroyed their intellectual credibility.
When God told Abraham that He would give him descendants that would possess the land, God did not mean with a corrupt and rebellious lifestyle as just described. The covenant with God always included a warning, that if they failed to obey the laws that God gave them, they would lose their place of rulership, and descend again down the ladder into poverty, famine, war, and slavery. They would rule themselves only so long as they obeyed God. Western Christendom is today illustrating that demise.
It would be fair, however, to add that there are two places where Christians are beginning to win. The first is in the Intelligent Design movement. The other is that there are increasing numbers of Christian apologists rising up into prominence in many areas, persons who know how to explain their faith in reasonable and graceful terms. The common factor in both cases is that Christians are beginning, in small pockets, to recover their intellectual credibility, they are discovering that, lo and behold, Christianity is intellectually far superior to either secularism or paganism. It really does make common sense. Common sense Christianity.
The Intelligent Design movement appears to be populated mostly by Christians, and they are winning that battle. The secular press generally does not give them the time of day, but their success will not be able to be kept hidden for long. Truth persistently and gracefully spoken sooner or later wins. It may be following persecution, but it will win.
Christian success in the Intelligent Design movement is a disaster for secular and pagan folks -- because some form of evolution is the only possible foundation for either the secular or pagan worldviews. When Christians learn how to show the intellectual superiority of the Biblical worldview account as to why things are the way they are, there will be fierce fighting, but the tide will turn.
So, what is behind the massive drift of Christians away from practicing their faith with trust and obedience? Why are we doing this -- probably all of us to one degree or another?
Much of the answer is in just one word: Pietism - the belief that Christian faith does not apply to the public arena, that it is only for our personal faith and relation to God. Pietists believe that the job of the Church is like that of a life-boat, rescuing the lost from the sea of pagan and secular chaos. But Christians are not to invade that chaotic realm to set it straight. Jesus will do that when He returns. We are only life-boat rescuers. Such Christians are happy to sit in their pews on Sunday and worship God, but they feel no command from God to change the world.
When God promised Abraham a people like the sand of the sea, when God led Moses out of Egypt to the Promised Land, there was no hint that God did not care what kind of government His people had, or who ruled over them. God rescued them from the tyranny of Pharaoh to lead them to government by Himself, administered by Moses, and then by kings. He has led Americans to government of, by, and for the people, but under God.
Biblical wisdom literature, Psalms, Proverbs, the Apocrypha, and the ringing challenges of the prophets are clear that God expects obedience in all of His people, in every station of their lives. When God allowed the Hebrews to appoint a king (I Sam. 8), God said that the king must have his own copy of the Scriptures, and that he must read them so that he would know how to rule the people of God. God has not changed that principle. It applies today. Mr. Obama should read the Bible to find out how to rule us. Christians should never vote for a man who does not read the Bible to know how to rule.
But the Church of God has been run from the public arena, with its tail between its legs, and we Christians for the most part seem to see not much wrong with that. Politics and religion do not mix, we hear. That is not God's opinion. Politics and religion are two of the most important issues of life. We must be openly discussing them, forcing into the light discussion of the law and grace of God.
There is no facet of human existence over which God does not rule with supreme authority. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. The statement, "Jesus is Lord", which was the early first creedal statement for baptism, is a political statement, as recognized by both Caesar and the Apostles. Everyone knew that that statement meant that Jesus was Lord over Caesar -- just as He was and is over everything else in the cosmos.
And that provides us with a clue as to our present situation. We Christians, who raised up Western Civilization, have become self-satisfied and self-confident, seeking all the comforts of Christian faith, but avoiding the responsibilities of the Cross, giving up our lives to the spread of the Good News -- at any cost to ourselves, in whatever situation the Lord calls us to.
We do not like suffering, and often refuse the way of truth and the cross.
The way of the cross today leads back into the public arena. God's words to Abraham and to every Hebrew and Christian leader tell us that we are responsible before God for participation in all aspects of life, because God has plans for all aspects of life.
God swears an oath to Abraham which commits the almighty power and omniscient wisdom of God Himself to keeping His covenant with Abraham. That same oath is affirmed in the Incarnation and life of Christ, leading right through the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost, that the whole of the fallen world is being redeemed. The land given to Abraham and then to Moses was a precursor, a symbol, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven...." A kingdom is a political event.
Civil government is absolutely essential to that task. Government is about the use of coercive force, and has a near monopoly on coercive force. That makes government powerful among us, for good or for ill. The tragedy of the 20th century, the most brutal century in history, was almost all done by secular and pagan governments. The world was rescued by nations which had some residue of Christian faith left, which tells us that God is interested in what goes on politically, that wicked governments are under the most severe condemnation from God, and that we Christians had better (sooner rather than later) prepare ourselves, as did the early Christians with respect to Rome, for recapturing Western Civilization for God.
A major part of that preparation among Christians will be getting an understanding of what constitutes Biblical government. God gave us a good start at it in our Declaration and Constitution. But we have all but lost that vision of a Godly society. Without an understanding of Biblical government, we Christians have little to offer in the public arena. If we do not have our own Biblical identity, we will be swept away into the secular version.
The first step toward Biblical government, a Biblical public arena, will be returning to the unity of reason and revelation. They need each other, they are not enemies. Neither reason nor revelation will survive without the other. The two-edged Sword of the Spirit is reason and revelation welded back to back, and invincible weapon against falsehood, deceit, and error.
But all of this must start at the bottom, in small communities like this one, where we learn how to communicate the Biblical worldview of God as Creator and Sovereign, and the Good News given by God who loves us without condition. The Kingdom is built from the bottom up, not from the top down. That is why there is no "political" solution to the problem. We cannot just vote in the right leaders. We must first create at the bottom families and communities of leaders and of followers who will then vote in the Godly leaders at the top. We must raise up families which are faithful to God's calling on family life, with stable marriages raising up mature and stable children, passing on their Christian heritage from generation to generation..., not losing children at the rate of 85% to paganism and secularism.
Heritage is almost a lost cause today. Not much of it gets passed on in most families.
God is sending, or at least allowing, floods of Muslims to come to Western countries, and illegal immigrants to cross our borders.. That means He wants us to evangelize them. God is not sending us to a mission field, He is sending the mission field to us. God has allowed the homosexual agenda to flourish. That means that we are to understand and love these people, and show them the truth of the love of God and of human sexuality, and how and why we are made in His image, male and female. That is an incredible story, rarely told even among Christians or Jews.
Only a saved people can convert a fallen nation, only a saved people can hold a renegade government on a constitutional tether, getting it back to its proper size and function. Only a saved people has the intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity to convert a culture substantially for the good. Only a saved people is stable enough to weather the storms and conflicts which we will surely meet, and which are approaching our doors as Western civilization descends down the path of self-destruction, morally and spiritually, leading then to economic and political corruption.
Spiritual corruption and division in the Church is more responsible than anything else for our national and cultural corruption. That is bad news. But it is also good news, because it means that if we change, if the Church changes, then society will also change back for the good. There will be nothing the secular or pagan people can do about it. The culture goes as the people of God go, not as the secular and pagan people go.
"And when the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces..." "Cross my heart and hope to die...."
God sealed His almighty power and infallible omniscience to draw us toward building with Him the Kingdom of God. It will be done. No power on earth can stop it. The only question is which of us, against all the horrendous odds seemingly confronting us politically, economically, spiritually will build with Him and live in that Kingdom?
But the world's odds are not God's odds. Their arms are too short to box with God. As with Abraham and Moses, the promised gift will be given. Who will receive it? That's the question.
Jesus in the Gospel gives stern warning, to enter by the narrow door. Many seek to enter, but will not be able, He says. Yet many will come from east and west, sitting and eating in the Kingdom of God.
Let us make sure we are among them -- in our personal lives, our family lives, and our church lives.
Lord, we are like Abraham, professing our faith in You, and then finding ourselves doubting -- especially when things turn sour. Show us Lord, as You did Abraham, how You can be, and are, faithful to Your word. And make us the kind of people who, by Your word, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, are as trustworthy and believable as You. In the name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen
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Date Posted - 02/24/2013 - Date Last Edited - 02/24/2013